Landscape design software: Diving into the programs

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Updated Mar 25, 2019
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This is part two in a two-part series. Click here to read part one.

Design libraries

Another noteworthy feature of PRO Landscape, according to David Sloan, is the size of the photo imaging library.

“We’ve got a library that carries 18,000 items in there and the plants are all climate zone specific,” Sloan says. “It kind of shows what a great product it is because it’s got all of these items in it, but more importantly, it’s trying to accommodate people from all different locations.”

Sloan adds that users also have the option of adding in their own items to the photo imaging library, as well as the ability to create their own symbols.

In the plant library, Sloan says there aren’t just pictures or symbols of plants; it also includes the common name, scientific name, sizing information, zone information, soil and sunlight requirements and more. This, he says, allows users who may not be as well-versed in their plant knowledge to still make educated choices when creating designs.

Nathan Qualls, product support lead with Keysoft Solutions, says KeySCAPE offers users a customizable database of over 8,000 plants, and, he adds, the software also allows users to import or create their own plant lists specific to their region or project type.

The object libraries, he says, contain your typical selection of hardscape elements, and this database can also be customized with commonly used data or blocks from the user’s preferred manufacturers.

By utilizing these libraries, Qualls says there is much more efficiency when it comes to creating the designs.

“By eliminating plant counting and other tedious activities that are really better for a computer to do anyway, you can get more efficiency,” he says. “But you can also save time on errors because you’re not counting by hand and (the software) spits out the actual numbers based on what’s placed into the design. With that automation, you have the ability to quickly respond to what your client wants to change.”

In the design libraries of Vectorworks Landmark, Eric Gilbey, product marketing manager with Vectorworks, says there are options to work with plant data that’s pre-identified and some that’s not pre-identified that the user can edit, as well as the option to create a personalized library from scratch.

“We always recommend to the user to set up those libraries beyond what we already provide to them because that makes it easier for them to just grab their own tried and true, already stylized symbols and run with them,” he says. “We give them a pretty decent head start where some of these other symbols are concerned, but we always hear from designers that they like customization.”

An interesting aspect of the Vectorworks Landmark library, according to Gilbey, is that the objects assigned to the design are able to give data back to the user. For example, he says, if you need to figure out how deep a hardscape will be, once the object is placed in the software, it will figure out the quantity of the material you will need to have to fit that object.

“At Vectorworks, we have the atmosphere that we refer to as, ‘What you see is what you get,’” he says. “Your graphic representation on the screen looks just like it would when you go to print.”

Cost: Subscription or outright purchase?

As far as pricing is concerned, Sloan says PRO Landscape allows users to make a one-time purchase, and along with this one-time purchase, he adds, comes lifetime free support.

Once purchased, Sloan says the software runs on a desktop or laptop, and a tablet app, called the “PRO Landscape companion,” comes with it as well.

Sloan says the software costs $1,495 and gives users license to use it on two computers and a tablet. Sloan adds that PRO Landscape comes out with an upgrade every year, and customers have the option of purchasing the upgrades as they come out.

Qualls says the KeySCAPE software is subscription based and comes with a few subscription options. First and foremost, there is an annual subscription that offers both a standalone license or a network license.

Maintenance is included with the subscription, and Qualls says pricing can vary from $1,600 to $2,000 per set annually depending on the type of license purchased.

Qualls adds that KeySCAPE also offers three-month subscriptions for companies who may only need to use the system seasonally or while there are extra employees on hand throughout the year.

Gilbey notes that the Vectorworks Landmark software is a one-time purchase and is what they refer to as a “perpetual use.” The software can be upgraded every year if the user chooses that route, and Gilbey says the upgrade price without maintenance, also called Vectorworks Service Select, will be more expensive than an upgrade with the maintenance included.

Gilbey recommends customers participate in Vectorworks Service Select because it also grants them priority technical support, and it also gives them access to updated library content before it is introduced into the main version. These libraries are updated monthly, Gilbey says.

With included maintenance, the price of the upgrade would come to $670 per year, and the total for the one-time purchase comes to $3,045.

Software in use

There are three ways to get started when using PRO Landscape, Sloan says: starting from scratch, using an AutoCAD file or using an image.

“In PRO Landscape, the symbols themselves are scaled to the mature size of the plant,” he says. “So, the symbols will change sizes based on you changing the scale of the drawing.”

PRO Landscape comes with a 60-day money back guarantee, and Sloan says the biggest complaint he’s received over the years deals mainly with the customer’s desire to do the projects by hand instead.

To combat this complaint, Sloan says the software does allow users the option of using coloring that lets them add colors to their symbols and achieve a hand-drawn pencil look. This, he says, helps add back some of that artistic look that might have been lost due to the removal of hand drawing.

When it comes to setting itself apart from the competition, Qualls says the ability to adapt to a plethora of project sizes is one element that is unique to KeySCAPE, along with the software’s built-in surface modeling engine.

“We really give you the ownership of those databases and that level of detail, so you can customize it the way that works the quickest for your firm or the most appropriate way for your needs,” Qualls says. “I think that also being based with an AutoCAD platform gives us that interoperability with other designers out there.”

For KeySCAPE, Qualls says their customers tend to be more on the commercial side, but he adds that it can easily be used for high-end residential projects.

“You can really customize it to the projects that you want specifically, but we give you that starting point and that ability to expand upon the templates that we lay out,” he says.

When using Vectorworks Landmark, Gilbey says users can start from scratch when creating designs, as well as import AutoCAD files, PDFs and other file types.

When creating layered looks in the software, Gilbey says a feature customers have enjoyed is the ability to turn these layers on and off to give customers a design that’s as simple or as detailed as they desire.

“There is no need to change modules (because the layering is) already happening within the software,” he says. “For printing, we have what’s called sheet layers that allow the designer to take the views of their project at any scale or multiple scales, set them up in their sheet so they would be able to see the entire plan, portions of the plan, enlargements, 3D views and more. Those sheets are fully inclusive of everything that they would need to communicate about their project to their customer.”

Regardless of which software you choose for your landscaping company, there’s no denying that the use of landscape design software can help increase your productivity time, design and measurement efficiency and the ability to successfully manage your designer’s and customer’s time, while still allowing you the freedom to add your own bit of artistic flare to the mix.

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