There can be no argument that many clients have great difficulty interpreting 2D landscape plans. In many cases, they would prefer to view a 3D model of your design and perhaps be given the opportunity of a 'fly through animation'.

Tip: Developing 3D models and animations can be quite time consuming. We recommend discussing the requirement for 3D views as part of the design brief. This paper discusses some of the many and varied pitfalls, opportunities and software applications that can help deliver 3D views of a landscape design proposal.


There are many ways to produce 3D views of a landscape design. It is possible to:

  1. Hand draw 3D views using traditional techniques; these can be scanned and inserted into the gCADPlus drawing environment either in model space or paper space.
  2. Create a 2D design, export an image file to 3D software such as SketchUp and create a 3D model based on the image. The simple model can be printed in hidden line view and printed. This provides a base for hand rendering without the need to set up sophisticated lines to vanishing points.
  3. Create a 3D model in suitable software (AutoCAD, IntelliCAD, DraftSight) and render inside these (quite expensive) software applications.
  4. Produce a 2D plan using CAD software and pass the plan to 3D modeling software such as SketchUp. Create 3D shapes by 'pulling up' parts of the drawing in a 3D environment and attach materials to extruded surfaces. The resultant 3D model can be rendered (in SketchUp).
  5. Pass a complete 3D model (generated using the above option) to external ray tracing software applications and produce high-resolution photo-realistic 3D views.


The path that you take depends on skill level and availability of software and equipment. Let's look at each option in turn.

1. Hand drawing

Once a vanishing point and some guidelines to that point have been established, it is possible to produce quick hand drawn 3D sketches. As shown below, any scrap of paper can be used for this purpose, perhaps with the client looking over your shoulder - a cheap, quick and efficient method to get 3D information across. If needed, scan the drawing and paste into gCADPlus. 

Simple hand drawing showing 3D view

If more time is available, more sophisticated hand drawn perspective sketches can be created. Here is a link to quite a detailed paper written by one of our colleagues, David Brown, on how to create these sketches.

2. Export 2D graphic to SketchUp

It is a comparatively easy task to use the Tools>Make Raster option in gCADPlus and save a 2D graphic. That image (in jpg, png or bmp format) can be pasted as an image in SketchUp and the push/pull tool used to create a simple 3D model. The model shown in the figure below took less than 5 minutes to build using this technique. It is not dimensionally accurate, but since the model is built on the exported design, it is proportionally accurate.

The SketchUp knowledgebase suggests that PNG is the best format to use. The image should be passed to Photoshop (or other image editor that allows cubic resampling) and set to a size of 1024 x 1024 pixels.

Movie Movie Here is a short movie showing how to export an image file from gCADPlus and use it as a base for building a 3D model in SketchUp.

2 viewpoints

The Tools>Make Raster tool is used to produce the graphic image ready for SketchUp


In SketchUp, the graphic was imported (onto its own layer) and a 3D model built on the graphic.

Tip: If a scale bar of known size is included in the exported graphic, the image object can be scaled.

 From 2D to SketchUp

In the Drawing Size area, you can size or scale the exported image. Select the Full Scale checkbox for a 1:1 scale. Use the Width and Height boxes to set a size and unit.

To use the Scale options instead, your model must be in Parallel Projection mode or a two-point perspective and you need to select a standard view from the Camera > Standard Views submenu. The value for In Hidden Line Output indicates how the exported geometry is sized, and the In SketchUp value is the actual measurement of the geometry. For example, you might enter 1 inch in In Hidden Line Output and 4 feet in In SketchUp to create a 1:4 scale.

Tip: We tend to switch from parallel to perspective view and from plan to perspective views while building the model.

The final step is to switch off the layer used to import the graphic, turn on a wireframe view, turn on perspective view (single vanishing point), print and hand render the resultant print.

2 vanishing points Hand render this one

This method is a great time saver, especially if you have difficulty with setting up 3D perspectives.

3. Computer render a dimensionally accurate model inside various CAD packages

It is possible to use 3D modeling software such as AutoCAD, MicroStation, etc to create accurate 3D models. The images below show 3D models created entirely and rendered in AutoCAD or IntelliCAD. These software tools are expensive - in the order of $5,000.

AutoCAD 3D model IntelliCAD IntelliCAD


4. Design in 2D and pass the drawing file to 3D modeling software

We favor creating a design in gCADPlus and then exporting the design in DXF file format into 3D modelers such as SketchUp. It is simple, even with rudimentary SketchUp skills to build an accurate 3D model on the base information. The new 3D model will be dimensionally accurate as it is built on vector information.

Here is a typical design in gCADPlus. It is not complete, but the main elements of the plan have been worked out and it is these we use as a base for constructing a 3D model.

2D model

Here is the design in placed into SketchUp.

In SketchUp

SketchUp provides a variety of easy-to-use tools to create an accurate 3D model based on the 2D plan. The figure below shows a rectangle formed on some 2D entities being pulled up. Note the height is set to 1800 mm for a screen wall.

Materials can be applied to surfaces in the model.


Render in Sketchp


Shadows can be applied, 3D trees, shrubs, furniture and so on can be added in the SketchUp environment.

5. Ray trace using additional software

The SketchUp model can be passed to other software applications for further rendering. Light sources and extra materials can be added to give photo realistic effects. 


The path you take is dependent on your facility with the various software applications and the needs of the client.

3D 2


A case study

Many clients have difficulty interpreting 2D plans, no matter how well they are presented.  There are occasions when it becomes necessary to provide a 3D version of the design as an aid to explaining design concepts. To assist in this process, we have provided tools in gCADPlus that enable the essential parts of a 2D design to be passed easily to 3D modeling software such as SketchUp. This allows the creation of 3D models based on geometry already decided on and in place - a great time saver.

Not only can 3D models in SketchUp be built efficiently because the base information is already present, our export tools also allow for information about plant symbols to be transferred to SketchUp. Placing 3D trees and shrubs can then be matched in the 3D model against that 2D design if required. The figure below shows an example of this approach where the client was given a night time view of a proposed design. 

Rendered design

GCAD+ SketchUp tools operate by asking the designer to nominate those parts of a drawing (like lines denoting path edges, polylines for curves and so on) that constitute the 'hardscape' - paths, fences, boundaries, buildings, screens etc. Once selected, these entities are automatically copied to a named layer. Then circles representing the plant species symbols together with text specifying the species name of the plant and its canopy diameter get placed on another layers. All non SketchUp layers are automatically turned off. It is then a simple matter to save those layers to copy what is showing to a new drawing file using the gCAD+ clipboard. A lean and clean base entity data is pasted to a new gCADPlus drawing. That drawing is then saved as a dwg or dxf file, ready for importation to SketchUp  Then it is quite a simple matter to use SketchUp rectangle and circle tools in combination with the Push/Pull tool to create the 3D model. Because the 3D model is built on your accurate 2D plan, the 3D model is equally accurate. 

Export layers

Tip: the drawing must be a complete design with a fully developed plant schedule in place before these tools are used.

An example

Here is an example - the 2D plan shown below was developed in gCADPlus and the designer has been asked to provide a 3D 'walk though' model of the design. 

To SketchUp

The first step in the process is to use the "Make SketchUp layers .." tool from the gCADPlus drop down menu. This enables the designer to indicate those parts of the design (apart from planting symbols) that will be made ready for export to SketchUp. The figure below shows entities selected and ready for export.

Move to SketchUp #2

Two questions are posed as the gCAD+ routine runs. The first asks you to select the entities to be copied to make the base plan and the sceond, ask if you want to transfer all the species names from the plant schedule to their own -Text layer as part of the process. 

 Movie This short movie shows how to select entities to move to layer(s) ready for saving as a dwg file prior to starting SketchUp.

The figure below shows 'hardscape' elements and text indicating species name created and placed on their own layers as the tool runs.

Run program

 Movie This short movie shows how to copy this layer set to another gCAD+ drawing ready for SketchUp.

All other layers are turned off, everything visible is selected and passed to the gCAD+ clipboard, a new empty drawing opened and the entities on the clipboard pasted in to the empty drawing file. And the result - a drawing with the bare bones of the design. When saved in DXF form it becomes a valuable template for building a 3D model in SketchUp.


SketchUp is a computer application (software) developed originally by a group of professionals from the architecture and engineering disciplines. In the late 90's, they formed a company called @LastSoftware to develop and market SketchUp. In March 2006, Google purchased @LastSoftware and controlled the future development of SketchUp for some time. The software has now been sold to Trimble, makers of survey equipment and software. Of great interest to potential users of the software is that a free version of SketchUp (called SketchUp Make) is available for use. 

SketchUp is designed to let you create models of your intended design in a 3-D environment. It aims to make you feel that you are designing in much the same way as you would with pencil and paper and so computer modelling becomes an intuitive process.

Once a 3-D model has been built, SketchUp contains tools which allow you to apply rendering to surfaces in your model, create 'see though' and hidden line views, take sections through the model, orbit around the design and create a walk through the 'virtual' site. Because it can do all these things, the software is a tool much used by architects and other construction and engineering professionals.

SketchUp and gCAD+

 Movie This short movie shows how to import a DXF file to SketchUp make and create a 3D model based on the geometry from gCADPlus.

Model in SketchUp
It is possible to print a wire frame version of this model and hand render (saving lots of time in setting up vanishing points). Alternatively, it is possible to render in computer software. The figures below show more examples of the type of rendered 3D model that may be presented to the client. In addition to these static views, the generation of walkthrough series is also possible.
Rendered 6
Image 6
Rendered model

Complete model

3D modelling