Professional Landscape Design Software
Landscape Software Review by Landscape Contractor Magazine

The following article appeared in the May/June 2011 edition of Landscape Contractor Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

Realtime Landscaping Architect Review
In recent times the choice of fully featured landscape design software for landscape and garden designers has been limited to several highly priced packages. Larger design firms have the luxury of training, along with more generous budgets for the initial outlay, and annual upgrades to newer versions. But what about independent designers who require the fundamental tools and features of the more expensive software, but don’t want to splash out the equivalent outlay of a decent second-hand car?
Here is the good news. Idea Spectrum in the United States has created an amazingly powerful -yet affordable - landscape design application which is catching the eye of many designers this side of the equator.

Realtime Landscaping Architect is a fully featured landscape design software application for creating professional plans and presentations. According to Shannon Thompson from Idea Spectrum, in recent years the company has seen a sharp increase in Realtime Landscaping Architect sales from [Australia]. I had the opportunity to scrutinise the software over the last few months, and was pleasantly surprised at what I found.

INTERFACE AND NAVIGATION

The first thing you notice upon opening Realtime Landscaping Architect is the clean and uncluttered work space; something many design applications neglect by cramming menus, palettes, and alien-looking icons into limited screen real estate. Navigation feels intuitive and once you become comfortable with the layout, it’s actually an enjoyable experience. Organisation of sub menus and icons is organic, for example, clicking the landscape menu reveals rocks, plants, paths etcetera. When working in plan view the 3D perspective view is constantly updated in real-time, and when switching between the two you have the ability to monitor progress in the 3rd dimension. Some of the more expensive design applications require you to wait seconds or minutes for the 3D view to render, so the instant feedback is a refreshing feature. Layers are another great addition as they allow you to organise complex designs into manageable groups. For example, you can have your garden on one layer, and your hard surfaces on a separate layer. Layers can be turned on or off while you focus on other areas of your landscape.

CONTENT

One of the most impressive features is the amount of included landscaping objects, from garden lights to water fountains. With an astounding 16,000 objects and materials, including more than 6700 realistic plants - for example shrubs, annuals, perennials, cacti, water garden and tropical - chances are you can find just about everything you will need. Photoreal plants are included from all climate zones and there is also a selection of 3D versions. There is a limited amount of local species, yet you can always create your own using the included Realtime Picture Editor or import thirdparty plant libraries.

THIRD-PARTY OBJECTS AND CUSTOMISATION

Although Realtime Landscaping Architect has an abundance of plants and landscape objects, undoubtedly there will come a time when you require something unique. The good news is that the software has the ability to import Google SketchUp models via a model import wizard. Google’s 3D Warehouse has thousands of readymade SketchUp objects to choose from, and the best part is - they are free. You can also import photo-real plants via a picture import wizard, which is preferably but not limited to TGA format. Other elements such as pavement textures can be imported and placed, making specified or unique product representation a breeze. Basic modelling primitives and editing tools are also on hand for custom object building.

PLANS

As the nut-and-bolt area for landscape and garden designers, the plan view is undoubtedly the business end of this application. Aside from the professional look of the plans it can produce, the speed at which you can create them is equally impressive. Typically, hard and soft surfaces can be placed and then transformed via vector points common with most other CAD applications. Surface textures can be changed via the materials menu, and of course you are spoilt for choice, given the amount of alternative surfaces available. Plant fills and plant rows are a quick way to mass plant, as the spacing can be changed to uniform or random seed when density is adjusted. Symbols can also be changed to artistic, photo, or CAD styles depending on your taste - an excellent feature for designers wanting the traditional hand-rendered look. A comprehensive project material list is automatically generated and updated as you add plants, landscape materials, and other elements in real-time. The material list totals the quantities based on a user-imputed unit price; although unfortunately at the time of writing there is no option for GST. With a few simple clicks, the plant label wizard automatically generates plant labels and graphics on a separate layer, and this can be edited without interfering with the actual plan. Overall, the planning suite encompasses every tool you would expect from a fully featured planning application; however its strength lies in the efficient and uncomplicated ease of use.


3D PRESENTATIONS

As mentioned earlier, the 3D perspective view correlates (in 3D) exactly to the plan view, and vice versa. All objects can be edited in real-time, providing instant feedback on any adjustments. The plant growth feature allows you to show clients an estimation of what their landscape will look like after one to 20 years of growth. There are several options for creating 3D presentations, including saving still image files, or creating walkthrough movies. Switching to walkthrough allows you to go on a virtual tour of your design - an impressive feature and admittedly, a lot of fun. It’s also an excellent live presentation tool that could potentially help sell your design to clients on the spot.

QUICK BEFORE-AND-AFTER PHOTOS

One of the benefits for users of Realtime Landscaping Architect is the included powerful photo imaging application - Realtime Landscaping Photo. It allows you to import a photo of your client’s property and create a conceptual image in a similar way to the Photoshop article I wrote in the March/April edition of LCM. Areas of the photo can be cloned out, and plants and landscape features can be added from its huge object library. You can even add the included 3D objects by rotating and transforming them to match the photo perspective. Shadows are generated automatically each time you add a new object or plant.

FEATURE SUMMARY

Photo-Based Landscape Design

Import a photo and design the landscape - ideal for creating before-and-after views of your property.

3D Landscape Design

Design houses, decks, fencing, edging, lawns, gardens, and more. Walk through your designs in real-time 3D, create movies and presentations of your landscaping ideas.

Water Features

Add sprinkler systems, fountains, waterfalls, custom swimming pools (above and below ground), spas, ponds, streams, and more.

Landscape Plans and CAD drawings

Design professional landscape plans, installation instructions and CAD drawings. Other features include enhanced swimming pool and spa design, unique 3D road tools and the Unique Plan View which automatically creates the 3D view as you design.

16,000 Objects

Includes pictures, models, and symbols (6700 plants).

CONCLUSION

The ability to create detailed plans, 3D animations, and perspective images that look professional (in a timely manner) is testament to Idea Spectrum’s understanding of the designer’s mindset. With a help menu and tutorials on hand, the learning curve is so forgivingly shallow, that even without any CAD experience, you will be surprised at the simplicity. It’s a powerful and sophisticated landscape design tool with an uncomplicated interface, and a huge library of readymade plants and objects. What is arguably most important is that the software doesn’t trip you up with technical obstacles that hinder your ability to express creatively. In terms of the price-to-feature ratio - you would be hardpressed to find anything comparable.

MORE INFORMATION

Realtime Landscaping Architect is compatible with Windows 7, Vista, and XP. The price at time of writing is US[$379.95] plus shipping, and includes the boxed version and downloads option. For further information, or to download the free trial – visit www.ideaspectrum.com
Landscape Design Software Review