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Prof.  Elizabeth  Macdonald

Computer Graphics for Planners
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Photoshop Overview

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most widely used raster graphics programs.


Photoshop's abilities include improving the quality of hand drawn images or photographs by making contrast and brightness adjustments; the ability to erase mistakes or "noise" (unwanted background visual information that increases file size); and the separation or assemblage of images into multiple layers to create panoramic pictures and photomontages. It also includes a variety of filters, including blurs, textures, and artistic effects, that can be applied to both photographs and hand-drawn graphics.


Photoshop 7 is available on all computers in the DCRP and LAEP labs. A newer CS2 release is available from Adobe, and is included in the Creative Suite package, both offered with a student discount.


The following tutorials are available in .pdf form:

The University of Illinois at Chicago's Great Cities Urban Data Visualization Seminar Series has produced a set of Photoshop tutorials that include additional Urban Planning applications:

Tips and tricks for using Photoshop and scanning images

  • Create a library of trees, cars, and people (or any other commonly used objects that you find yourself drawing over and over again in street sections and plans) and save them as *.psd files with a transparent background. These can then be dropped into your graphics and will save a lot of time.
  • Scanning hand drawn graphics almost always picks up more gray, fuzzy background information than you need. Increasing the brightness and contrast will eliminate this quickly and easily and reduce file size in the process. Experiment with different levels, but here is a good rule of thumb. Under "Image->Adjustments->Brightness/Contrast..." increase the brightness in the range of +25 to +50, and increase the contrast by approximately half the value of the brightness increase.
  • When scanning drawings that are larger than the flatbed scanner in the computer labs, they must be scanned in more than one piece and assembled in Photoshop. To do so without added headaches, scan and assemble black-and-white images and add color later, in Photoshop or by hand on plotted bond paper. In the case of very large drawings, Inkstone or Kinko's offers large format scanning equipment for a fairly reasonable charge.
  • Single-key keyboard shortcuts are available for all of the tools in the tool palette. To see the default shortcut keys, allow the cursor to hover over the buttons on the palette, and the keystroke will be displayed in parentheses. For more advanced users, these shortcut keys can be customized.