Professional landscape design software has come a very long way in just a few short years, and today it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of your options. From full-fledged options like Vectorworks Landmark to iPhone-ready landscape design apps like iScape, there is truly something for everyone.
In this guide, we’re not going to tell you what the absolute best landscape design software is, because there’s no such thing. Instead, we want to help you understand what you need from landscape design software, what separates one option from the next, and which choices are worth your attention.
Contractor Calls has not been compensated by any software developer for this guide.
The Benefits of Switching to Landscape Design Software
Why are so many landscapers switching from hand drafting to landscape design software?
- Save time. Using software can let you add common design elements in seconds, quickly handle revisions, and eliminate a lot of the groundwork that comes with drafting designs by hand.
- Coordinate with teams & clients. Many landscape design programs let you send previews to clients or collaborate on designs with other employees.
- Add professional polish. Several of the options in this guide can produce 3d models, multi-slide presentations, video walkthroughs, and even 3D VR experiences.
- Streamline other functions. Many landscape design programs let you produce cost estimates, material lists, and full proposals. Some options also connect to other commonly-used software, such as invoicing software.
- Security & redundancy. Losing a piece of paper is easy. Losing a design that’s stored in the cloud isn’t.
Professional Landscape Design Software Reviews: Can You Trust Them?
If you Google “landscape design software reviews,” you might see something a little suspicious in the results. Many of the top ranking software review sites heavily promote one piece of software above the rest, but when you look at the features, they don’t seem to match up with the recommendation.
If you think the review site is getting a kickback, you’re absolutely right.
This is called affiliate marketing. Most software review sites rely on it for a big chunk of their income, so don’t take their recommendations seriously. You’re better off speaking directly with other landscapers about their experiences, or even visiting landscaping forums, than trusting anything you read on software review sites.
Popular Professional Landscape Design Software Options
The following options are presented in no particular order, and are intended to be general recommendations, not in-depth reviews. Be sure to do your research before choosing your landscape design software.
Pro Landscape Design Software is a strong option for small and midsize teams. For $1495, their software offers:
- Photo imaging
- CAD drafting
- 3D rendering
- Lighting design features
- Proposal generation
- Access for 2 computers and one tablet
Pro Landscape heavily focuses on 3D rendering, but some landscapers have complained that their 2D renderings aren’t as strong.
AutoDesk offers a variety of software options for landscape designers, including options for 2D drafting, 3D rendering, creating hand-drawn sketches, and building information modeling. AutoDesk’s design software is extremely flexible and feature-rich, but doesn’t offer as many marketing and presentation options as some of the other contenders. Pricing starts at $195/month.
DynaSCAPE Design, Color, and Sketch 3D together offer an amazingly sophisticated feature set. The DynaSCAPE suite includes over 1,200 drag and drop landscape element symbols, over 9,000 cataloged plant photos from Horticopia, stone catalogs and price lists, nightscaping symbols, a voltage drop calculator for your lighting, an integrated product catalog from AquaScape Designs, and more. It also integrates with Manage360, their business management suite.
DynaSCAPE’s learning curve might be a little steep, and the design suite alone will set you back $2,850, but sophisticated landscapers will appreciate their feature set.
SketchUp is a very affordable, flexible option for the landscaper who’s not afraid to get their hands dirty. While they don’t offer as many marketing features as some of the other contenders, SketchUp’s enormous 3D warehouse, real-time shadows for any day of the year, photorealistic rendering extensions, and VR integration means it can create some of the best renders of any software in its class.
SketchUp offers a free package for personal use so you can try it out, but professional options range from $120/yr to $1200/yr.
VizTerra’s focus is on creating polished presentations, fast. VizTerra can quickly turn 2D designs into 3D, has an enormous library of landscape features and materials, and advanced photo rendering features. They also offer GIS integration, easy video creation, advanced AR features, and even social media integration.
With pricing that starts at $95/user/month, VizTerra is a great option if presentation is a priority.
Vectorworks Landmark is one of the most expensive pieces of landscape design software, but you might just get what you pay for. With Landmark, you’ll get GIS integration, features for hardscape and irrigation, the ability to integrate plant catalogs from multiple sources, BIM features, features for tracking water budgets for LEED projects, some of the best collaborative features in its class, VR walkthroughs, and much, much more.
Smaller landscape design firms probably won’t need even half of their features, but larger firms, commercial firms, and more sophisticated landscapers will love them.
Calling iScape “professional” landscape design software is a stretch, but smaller landscapers shouldn’t overlook it too quickly. Instead of designing your landscape with a CAD program on your computer, iScape runs natively on iOS and lets users design landscapes as AR overlays. Believe it or not, iScape can also create inventory lists and generate proposals. Not bad for only $20/month.
Punch! Is intended as consumer software, but some landscape designers use it too. Punch offers a fairly standard set of 2D rendering features, as well as photo overlay features, a catalog of over 10,000 plants, and plant growth visualization. However, it does not include any 3D rendering, and some users have complained about poor documentation and lack of support.
Realtime Landscaping Architect offers 2D and 3D rendering, Filters for multiple 2D styles (including hand drawn, CAD style, and full color), features for swimming pools and other landscape features, can design over photos, and can create videos of your render.
Factors to Consider When Shopping for Professional Landscape Design Software
How Much Does it Cost?
This is usually the first question that you’ll ask while searching for design software, but price shouldn’t be your driving factor.
Think of it this way:
Would you rather use a buggy piece of free software that takes almost as long as drafting by hand, or an awesome $5,000 piece of software that helps you land a $20,000 job?
When it comes to pricing, the real important questions are:
- Do I own the software or rent it? Spending $195/month on AutoCAD might sound like a better deal than dropping $1495 on Pro Landscape Design Software, but once you pay for your 8th month, Pro Landscape becomes the better deal.
- Does it come with updates? Most pay-as-you-go software will include free updates, but most flat rate software locks you into that version. When you want new features in a few years, you’ll have to pay again.
- Do they charge per user? Some software, like Vizterra, charges per user per month. If your design process involves several employees, the costs can add up.
- Is there a money-back guarantee? Pro Landscape Design Software offers a 60 day money back guarantee. Most of the other options don’t publicly offer any, but may discretely offer one anyways.
How Easy Is It to Use and Learn?
The best software in the world isn’t worth anything if you don’t take the time to learn it.
When it comes to getting up to speed with your new software, keep these questions in mind:
- What tutorials are available? Sketchup’s official YouTube channel has over 400 videos and tutorials, while DynaScape’s channel has a little under 100. If you learn better from videos, manuals, or tinkering, make sure your top choices are compatible with your learning style.
- Is it CAD-based? Several of these options are based on CAD, or computer-aided design, software. CAD software should be familiar to anyone who has done drafting by hand before, and there are lots of free and premium tutorials available.
What Support Do They Offer?
Supporting software is expensive, so good luck getting any support with some of the cheaper software options. More expensive options, like Pro Landscape, offer free technical support for life.
You’ll typically pay a premium for ongoing support, so you should decide how important it is for you.
Does it Work with CAD Files?
If you’re coordinating with other designers and firms, chances are good that you’ll need to export to DWG, DXF, DGN or STL files.
Fortunately, there are several software options that offer CAD functionality.
- Pro Landscape Design Software imports from DWG and DXF. It exports to DWG
- DynaSCAPE Design imports DWG. It exports to DWG and DXF.
- SketchUp imports and exports to DWG and DXF.
- VizTerra imports DWG and DXF. It exports to DXF.
- Punch! Imports and exports DWG and DXF.
- Realtime Landscaping Architect imports DWG and DXF.
- Landwords CAD imports and exports DWG and DXF.
- SmartDraw imports and exports DWG and DXF.
Is it Compatible with Tablets?
While there are several half-baked options for landscape design apps that run on tablets, there are few professional options that offer tablet compatibility.
- Pro Landscape Design Software can be installed on two computers and comes with a companion app for one tablet.
- AutoCAD is available for both Android and iOS tablets.
- SketchUp doesn’t have an app for tablets, but you can open the web-based design tools in a browser on your tablet.
- iScape offers fairly limited features, but it’s a cheap option that runs natively on iOS.
Is it Compatibile with Macs?
If you use an Apple computer, you should make sure your landscape design software is mac compatible before making any commitments.
Here are some of the most popular options for Mac compatible landscape design software:
- DynaSCAPE Design
- Vectorworks Landscape
- Landworks CAD
Other PC-only options can typically run on Macs using Parallels, but it’s up to you if you want to depend on that for your business.
Does it Work for Teams?
If you want multiple employees to collaborate on your designs, that quickly narrows down your list.
VectorWorks probably offers the most collaboration options out of any professional landscape design software on the market. However, the list of collaborative features for each piece of software is changing all the time, so be sure to ask a sales rep about their exact feature seat if team collaboration is important to you.
Typically, software that you pay for once will offer fewer features for collaboration, so start with the pay-as-you-go options.
What About Pools, Lighting, Irrigation and Hardscape?
If pools, lighting, irrigation and hardscape are large parts of your landscape designs, your software should reflect that.
Here are some of the options that include tools for designing, managing resources for, and rendering these landscaping features:
- Pro Landscape Design Software has tools for lighting design and hardscape.
- DynaSCAPE Design includes features for hardscape, AquaScape Designs ponds, and landscape lighting with a focus on material management.
- VizTerra has features for hardscaping, fencing, rails, and swimming pools, with a focus on 3D renderings for your clients.
- Vectorworks Landmark has features that focus on irrigation & hardscape.
Do You Use GIS Data?
GIS, or Geographic Information System, aerial imagery lets you quickly create and render your design on top of real world structures and topography. This is an advanced feature that only a few software providers offer, but it can dramatically speed up your workflow, especially on larger projects.
There aren’t many options for professional landscape design software that work with GIS data, so if that’s important to you, Vizterra and Vectorworks Landmark should be high on your list.
Do You Use LiDAR Data?
Using LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology to model a build site is becoming more popular for commercial applications, so landscape architects who work on large-scale projects might want a solution that can use LiDAR data as an input. According to Landscape Architecture Magazine, Autodesk’s Recap 360, 3ds Max and Agisoft PhotoScan, can all work with LiDAR data.
Do You Want to Design over Photos?
Some landscape designers like creating their designs over photos of the property. Not only is it much quicker than drafting a design on paper, but clients also appreciate how easy it is to visualize the finished product.
Pro Landscape offers some of the most advanced photo imaging features on the market. It includes over 18,000 photos of cataloged landscape elements, linked CAD symbols, and the ability to generate proposals right from your photo imaging designs.
Realtime Landscaping Architect not only lets you design over photos of the property—it also has the option to show future plant growth, so clients can better understand what their landscaping will look like once it has matured.
Another cheap option that offers this feature is iScape. Instead of drafting at all, iScape lets you place your landscaping elements using your phone’s camera and augmented reality.
Do You Want a 3D Warehouse?
Many of the premium software options include huge libraries of plants, hardscape materials, and specialty landscaping features that you can drag and drop into your designs, saving you time while making your designs look more polished.
SketchUP invented and owns the 3D warehouse, but there are several other software options that connect to it. Check out DynaSCAPE Sketch3D or Vizterra if this is a priority.
Does It Produce Material Lists?
There aren’t a lot of software options that produce material lists for your projects, but Realtime Landscaping Architect, DynaSCAPE, and Punch! Landscape, Design and Patio all make the cut.
However, some landscapers warn against depending too heavily on those material lists. Unless you can find the exact materials you’re looking for in your software, you’ll have to sub in similar plants, pavers, and other materials to get the look you want. That means the pricing and materials will be off on your material list, too.
What About Proposals?
Since most of this software is focused on the designs themselves, only a few options allow you to create and send proposals right from the program:
- Pro Landscape Design Software
- Realtime Landscaping Architect (cost estimates and material list only)
You’ll pay a small premium for this feature, so ask yourself if it’s something you’ll actually use.
How Important is Rendering and Presentation?
If you’re trying to sell landscape designs to commercial clients or wealthier residential clients, amazing presentation is a must. Here are some of the options that make presentation a priority:
- Pro Landscape Design Software specializes in 3D rendering, though some landscapers have complained about the quality of their 2D renders.
- Vectorworks Landmark can produce 3D renders and run them on a phone or tablet. It is also one of the very few options that offers VR walkthroughs of your designs.
- DynaSCAPE Color lets you add color and polish to your 2D renderings, while their Sketch3D lets you turn your CAD designs into 3D renders .
- SketchUp can create some of the most photorealistic renders, can include real-time shadows for any day of the year, and even offers VR walkthroughs.
- iScape is a quick and dirty option in general, but its AR overlays pack a “wow” factor that can help your design stand out.
Does It Need to Work with Other Software?
If you want your landscape design software to integrate with project management software, accounting software, or anything else, that narrows down your options.
- Pro Landscape integrates with Clip Software, SLICEPlus, and Include Software.
- AutoCAD integrates with several other programs from AutoDesk.
- DynaSCAPE offers Manage360, a business management solution that integrates with their design suite.
If you have a specific piece of software that you want to keep in your workflow, your best option is to contact its creator to see if they can recommend any compatible landscape design software.
Roll Your Own Landscape Design Software
Of course, you don’t have to buy into an all-in-one software suite. David Childers, owner of Signature Landscapes in Athens, GA, had this to say:
“I used Google Earth Pro for site analysis, Sketchbook for preliminary work and renderings, Draftsight 2018 for 2D CAD, Sketchup 2015 for 3D design, Gimp 2 for post processing, Libra Office 6 for calculations and proposals, and join me for online presentations.”
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