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Visual Simulation Imaging Software Available for Urban Forestry

Visual simulation is a term used to describe a graphic or model that portrays a change from the existing condition. Simulations can range from drawings and digitally edited images to complex models and animations. In natural resource planning, being able to simulate a proposed change can be a powerful tool when working with landowners and other decision-makers. Computers now make it possible to create realistic-looking simulations using image editing software.  Image editing software digitally alters images to create visual simulations. Digital images of the planning area can be acquired by scanning photographs or taking pictures with a digital camera. The proposed design can then be “created” by adding objects, such as trees, shrubs, grass, and other materials, onto the image of the planning area.

There are many commercially available software programs that can be used to create visual simulations. The USDA National Agroforesty Center has developed CanVis, a free image editing program developed specifically for creating natural resource planning simulations. The CanVis image editing software is an entry-level program that allows resource professionals to create photo-realistic simulations with minimal computer skills. One of the main benefits of this program is its collection of object libraries that contain images of plants, agricultural features, people, wildlife, and park elements that can be quickly added to the base image. This saves users valuable time by not having to create objects from scratch. Some of the other tools available in CanVis include adding shadows and text, cloning textures, and adding hardscape elements, like pathways and walls.

For more information on Visual Simulation, please visit

Northern Research Station
United States Department of Agriculture
USDA Forest Service


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