How to get the best out of your Photoshop renders

There are many different approaches to architectural rendering, but one thing remains the same – you’re going to need Photoshop at some point in the process!
Photoshop renders

There are many different approaches to architectural rendering, but one thing remains the same – you’re going to need Photoshop at some point in the process.

No matter what medium, style, or software package you use, Photoshop plays a vital role in our image creation work flows whether it be the only program we use or the last finishing touches of post production – few software packages rival it.

In this article, we’re going to guide you through some of the tools and techniques professionals use to get the best results.

What is Photoshop rendering?

Over the past few years, rendering software has significantly improved and become more powerful and user-friendly than ever before. With the latest computer technology, it has never been easier to create decent, presentable graphics for client presentations. However, there are many aspects of visualization that simply can’t be achieved in the raw render.

Photoshop gives you the flexibility to transform an image any way you like. This is important if you want to elevate your presentation from a simple rendering to an image that tells a story. First impressions are crucial, and you’ll want to have full creative control over how your design is portrayed. Photoshop makes that possible.

Heysen Gallery by Snohetta – Rendered by Secchi Smith

Photoshop – who are they?

Photoshop is a powerful image editing program developed by Adobe, and it’s one of the staples of the Adobe Creative Cloud. Originally created in 1988, Photoshop has become one of the industry standards for raster image editing, digital art, and graphic design.

It is available for both Windows and Mac computers, and there are also tablet and mobile versions with more streamlined functions. Adobe Creative Cloud products can be purchased by subscription, with each program offering free trials, bundle deals, and educational discounts.

The annual plan for Photoshop costs $20.99/month or $239.88/year.

Rendering – What is it?

Rendering has become a broad term encompassing everything from pen and paper perspectives, to animated video walkthroughs. The term is used across multiple industries, including product design, packaging, and visual effects. Architectural rendering refers to the creation of images for proposed architectural designs. This typically means showing people a building that doesn’t exist yet to communicate the look and feel of the project.

How can Photoshop be used for rendering?

Mastering a rendering program can certainly give you more realistic base images to work with, but Photoshop can be used to bring these images to a new and next level. Even without high-quality renders, you can use Photoshop with sketches and plans to highlight key details in your design.

Photoshop plays a major role in visualization studios. The best architectural renderings go through several passes of post-processing to achieve the desired balance of light, movement, atmosphere, and more.

Essentially, render artists use Photoshop to make good images great. Apart from realistic renderings, it can also be used for artistic styles, color grading, superimposing, or graphic layouts.

In architecture, Photoshop is the go-to program for everything related to image editing. However, it primarily uses raster graphics, involving a canvas of colored pixels. For vector graphics, you may need a program like Illustrator.

Pros

  • Versatile for different views and images
  • Widely used by architects and creative professionals
  • Numerous assets available online
  • PSD files are compatible with other programs and sketching apps

Cons

  • Editing process requires a lot of manual input
  • Steep learning curve for beginners
  • Cutouts and brush sets need to be downloaded
  • Limited capability with vector graphics
2 Murray Road by Zaha Hadid – Rendered by Arqui9

How to achieve the best workflow when editing renders in Photoshop

Organize layers

The layer panel is one of the best features of Photoshop when used correctly. The number of layers can add up fast, especially when working on renders., and keeping them organized not only helps you find things, but also makes a lot easier to control adjustments.

The order of layers determines what content is moved to the front or back of the image, so new layers should be positioned deliberately with a clear label. You can also move layers into folders, and adjustments to a folder can affect all layers inside.

To make it even more organized, you can assign colors to layers to make them stand out.

Use smart objects

Since Photoshop uses raster graphics, a major concern is getting pixelated or blurry images. One way to avoid this is by using smart objects. Normally, scaling down a photo results in a big loss in quality, and if you want to scale it back up you’ll probably be left with blown out pixels and a blurry object overall.

Smart objects allow you to manipulate photos while retaining their original resolution. You can scale and transform them as much as you want and they will adapt automatically.

Utilize shortcuts

Photoshop is jam-packed with tools and features for editing photos, but it can take a considerable amount of time to search for them especially if you use them on a regular basis.

To speed up the process, you might want to learn the keyboard shortcuts of your most frequently used tools. Here are some helpful shortcuts for architectural renderings:

  • Ctrl+J to duplicate layer
  • Ctrl+Shift+J for new layer via cut
  • Ctrl+G to group layers
  • ] to increase brush size, [ to decrease brush size
  • Ctrl+Alt+C to change canvas size
  • Ctrl+D to deselect
  • Alt+Shift+Ctrl+K to view and customize shortcuts

…of course you can also fully customize these and create your own.

Add cutouts

Cutouts can bring a rendering to life. They can introduce a new sense of movement, emotion, and proportion to an image to help the audience understand the human experience.

Photoshop doesn’t have an internal cutout library, so you’ll need to build up your collection of people, cars, animals, plants, and objects to use in different scenes.

We have an article here that highlights the best places you can find these for free.

Non-destructive workflows

The eraser tool and delete button should be used with extreme caution. The same is true with image adjustments. Changing the overall brightness from the Image dropdown menu is a process that can easily get lost in the mix, and you might not be able to return if you change your mind.

Instead, use Adjustment Layers for any color grading changes. These will give you more control over which layers they affect, and you can readjust or deactivate them whenever you want.

Likewise instead of erasing or deleting, you can use layer masks to achieve the same look without removing anything from the image file.

Masking allows you to hide and unhide areas with the stroke of a brush, while retaining the entire layer for any further editing. You can also move layer masks onto other layers, so if you place a new version of the image you won’t have to repeat the masking process.

Channels and Paths

Editing typically involves a lot of selection with the lasso, magic wand, or path tools. For architecture, this can often be for the building outline, the background and horizon, the street, or the walls and windows.

Carefully selecting these areas can be a cumbersome process, and it helps if you only have to do it once. Each selection can be saved to the Channels tab for future use by simply right clicking with a lasso or wand and click on Save Selection.

You can also save paths created with the pen tool. To save a path, head over to the Path tab and you should see the active objects displayed as Work Path. Rename the Work Path to a more meaningful label and it will be saved for whenever you need it.

Use consistent colors

When blending and compositing images, it’s common for colors to get a little imbalanced. Fortunately, Photoshop has a quick and easy tool to help even things out. The Match Color tool can be found under Image > Adjustments > Match Color.

This window allows you to adjust the overall luminance, color intensity, and fade of the image.

Museum of London Extension – Image by Forbes Massie

Tips for improving your Photoshop renders?

Adjusting curves

Rendering engines are capable of producing stunning images from 3D models, but the initial output often has a flat or filmy look to it. This can be corrected by adjusting the curves in Photoshop.

The curves represent the overall contrast, tone, and color balance of the image, but it does take some practice to get right. With some experience, curve adjustments can do wonders for your renders, adding depth and bringing out colors in the environment.

HDR toning

Another way to make an image pop is through HDR Toning. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and it refers to a greater intensity of light, expanded colors, and increased tones. With HDR Toning, you’ll also be able to control gamma, exposure, detail, shadow, highlight, vibrance, and saturation.

Photoshop has presets that you can use under Image > Adjustments > HDR Toning.

Linework overlay

In an effort to be more realistic, renders occasionally lose some of the contrast that highlights the defining features of a project. This makes for more accurate images, but it may make it harder for the audience to understand the geometry of the design.

One way to solve this is by overlaying 3D linework on the render to emphasize the building’s individual elements. You can experiment with different lineweights and opacities to achieve your desired result.

Vignette

Vignetting refers to the treatment of edges in a photo, either making the surrounding areas darker, lighter, or slightly blurred. In photography, vignetting is a natural darkening near the edges caused by the angles of light on the camera sensor.

Replicating these effects can make your renders seem more natural and realistic, and it can subtly draw viewers’ attention toward the center of the photograph.

Bloom

Similar to vignetting, bloom is an effect used to mimic the conditions of actual photography. When shooting with a real camera, bright lights tend to glow and emit light streaks onto surrounding areas. This is called blooming, and it can add a touch of realism and depth to a render.

Rotate your canvas

When working on an image for an extended period of time, it can become difficult to notice which areas need further improvement. Sometimes you might want to step away for a while, or ask for a second opinion, but another easy way to see things differently is by rotating the canvas.

This is a simple trick that studios use to spot problems from a different point of view. To rotate your canvas, press R and use the cursor to move the canvas clockwise or counterclockwise. You can click on Reset View to quickly return the canvas to its original position.

This is also helpful if you need to work on objects aligned at an angle.

You can also get a new frame of reference by flipping the canvas. This can be done by going to Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontal or Vertical.

Black and white view

A black and white version of your render is pretty straightforward, but you should consider using black and white views as an integral part of the editing process.

Visualizers often go back and forth between color and black and white using a Black & White adjustment layer, to see how the image fares in pure monochromatic light. This reveals the dominant light and dark areas, the hierarchy of elements, and the overall contrast without color.

You can regularly activate the black and white layer to make sure your building is being emphasized as intended.

Textures

Every day we are surrounded by surfaces, from rough to smooth and everything in between. Very rarely are scenes pictured with consistent textures and little depth or variation. In 3D modeling, however, it’s common to have areas with perfectly flat surfaces. Materials can conceal this to a certain extent, but most renders can benefit from additional texture overlays.

Adding textures in Photoshop can help disrupt texture tiling, and it can add a hint of grunge and alteration to surfaces. You may want to build up a collection of high quality textures to get the job done.

Take time composing people

Many visualizers would agree that how you populate a scene is just as important as how you render it. Placing cutouts is important, and there should be careful consideration when adding life and activity to a render.

Taking time to compose people goes a long way in telling the story of the architectural design. You can convey specific activities and emotions, create different atmospheres, and ensure people have the appropriate clothes, accurate lighting, and relevant expressions.

You can also compose people interacting in ways that enhance the scene, bringing attention and clarity to the concepts of the project.

Balance accuracy and aesthetics

Although the goal in rendering is predominantly to make the building look as appealing as possible, it’s also important to keep it accurate and realistic, to manage expectations and to provide true-to-life context. If the rendering is overdone, it may no longer resemble the final built product.

One of the best ways to find this balance is through the surrounding context of the building. Adding the actual site conditions can help the audience understand location, scale, and environment. For this, you’ll need to source the clearest images obtainable to give yourself some flexibility in Photoshop.

This can mean taking actual site photos, getting some drone footage, exporting satellite imagery from Google Earth Pro, or making the surroundings in 3D.

Always have references

When crafting and editing a render, it’s helpful to have images that serve as inspiration for what you’re trying to achieve. Even the best render artists use reference images to guide their process and composition.

Once you’ve moved in a direction that you’re comfortable with, you can always make adjustments to create a unique style of your own, but it never hurts to have a template or sample to keep your creation on the right track.

You can see some of these methods in action from Arqui9 Visualisation below:

Photoshop rendering tutorials

If you’re having trouble learning Photoshop, or simply want to take the next leap with your rendering skills, it might be time to consider lessons. There are numerous free and paid tutorials readily available online for all levels of proficiency.

Taught by professional render artists, enthusiasts, and experts from around the world, online tutorials can equip you with the essentials and advanced tricks to make the most out of your Photoshop renders.

For more information about rendering tutorials, check out our detailed rundown of visualization courses.

Useful architectural rendering websites

There are plenty of great websites for learning and staying updated with the latest trends. Being active online can introduce you to new techniques, styles, and products that the community has to offer.

Some of the best rendering blogs are brought to you by world-renowned visualization studios like Mir and Bertrand Benoit.

Other useful websites feature free and premium resources to help speed up your rendering process. Here are some additional websites to build up your rendering arsenal:

Digital Arts Online

Photoshop renders

Digital Arts is an online magazine for professional designers and artists in a wide variety of creative fields.

The site features articles, inspiration, reviews and tutorials for many different programs, especially Photoshop. Their step-by-step guides are perfect for those trying Photoshop rendering for the first time.

Upstairs

Formerly known as OU Graphics, this YouTube channel has amassed over 300,000 subscribers sharing quick tutorials and detailed demonstrations of different rendering styles.

The channel helps architects improve their rendering, editing, graphic design and presentation skills. Their videos are simple, well-made, and easy to understand for students and professionals alike.

Escalalatina

Escalalatina is one of the best free websites for png cutout people. With no hidden charges and no registration necessary, it is one of the most convenient places to download high quality entourage.

Their content catalog is constantly growing, and they are solely supported by their Patreon page.

Pngimg.com

Pngimg.com is a one-stop shop for all kinds of cutout objects. From animals and plants to specific everyday objects, it is one of the most comprehensive collections of free png images available.

It boasts over 100,000 images in its ever-expanding library, with a simple, straightforward page for navigation.

HermanMiller

The popular modern furniture company Herman Miller has a surprisingly helpful website for designers.

As a way to get their products into buildings – both actual and animated – they offer high quality models, images, and texture materials for free on their website. The models are available in different file formats, including Revit, Sketchup, AutoCAD 2D, and AutoCAD 3D.

You can download these resources to feature their iconic pieces in your renderings.

Textures.com

Materials are a vital aspect of rendering, for any project of any scale. Textures.com is one of the leading websites for material image files, with highly detailed and seamless textures available for nearly every material you can think of.

Textures are free to download with a daily limit, while premium users get access to higher resolutions and 3D assets.

Summary

From concept sketches and 3D models, to stylized and realistic renderings, all roads lead to Photoshop. Architects use Photoshop to give images their final touches before facing clients, adding all the fine details that bring a design to life.

For beginners, Photoshop can be an intimidating program to learn, but with some practice and a few tips and tricks, it can add tremendous value to your final presentations.

Enjoy!

archisoup.

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