How to Make an Illustration Using ArchiCAD

There is a multitude of software to learn as an architecture student, graduate and professional. There’s no time like the present to build your skills and find a tool that works best for you. Although the usual software as Sketchup and AutoCAD, not to mention Revit as the professional standard, one software we don’t hear much of is ArchiCAD. This guest post is by Palash Trivedi who’s kindly shown us how to create an illustrative scene in ArchiCAD and post-produce it in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

❗ Note: I am not a pro in any of this software, I am sharing just what I have experienced while working in these. So, I may not be able to provide an in-depth review or analysis, but I have tried to explain what I know in the best possible manner.

What Is ArchiCAD and how did I come to use it?

ArchiCAD is a BIM Software of Graph iSOFT company made for Architects, to produce fast, accurate and complex architectural projects with ease. For those who aren’t aware of BIM, BIM means Building Information Module which basically treats your 3D models with real-time material properties and Information, unlike SketchUp which treats it just as an amalgamation of Surfaces and Fills. 

Plus, it has the basic CAD capabilities which can be used to draw in a 2D environment, but here the 3D model will be generated automatically with your 2D work or if you work in a 3D environment(Model Space) then your 2D works which contain the drawings will be created or will get updated automatically.

Do you prefer it over other modelling software like Sketchup, Revit, Rhino and if yes then why?

ArchiCAD vs SketchUp.

My preference is ArchiCAD 100%

SketchUp is easy to use, but so is ArchiCAD. ArchiCAD also contains a MORPH tool which simply works just as the SketchUp works viz. creating solids, push-pull, subtraction & intersection of solids. More than that, as I mentioned previously ArchiCAD works with materials and its information, so all your walls, slabs, roofs, beams etc. will be of actual materials like concrete, steel, bricks, stones etc. based on how you apply and use them in your project. Plus, you don’t have to use two different software such as AutoCAD for 2D work and Sketchup for 3D modelling. Both the process is done in ArchiCAD itself and they will be done simultaneously. 

Considering the OBJECTS, ArchiCAD 24 has included many new objects in its library, but if you want to use your own objects like some particular piece of furniture or doors or windows, then you can easily make them in ArchiCAD in a separate file and can use it anytime.

So, in the end, it depends on you on what to use, but if you want to spend more time in Designing instead of drafting and modelling, then I would strongly recommend you to use ArchiCAD.

ArchiCAD vs Revit

I will still go for ArchiCAD.  Here the comparison is not as contrasting as compared to SketchUp as both ArchiCAD and Revit are BIM software’s and both have their pros and cons when compared each other. 

Basic qualities

ArchiCAD is one of the oldest BIM or in other words one of the first BIM software’s which came into the AEC industry. Thus, they are more experienced in BIM and Revit which came very later. But in the past few years, Revit has become more famous and used thanks to its Parent company Autodesk which is more famous in the AEC industry than any other company. But it has some advantages also such as it has more plug-ins built-in than ArchiCAD and has a bigger Object library. But in the latest version of ArchiCAD, i.e. ArchiCAD 24, they have integrated the MEP plug-in which can do most of the things which a project needs. In addition to these, ArchiCAD also comes with the integration of LIVE SYNC with RHINO & GRASSHOPPER, hence creating parametric structures will also become more EFFICIENT in ArchiCAD rather than Revit which does have a plug-in called DYNAMO in it for parametric use but it crashes very often and is not that reliable.

Workflow & UI

When it comes to workflow and UX. ArchiCAD is again better than Revit as it is very easy to use as compared to Revit and has a more interesting user interface than Revit. ArchiCAD contains tools like PUSH & PULL, MAGIC WAND & MARQUEE, which can make it very easy and fast to edit and work on your project, but these tools or tools doing similar functions are missing in Revit, which makes it very tough to learn and work as well.

Integration with Structural Engineers and MEP Consultants

Revit has a slight edge here as it has a wide range of plug-ins that are built in it, and secondly due to the already established market of Autodesk due to which many Structural engineers are already working on Revit. But ArchiCAD 24 has been significantly improved in terms of interoperability and management, and it has a better IFC (Industry Foundation Class) export option through which any Structural or MEP consultant can easily work on it, also it as introduced a BIM cloud which can be used for the teamwork with different agencies in the same project. So, it’s just a matter of time for ArchiCAD to become better.


When it comes to Visualization, both are equal in terms of output which is definitely not as good as the rendering engines like Vray or Lumion. ArchiCAD comes with CINEMA 4D & has recently bought the rights for Twinmotion and UNREAL engine which can be a very good combination but it has just been started and there are many things to improve here. 

While Revit also has a decent rendering engine in itself but when compared to other Rendering Software they both fall way behind. But both of the software can be easily used with Lumion so it does not matter much on these aspects.


I have a personal preference for ArchiCAD over Revit due to the above-mentioned reasons, but for students, I would suggest learning both the software as both have their own place in the Industry and both will make your CV very strong.

ArchiCAD vs Rhino

These two cannot be compared directly as they both are used for very different and specific reasons and these can vary from person to person. Rhino is a parametric software that is used for making complex and organic forms while ArchiCAD is a BIM software that is specially made for Architects and can make some level of complex forms in it also. But as I mentioned earlier, ArchiCAD as a plug-in for Rhino & Grasshopper, so making parametric buildings is also very much possible in ArchiCAD also. So, using both of them together would be a much efficient way provided you want to make a parametric building, otherwise just for straight or curved surfaces, ArchiCAD is more than enough.

How to Create the Illustration

Step 1: Creating a View (ArchiCAD)

Arrange a Particular View in 3D model space which you wish to generate.

Step 2: Generating a 3D document (ArchiCAD)

Create a 3D Document of it by right-clicking on the 3D Documents panel on the right side and then select “NEW 3D DOCUMENT FROM 3D”.

It will just create a Separate file of that particular view which you can edit.

❗ Note: ArchiCAD also has different view modes in 3D model Space just like Sketchup,i.e, Hidden Lines, Shaded, Vectorial etc. So I have used a Simple View mode in the View space which shows the model in just black and white surfaces, but the model already has its material properties and surface finishes. So whenever you will make a 3D document, it will be shown in the actual surface finishes which you would be providing while making the model.

Step 3: Creating a Worksheet (ArchiCAD)

Once you have generated the 3D document, you now have to create a WORKSHEET of that Document. So as shown in the image, without making any changes in the 3D document, just go to that 3D document and click on the worksheet tool in the tool’s panels on the left. 

Create the worksheet by dragging down your mouse from top left corner to bottom right corner around the area which you want to export.

It will show a small circle with the name of the worksheet written inside it on the right side as shown in image. Right click on that circle and then click “OPEN VIEW WITH CURRENT SETTINGS”

Now you have entered the Worksheet which will look like this:

Step 4; Editing the view in Worksheet (ArchiCAD)

Now click on the “Suspend Groups” as shown in image. This will allow you to edit each line and surfaces individually. You can change the color, line type, linewidth of the lines and color, its transparency or any material hatch to the surfaces.

This is how you can edit the SURFACES; just click on the surface you want to edit and all the options will be visible in the toolbar.

This is how you can edit the LINES

STEP 5; Using Marquee tool (ArchiCAD)

After completing the editing of lines and surfaces, you have to export it as a PDF. 

In order to do that, select the MARQUEE TOOL from the tools panel from the left side as shown in the image. Select the whole area as shown.

STEP 6: Exporting as PDF (ArchiCAD)

Now select SAVE AS (Shift+Ctrl+S) and Select PDF. 

Click on use MARQUEE AREA and FIT TO PAGE as shown in the image and select the page size according to your choice, Finally click OK to save it and it will be exported as a PDF.

STEP 7; Editing the pdf (Illustrator)

Now open that PDF file in Illustrator and you can edit anything on It by using the Select Same tool by going to the Select Tab respectively as shown in the images. Try to use layers to keep everything separate as it will provide better control over the view for the editing.

STEP 8: Save as Ai file (Illustrator)

STEP 9: Importing the Ai file into Photoshop 

Create a NEW file in the Photoshop and Click on PLACE LINK Option from the Files menu and select the Ai file.

If you want the canvas to be of the same size, then first make the Photoshop panel of the same size as of the Ai file and when importing the Ai file, select on “CROP TO MEDIA BOX”, it will keep the size of the view the same.

STEP 10: Editing & Exporting the final work (Photoshop)

Now you can add various things like, humans, trees, vehicles birds etc. in the view by using either brush tool or clone stamp tool as shown in the images

After finishing, save the .psd file and Export it as a JPEG or PDF file according to your need.

The final output will look like this:

Hope this tutorial opened a different kind of workflow for you and if you ever want to experiment with ArchiCAD, this can be a great first exercise to try.


How to Create Iterative Massing Diagrams in Sketchup

Massing diagrams don’t need to be complicated or take a long time to put together. In this week’s post, guest author Ellie takes us through her workflow from thinking about the programme all the way down to finishing touches and exporting your diagrams. This is especially helpful if you want to showcase an iterative process in yoru design work and make it clear, simple and effective.

Establishing your Programme

Before you get started make sure you have established the programmes you wish to feature within your building, and begin to make connections between different programmes and understand which require more space and which need much less.

There are several ways to visually document your programme that will also help you understand the spatial qualities these programmes will require. Three different examples of these programme diagrams are:

  • Bubble Diagrams
  • Hierarchy diagrams
  • Spider Diagrams.

The Bubble diagram consists of drawing different sized bubbles for each programme depending on the amount of space required or importance, they are grouped and laid out like an abstract plan of the building and help you to understand which programmes may sit next to each other and which can be apart. The hierarchy diagram used in this tutorial is useful for grouping programmes into larger zones and then breaking down the smaller spaces required for each. The size of the ‘stack’ again depends on the amount of space it needs. The Spider diagram is very similar to a mindmap except for the linking lines between the programmes show which spaces need to be connected and can be physically linked in the building.

Using CAD Modelling Software as a Tool for Thinking

Once you have established your programme you can begin to think about massing and the form of your building and begin modelling your ideas in CAD software. The software we will use for this tutorial is Sketchup as it is geometry-based and lends well for modelling simple forms easily and quickly. The key to using CAD software for massing models is not being too precious about your models and using a few tools to extrude and distort forms and not being caught up in walls or floors. Working from home for the past year has proven that CAD modelling CAN be used as a thinking tool in the way that wood and foam models were used before and is equally useful and easy.

Learning the Basic Tools 

To get started creating massing models in Sketch up you need to learn a few main basic tools: The line tools, Shape tools, Push Pull tool and Scale tool. If you are not yet familiar with using SketchUp it may be useful to watch a tutorial such as this one from The Sketchup Essentials to get to grips with the software before you begin.

The way you model will depend on which is most important to you: specific form, or programme. In this tutorial, we will be following a specific form concept and then building the programme into it, but if you wish to build your form around the programmatic elements and the spaces they need then you may wish to start with the next step and work backwards. Massing models don’t have to fit a certain mould after all!

In our case, we will begin by drawing a basic shape using the shape and line tools, and then the push-pull tool to begin pulling the shape into three dimensions. You can then continue to divide and extrude the shape to form different masses.

Dividing the Form into Programme Zones

Once you have established some forms you like you can begin to play around and divide them into floors and programmatic zones. The way I did this is by selecting the top plane of the form [by double clicking] and using Ctrl + the move tool to drag a copy to the side.

Then using the line tools I divided the form into different areas and extruded them to fill single or double-storey heights. Before extruding each area I grouped them to prevent them from merging with other geometry so that they can be isolated and copied into other iterations. To do this simply double click the plane and right-click → Group.

Once in a group, you can edit these shapes by double-clicking into the group and pressing Esc to exit it after editing. I also pulled up the cores of my building along the blue axis to emphasise their location.

Exporting your Final Massing Models

Once you are happy with your massing models and their zoned copy you can begin to export the forms to turn into a comprehensive set of iterative diagrams. To do so, set up a scene on the Scenes tab. Check out this tutorial on setting up Scenes in Sketchup.

To set up the right isometric view make sure to select the Parallel Projection Camera from the Camera tab, and then highlight the model and click Iso on the camera angles tab.

You may want to draw a small line as a marker so that you can move each new iteration to the same point to ensure each screengrab is consistent. To get three different views for form, zones and circulations you need to export three different images. Firstly capture an isometric view of the entire form before dividing up, do so on the Hidden Line Style with Model Axes and Guides unchecked.

Then go to File > Export > 2D Graphic. When exporting your images choose PDF and be careful to name the images as it can be easy to mix up very similar iterations, it can be useful to also create a separate folder for the images to make them easier to locate.

Repeat these Exports with the zoned model in the Hidden Line style and also in the Wireframe style, all as PDFs, not JPEG.

Doing Post Production in Adobe IIllustrator 

Now it is time to produce a diagram from the models you have made. It is worth mentioning first if you are unfamiliar with Adobe Illustrator it may be worth watching a tutorial series to getting started. Check out our 10 Essential Tools in Adobe Illustrator for some helpful tips.

First open your PDF Straight into Adobe using File > Open and selecting the chosen image. You can open all three styles of the mass and work on them in parallel. Firstly with the zoned form, select all the lines and go to Object > Live Paint > Make to begin adding colour. Live Paint is one of the best tools in Illustrator!

Now you can use the Live Paint tool to begin adding colour to each zone of the building. Once you have added colour you can select all the lines and change them to white should you want them to blend into the page colour. 

Now lock this layer and start a new one and use the Pen tool to draw a shadow extending from the cores to their origins and lower the opacity.

For the entire form models, repeat these steps adding one single chosen colour or create shadows using shades to show the entire form and again change the lines to white. 

For the Wireframe images:

  1. Thicken and change the colour of the lines that go around the perimeter of each zone to indicate where they are but allow view through the entire form.
  2. Then using the Pen tool draw a path into and around these zones depicting circulation in and through the space. In the diagram below I used four different lines to correspond with the four main zones.
  3. Then using the Polygon tool placing small triangles to indicate the direction of the route.

 Bringing the Image Together

Once you have edited each iteration and each of its layers you can begin to assemble a final set of diagrams.

  1. First open a New Illustrator Document in the page size you wish, I recommend A2 or A3, then Select and Group each iteration layer and Copy onto the new document.
  2. Using the rulers drag out some Grid lines for the rows and columns and align each layer on a specific point.
  3. Now using the Pen tool you can add lines to connect a path from each iteration and each type of diagram, using the Scissors tool to trim around the models. Repat for the other iterations and add text.
  4. Finally export your image as a JPEG making sure to Select Artboards and you are finished! Here is the final result below.

How to Create a Sun Path Diagram

How To Create a Sun Path Diagram – Adobe Illustrator Tutorial

A good Sun Path diagram is present in almost any architectural project. Being an architecture student, you don’t need an extremely detailed or highly accurate diagram full of numbers or figures. This method of creating a sun path diagram is done using Adobe Illustrator as well as online resources. To keep it simple, the diagram shows your site (where your building will be) and the surrounding buildings and the way in which the sun moves across this area.

For example, if your building is North facing, you can design according to the different lights that it will get. Adding windows and shade in specific places can make or break your design. By setting up your sun path diagram, you can get a rough idea of the things you need to keep a note of when it comes to designing. It can also be affected by the building heights and other constraints around the site.

This diagram should be in the beginning portion of your portfolio. Check out our Portfolio Guidance post. When you receive a brief, it should ideally come with a generic area or a specific site where you will be designing a building. As part of site research, a sun path diagram will show good research skills as well as showing that you understand the ways in which the sun can really affect your building and what you are going to do to accommodate it. This tutorial is for a simple Sun Path diagram, but we’ll be adding a 3D version soon as well as it’ll give more depth to your diagram.

A good idea is to find references. This help gives you inspiration if you don’t already have a clear idea of the layout or style you want. The best source is Pinterest. Check out our board ‘Sun Path Diagrams’.

The Steps

The first thing you need to figure out is your site. For this example, we are going to use a site in Shoreditch. We are going to use Digimap to download a version of a map of the area.

For this diagram, we are using an A2 page in portrait with the map scale at 1:1000. If you don’t know how to use Digimap follow our tutorial on How to Create Maps. After cleaning up the map, it should look something like this:

initial map

Make sure there aren’t any labels or extra vector shapes, just the building outlines and pavement outlines. The stroke width is set to 0.5pt for now.

Now, the map can be edited in several ways. You could use the Live Paint Tool to fill the closer buildings with a darker colour and the further away buildngs with lighter colours. Then, you can change the Stroke colour or get rid of it so that it has a clean, minimal look. We’re going to leave it as it is for now.

*Make sure you save your file; since we are working with a lot of detail, Adobe Illustrator could crash or lag.

Next, we need to figure out the sun position for the site. We use SunCalc. It’s a great website that shows you the exact sun positioning at whichever date and time you choose.

use Sun Calc to find your sun path

In this example, we’ve located our site, but the Sun Path needs to be set to a specific date and time. For diagrams like this, you can use Equinox dates.

adjust to a generic date and time

We don’t need the current time date, just the sunrise and sunset angles. Next, we’re going to use the Clipping Mask Tool from Windows / Mac, or anything similar that will print your screen. Save this image somewhere.

To place it into Adobe Illustrator, Create a New Layer and go to File > Place. Lock the map layer so you don’t accidently move it.

locking layers can be quite useful

Next, turn down the Opacity of the layer, and adjust the size to roughly match that of the map. Make sure you don’t change the map in any way as it is scaled. Now we know approximately where the sun path will be.

Lock the sun path image layer and turn it off for now.

adjust the sun path image

Create a New Layer and using the Ellipse Tool (L) Click and Drag to create a circle shape that is slightly smaller than the page. To make sure it is an even circle, hold down the Shift key. If you’re using later versions of Illustrator, you might not need to hold down. Look out for the link icon in the top toolbar.

The site should be in the middle of the circle. Then, go ahead and Unlock the map layer.

the circle is the base for the sun path diagram

Use the Selection Tool (V) or use the keys Ctrl + A to select everything. Then, go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make or Right Click and choose Create Clipping Mask.

clipping masks

At this point, if you want to edit the map in any way, you can Right Click and select Isolate Selected Clipping Mask. Now we’re going to edit the map and add some colour using the Live Paint Tool.

To get back out, Double Click elsewhere. Now turn on the sun path image layer, Lock and Create a New Layer. Then, use the Pen Tool (P) to trace the two sun path angles. This gives us a rough outline of the way in which the Sun will move across this area.

draw the sun angles

Then, Using the Pen Tool (P) again, draw around the site with a different stroke colour. Here we have used red but anything that sticks out works fine.

create a site outline

To change the stroke to a Dashed line, go to the Stroke Panel by using the top toolbar or by going to Window > Stroke and click on Stroke to show several options. Then, check the Dashed Line box, and adjust this so that the dashes are visible.

dashed site outline

Now, Unlock the Map layer and making sure the outline is selected, drag and drop the small square in the Layers Panel down to the Map layer.


Next, get rid of the sun path image by Deleting the layer. Create a circle shape using the Ellipse (L) on the Map layer and make sure your Smart Guides are turned On. Drag the circle so that it is in the centre of the map circle, not to be confused with the site centre. You can use the Align Panel if you are having a difficult time.

add a circle in the centre

Select the Circle using the Selection Tool (V) and create a New Layer and drag and drop the small square on to the new layer. Then, Lock the map layer.

align to the centre

Create another small circle directly above the previous one and make sure you are on the correct layer. Position this so that the centre point is on the edge of the Map circle.

add a smaller circle

With the smaller circle selected, use the Rotate Tool (R) and click on the centre of the first circle, then hold down the Alt Key and click again. There should be another window prompting you to enter an angle.

use the rotate tool

With the preview button checked, enter approximate angles until they match the point where your two lines intersect the Map circle.

Then repeat this evenly for the bottom half, 3 times. You can do this by calculating the angle in between the two lines and then dividing by 4 and adding on each time. (Yes, this is where you can finally use your maths skills)

figure out your angles + note them down

You can now Delete the middle circle. Each of the circles represent the different times. The yellow circle is Sunrise (5am) and the blue circle is Sunset (10pm). The circles in-between are 10am, 3pm and 8pm respectively. Again, this doesn’t need to be detailed down to the minutes.

Delete the sun angle layer.

colour the circles

Now, Create a New Layer and lock the circles layer. Draw two lines using the Pen Tool (P) from the yellow and blue circle to the centre of the site. Then, draw a triangle shape from one of the orange circles. We are going to apply a gradient to this.

add in a triangle shape

Click on the triangle using the Selection Tool (V) and open the Gradients Panel. Go to Window > Gradient (Ctrl + F9).

Drag Down the orange fill colour on to the Gradient Slider. Then, click on the Black pointer and click the Delete button next to the slider.

adding gradients

Then, click on the White pointer, and set the Opacity to 0%. Now, use the angle, or the Reverse button to move the orange gradient so that it is coming out of the circle end. You could also use the Gradient Tool to adjust the angle of the gradient manually by clicking and dragging.

this gives an added layer so that all the circles don’t look the same

Repeat this step for the other three circles. You can apply the same gradient to the other shapes by using the Eyedropper Tool (I) and adjusting if needed. Or just Copy (Ctrl + C) and Paste (Ctrl + V) the same shape and Rotate.

make the white transparent

Add text to each circle using the Type Tool (T) and adjust the circles, colours and gradients as you see fit.

Final Thoughts

Below, you can see that we made the circles smaller because they were taking up too much space and defeating the purpose of the map. The text shows the times of the day. You could also add in a key at this point to differentiate between the different colours.

It is a good idea to stick to a simple colour palette at this point. If you already have a theme of colours in your portfolio, use those for the lines or site outline and try not to use bold or garish colours and this can distract from the work and look unprofessional.

final edits

We also created a darker scheme that can look more interesting but might not be suitable for your portfolio, you should always try and keep your portfolio neat and minimal.

This Sun Path Diagram tutorial was just one simple, basic way of creating a Sun Path. You can choose to add more detail or apply this to other kinds of diagrams based around the site. If you’re interested, we’ve also created a 3D Sun Path Diagram Tutorial to show you another way of spicing up your site analysis.

We would love to see any of your diagrams or hear about any other tips and methods that you use so we can share them with everyone.

Leave a comment below, or just let us know what other kinds of pages you would like a tutorial on!

How to Create Maps

How to Create Maps in Adobe Illustrator (For Architecture Students)

We’ve all struggled with creating maps at some point in time. This article will show you the exact tools, skills and process of creating simple vector maps in Adobe Illustrator. These methods can be used with other software or even by hand (if you’re going for that effect) and are fully customisable.

At the start of any project, you’re either given a site or offered to choose on for yourself. The site and its surroundings are an extremely important feature of the project and can affect the overall design of the building. The process for creating maps isn’t too long and once you get the hang of it, it’ll be easier each time.

Look out for more resources and examples of maps we love at the end. Your map doesn’t need to be in the exact style we show you and can be as detailed or minimal as you wish.

  1. Scales and Measurements
  2. Tools
  3. The Process
  4. Tips
  5. Resources

Scales and Measurements

For architects, scale becomes an industry standard. Being able to understand this language and training your eye to figure out the size of an area on a large scale is a key skill. Maps especially should be :scale. But how can you figure out what the best option is?

We believe there are 3 important factors when deciding the scale of a map you want to create and eventually present.

  1. The size of your page
  2. The amount of surrounding information you want to show
  3. The size of your site in relation to the page


The tools used when creating a map are just as important as the thought process behind it. It is essential that you use good quality maps or images because you don’t want your work coming across as something put together in five minutes. Maps will undoubtedly be featured towards the start of your portfolio, so presentation is key because it builds an impression.

For most architecture students across the UK, there will be a large collection of resources available to you through your university, and most of the time some websites allow for university logins so that you can access materials for free.

We love using Digimap to create maps, site plans etc.

Digimap – a number one resource

Digimap is an Ordnance Survey mapping website and has quite a bit of interesting features but mainly it lets you look at and download maps from all over the UK.

A great feature of Digimap is that it allows you to download maps in common formats such as .PDF but also AutoCAD.

Once you’re logged in, you can use the ‘Roam’ feature to start tracking down your site.

Use the Roam or Download function

Google Maps

By this point, you would have either visited your site in person or seen it through Google Maps. It’s great for getting a sense of the site without actually having to be there, but also to access or view areas you physically cannot.

As long as you have an address or a general idea of where your site is, you can view this as a satellite image, in a simple map format or by using the street views.

Google Maps

The quality of Google Maps isn’t extraordinary but if you did want to use a satellite image as a plan view, we’d recommend downloading Google Earth. It lets you select your area and export as a high-quality image.

This can be useful later on in the project when you have designed your building and want to place a plan view back on site as a plan or a rendered image.

 Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is the obvious choice for creating a vector map. If you aren’t familiar with it yet, visit our page about ‘Getting Started: ‘10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator’.

A vector map gives a clean, minimal outcome and Illustrator is preferred over Photoshop because you can edit the exported Digimap as well as edit colours and add text easily.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use Adobe Photoshop, or other drawing software to create your maps. If you want to see an alternative method, tell us in the comments after this article. You could hand-draw and scan in your map and edit it further using these software and it would still work fine.

The Process

By now, you must want to get stuck in and create your map. For this map, we’ll be looking at Shoreditch and using a random building as our ‘site’. In your project, the site might not be an occupied space, so to workaround this, either choose the neighbouring building’s address or locate your site using a unique landmark you can recognise.

The first thing you want to do is get logged into Digimap and find Shoreditch. Our chosen building for this exercise is:

Soho Works Shoreditch

Or you can enter the postcode: E1 6JJ (you should write your site’s address down somewhere so you can easily access it without having to try find it each time).

After entering the Ordnance Survey Roam tool and entering the postcode this is what your screen should look like.

find your site using a postcode

Now we can zoom in or out and change the type of map displayed to us by clicking on Basemaps and choosing Line Drawing.

zoom in a bit further to get these options

This gives us a clean image with our site at the centre. Now we’re going to export this map. But before we do this we need to set the 3 parameters we mentioned earlier.

  1. The size of your page

For the start of a project, we think A2 (portrait) is fine but if you choose A1 or landscape, you can easily change this in the next steps.

2. The amount of surrounding information you want to show

We want to show the majority of Shoreditch, at least its recognisable landmarks and have our site somewhere in the centre.

3. The size of your site in relation to the page

At this stage, we don’t need the site to be large because this map is focusing more on the surroundings and general area.

To export the map, you need to click on the printer icon at the top of the screen. We aren’t actually printing it yet but setting it up as a page.

the print button

Now you’re faced with the print options. You need to enter this information according to your parameters. On the right-hand side you can view what your page will roughly look like.

enter in the options

Details for this map –

Map Title: Shoreditch Map 1

Print Scale: 1000

Print Format: PDF

Page Size: A2

Print Layout: Portrait

*Uncheck Add my Name

scale 1:1000

Then, click Generate Print File and save to a location of your choosing.

Now, we’re going to open Adobe Illustrator and go to File > Place and place the PDF on an A2 portrait page*.

*This is important, the size of your artboard in Illustrator should match that of the map you downloaded to make sure the scale is correct.

place your PDF in Illustrator

After placing your PDF map make sure to save your file by going to File > Save As.

Now click on the Embed button in the top toolbar. This lets you edit the contents using the Selection Tool (V) and Direct Selection Tool (A).

that maps looks a bit cluttered

For a clean, simple vector map, we need to get rid of the extra information such as street names and legends. (If doing this in AutoCAD, you could download the .dwg file and turn off these extras as they will be on separate layers.)

To do this, you can use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and hover over extra information such as the watermark and directly delete it. To help things move along faster, zoom in and using the Direct Selection Tool (A) click on one of the texts or letters.

using the select feature

Next, go to Select > Same > Appearance. This selects everything on the page that is similar. If at any point, it selects the building lines we want to keep, try one of the other options or do this manually.

and voila!

Sometimes there may be a leftover outline that isn’t visible so be sure to do the same and select all and delete using the Delete key. Now we can repeat the same for other texts and shapes we don’t need.

Sometimes we can run into the problem of expanding the map beyond the visible borders. This can happen when trying to get rid of the outlines or the legend at the bottom.

To fix this, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag across one edge of the page till the area where you want the map to stop.

deleting extra bits

Don’t be worried if this takes a long time, Illustrator is processing all of the detailed information. Sometimes you just need to wait it out and be patient, so don’t start clicking everywhere because it will just make the process longer.

After some clean up, you should end up with a result like this. For the purpose of the tutorial, we’ve set the stroke weight to 2pt, but it can be whichever is best visible at the moment according to you.

clean image

Next, using the Selection Tool (V) we are going to make the entire stroke colour Black. Select the map and then double-click on the stroke square and select Black.

change the stroke colour

*Remember to save your work as you go, there’s nothing worse than repeating these steps in case of a crash.

Now, we’re going to use the Live Paint Tool. If you haven’t used this before, read our ‘Getting Started: 10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator’ to understand the basics.

Click on the map using the Selection Tool (V) and go to Object > Live Paint > Make. Choose Black as your fill colour and click on the Live Paint Bucket Tool (K) which is usually under the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M).

Now you can go in and fill in the buildings with the Black fill colour. To not get confused, fill your site – or in this case – the building, with another colour so you don’t lose it. You can click and drag to cover more areas but try not to fill in any pavements or railway lines.

fill in the map, don’t forget to identify your site

Make sure to expand the Live Paint once you’re done by going to Object > Live Paint > Expand or by clicking the Expand button.

Now, we can either turn off the stroke colour or set it as white depending on your preference. Here are both. The level of detail is completely up to you and you can play around with colours or even gradients if you want.

no strokes vector map
white strokes vector map

And there you’ve got a simple vector map. But it still needs some extra bits and resources. For example, these maps have different colours to associate with different parts of the site or even additional photos and keys. Don’t go crazy and make a rainbow coloured map, try and keep it as simple and clean as possible.

examples of maps


Make sure you use layers in Illustrator so that your map is not affected directly. It’s totally up to you how much information you want to add depending on what you want to show through the map.

Try not to overload too much information as this can make the map seem unappealing. Adding photographs, annotation and other information is fine but realistically the examiner won’t have time to read a long paragraph.

Remember to add the scale of the map at the bottom of the page as well as a north symbol. You can make this quite simply or find an image online.


We’ve created a template to help you organise your map and not forget any key information. It contains a template for A2 and A1 pages as well as our own North symbol.

To download the template simple click below and open in Adobe Illustrator. Then make sure to copy it over to your map file or overwrite the template and save as a new file.


Creating vector maps becomes easier with online resources. In case you can’t use Digimap, here is an alternative as well as other website links.



Pinterest is great for looking for inspiration and styles. Find one that suits you and try to create one in your own style. Follow us on Pinterest too!


Let us know how it went and whether you did anything differently. We’re always looking for the most efficient way to create architectural drawings. If you have any questions leave a comment below!

10 Essential Tools You Need in Adobe Illustrator

Getting Started: 10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator can be daunting for beginners. The variety of tools and panels – as amazing as they are – need some time getting used to. But where do you start? The following 10 essential tools are for anyone starting out with Illustrator.

But first, what is Adobe Illustrator and why should I use it?

Adobe Illustrator is a graphics design software specially for vector graphics. Vectors are a type of image that are created using paths rather than pixels. This means they are quite different from a standard JPEG file type. A benefit of using a vector image is the scalability. Re-sizing and editing can be done easily and doesn’t leave you with blurry, pixelated images.

This is why Adobe Illustrator is preferred for logo design, illustrations and typography. For architecture students and alike, this software can be great for creating effective diagrams, maps and even simple perspective images.

  1. The pen tool
  2. Type tool – and it’s extra bits
  3. Paintbrush Tool
  4. Layers are your best friend
  5. Live Paint
  6. Swatches
  7. Pathfinder Tool
  8. Image Trace
  9. Patterns
  10. Exporting

1. The pen tool

The pen tool is a versatile feature in Illustrator and can not only be used to create all sorts of shapes but also to trace hand-drawn sketches and effectively create quick and editable drawings. By using the Direct Selection Tool (a.k.a. the white mouse) you can easily edit the anchor points and any Bezier curves.

Here are some examples of ways to use the pen tool:

Using the Pen Tool (P) hold down Shift to create straight lines at 0, 45 and 90 angles.

creating straight lines

Using the Pen Tool (P) click to start a point, then click, hold and drag to create a curve.

creating a bezier curve

If aligning points, make sure to turn on Smart Guides by going to View > Smart Guides.

using smart guides to align

To edit shapes after they are closed, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and click on one point to isolate, or drag over more and move to the desired position.

adjusting anchor points

2. Type tool – and it’s extra bits

Many people use the type tool to simply add text to an illustration or drawing, but Illustrator allows you to do much more. This is particularly useful for typography and logo designers but can be a useful tool overall.

By holding down on the type tool, you can see the list of different options such as Type on a Path Tool and Vertical Type Tool.

type tool and its extra bits

Creating text around a shape or path can be done by holding down the Type Tool (T) > Type on a Path Tool.

Then make sure to click on a path that has no fill or stroke. This can be done for the standard shapes or by making one of your own. It’s also not limited to lines and curves.

*Make sure to click exactly where you want the text to start on the path.

creating text around a path

Another great feature is to convert a text into outlines. Illustrator allows you to treat a letter or word as a group of shapes rather than text which can then be modified.

First type out the word or letters in the desired font (don’t worry about the size) and then go to Type > Create Outlines. To separate each letter, you can select everything using the Selection Tool (V) and go to Object > Ungroup (Shift + Ctrl + G)

turning text into shapes
ungrouping shapes

3. The Paintbrush Tool

This tool is quite effective for those with a graphics tablet. It allows your strokes to be vectorised and used as shapes to essentially create amazing illustrations. With pressure sensitivity turned on you can create a varied line in a matter of seconds.

changing the pressure sensitivity of a brush
using a graphics tablet

4. Layers are your best friend

The layers panel is probably the glue that holds Adobe Illustrator together. It is extremely essential when creating any kind of graphic. There are many small features within this panel that are important to unpack.

For example, let’s say you forget to create your layers, but want to separate each shape or object on to its own layer. Select the shape, and in the layers panel click on the small square on the right-hand side. Then drag this up to move the shape on to its own layer without affecting the artwork.

moving shapes to their own layers

You can also drag and drop layers to move shapes in front or behind one another. It is a good habit to name all your layers so that they are easily accessible.

naming layers is key

To lock or hide layers you can click on the lock shaped icon and the eye icon respectively. This can be useful when you don’t want to mess up a specific layer and work on top or when you want to try things out and not have other layers interfering.

locking or hiding layers can be useful

5. Live paint

Although this may seem like one of the more complicated tools in Adobe Illustrator, it is a highly useful one for adding colour to images quickly.

Have your line work art or shape ready. Use the Selection Tool (V) to select everything you want to colour and go to Object > Live Paint > Make.

live paint

Then use the Live Paint Bucket Tool (K) which is hidden under the Shape Builder Tool and choose a colour. The areas highlighted in red are ones you can colour in. If you try to colour elsewhere you get an error box.

live paint bucket

At the end, make sure to Expand everything. This can be done by selecting everything using the Selection Tool (V) and clicking on the expand button or going to Object > Live Paint > Expand. If you missed any areas that cannot be used with the Live paint tool, you can always select and Merge by going to Object > Live Paint > Merge and go back and paint them.

expand – always

You can also get rid of the strokes to get a clean, line-less finish.

et fin

6. Swatches

Swatches are useful when you have a certain colour palette you want to stick to. Incredibly useful in logo designing or to create a tone within your artwork. To create a swatch, you can go to Window > Swatches and create a new swatch with the colour you have already selected.

creating a swatch

This can also be sorted into groups. Simply create a new group by clicking on the upper right-hand side options and choosing New Colour Group.

creating a swatch group

You can name your swatches for a project and edit these as you go. You can also download or create swatches you find online. We like to use Adobe Colour (https://color.adobe.com/explore) to look at new colour swatches or groups of swatches that you can easily re-create or download without having to enter the Hex code.

7. Pathfinder Tool

The pathfinder tool is a simple one in Adobe Illustrator, but it lets you play around with different shapes and basically creates either cut-outs or merges two or more shapes to become one. You can find the pathfinder panel by going to Window > Pathfinder.

Next, with two shapes as an example, we can use the different options to create completely new shapes:

pathfinder panel

The first is to merge the two shapes. You can do this by placing one on top of each other and clicking on the merge tool.

merging two shapes

To cut out the front-most shape, click on the second option Minus Front.

pathfinder minus tool

This tool is something you can play around with and figure out which options best suit your project.

8. Image Trace

Image trace is a good illustrative tool for artists or design students. It can turn sketches and images into a vectorised format making it easy to edit. Here we show you two examples of the ways in which image trace can be used.

This photo of a man can be turned into a vector with a few easy steps. We’ve used an image from Freepik for this example.

Hand photo created by luis_molinero.

 To get your saved or scanned photo you can go to File > Place to add the image in Adobe Illustrator.

Re-scale your image and hold down the Shift key to make sure you don’t lose the proportions.

Next, on the top toolbar you can see the option to Image Trace. When you click on this, don’t be alarmed if your image disappears or becomes a hideous mess.

image trace panel

Click on the Image Trace Panel to display more options. Our photo has been turned into a silhouette image which we can further alter. We can now change the level of detail and magically get rid of the white background.

Click on the Advanced arrow and make sure the ‘Ignore White’ box is checked.

check this magic box

But what if you wanted to keep the colours? Or make the image not so detailed?

To do this, simply choose ‘Colour’ in the Mode drop down list. You can use the slider below to change the number of colours you want present. Essentially, the smaller number of colours means less detail.

*This is extremely helpful when creating vector people to use for architectural illustrations

colour image trace

Here we have 5 colours selected as well as the Ignore White box checked. However, the colours are seemingly dull and too similar. Don’t fear, we can change this too.

Click on the Expand button in the toolbar or go to Object > Live Paint > Expand. Next, using the Direct Selection Tool (A) we can click on one of the areas that we want to change.

selecting the same colour

But selecting each and every area of that colour can be difficult and long. To make this easier, go to Select > Same > Fill Colour. Now all those areas are selected we can choose a new colour to replace this.

image traced

What if you wanted to Image Trace a scanned image or document? Place your image and start the Image Trace process like before.

In the Preset drop down menu, you can choose a range of different presets with different setting to suit the outcome.

Here we’ve used the ‘sketched art’ preset to get a simple plan outline.

scanned images work well too

9. Patterns

Patterns are an easy tool in Adobe Illustrator and making your own pattern allows you to fill larger areas with the same shape rather than copying and pasting it again and again.

Here we have a hexagon with the letter ‘S’ cut out (Remember creating outlines and pathfinder cut out?) which we want to make into a pattern to fill a rectangular shape.

Select your shape with the Selection Tool (V) and go to Object > Pattern > Make.

making a pattern

Now we can adjust the size, spacing and angle of the pattern you want to create. You can name your pattern to use in the future as this gets saved as a Swatch.

Use the Pattern Tile Tool in the top left to adjust the spacing manually.

adjusting the size

You can also use the presets to change the style of the pattern. We’re going to select ‘Brick by Column’.

brick by column

Now, you can click Done to save this as a pattern. Basically, we can use the pattern as we would any fill colour. Since it has been added to swatches, we can create a rectangle and select the swatch to fill it with our pattern.

using the swatch to fill a shape
pattern made

10. Exporting

You’re all done and dusted testing out these handful of features and actually managed to create something along the way. But what now? Saving and exporting is just as important as the actual outcome.

The ‘Save As’ feature allows you to save your document as an Illustrator file (.Ai) and an Adobe PDF whereas the ‘Export’ feature lets you save in a large number of formats, the most common being .png or .jpeg.

You can also save your artboards as separate images or pages in a PDF.

These 10 tools and features are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Illustrator but now that you’ve covered the basics we hope you turned from a newbie to someone who knows some of the ins and outs of this particular software and don’t worry if it takes a while or if along the way you make some happy accidents and reveal even more features.

Which other tools, tips and tricks do you like using in Adobe Illustrator? Comment below or head over to our Instagram to let us know your favourite feature in Illustrator. We love to see architectural perspectives and drawings that have a simple and illustrative style to don’t forget to tag us @to.scale or use the hashtag #toscalearch.