All you need to know about Architectural Watercolor Rendering

Watercolor rendering has been used for architectural designs for hundred of years. If you need to render your project 3D computer-generated images are perhaps the best option but not the only option that exists. Designs can be rendered with watercolors using a simple brush and a piece of paper.

george nicola

By George Nicola (Expert Stager)

This article is for anyone looking to order or learn more about watercolor rendering. Watercolor is mainly used in architecture and construction projects.

The successful Watercolor illustration projects have the same principles as other visualization projects that we’ve discussed in this post.

Keep reading for tips and tricks on watercolor rendering techniques, average pricing, choice of colors, alternatives to watercolor rendering, and many more.

What is Architectural Watercolor Rendering?

An artist utilizing watercolors on an iPad to create a architectural rendering of a house.
An artist utilizing watercolors on an iPad to create a architectural rendering of a house.

Architectural watercolor rendering is a unique artistic application that uses color to sketch details of buildings, furniture, fixtures, appliances, and décor to make them look more extraordinary. It aims to show how the designs of buildings would look surrounded by their environment once they are constructed.

Watercolor renderings do not aim at accuracy but more at the ideology of selling the visual impression of a building or space.

Since it mixes a broad spectrum of colors, this powerful technique naturally boosts the inspiration behind architecture to evoke emotional responses from audiences. It is important to note that watercolor is translucent; therefore, you can manipulate it to show what’s underneath a design.

What is Manual Rendering technique?

Manual rendering refers to the technique of using your hand to draw or sketch designs. While manually rendered designs do not look as photo realistic as digital renders, their illustrations effectively express key features of architectural spaces.

Gordon Cullen - architectural manual renderings
Architectural manual rendering - by Gordon Cullen (1949)

Artists and architects who are more experienced in both manual rendering and digital rendering can effortlessly portray hand-rendered illustrations of architecture.

You can save a lot of money when working with an architectural renderer, but you need to know the industry’s negotiation rules and critical aspects. So everything starts with the initial search.

What is Digital Watercolor Rendering technique?

Digital Watercolor Rendering is done with 3D software. The workflow of digital watercolor has it’s similar to the photorealistic rendering. The difference is that watercolors have one additional step: an artist manually paints the watercolor effects over the 3D rendering.

Digital watercolor rendering Before – After

This article has a list of compared multiple types of architectural renderings and 2D illustration methods with examples.

What Architectural Watercolor Rendering Techniques Exist?

The below techniques require rigorous training and sophisticated application to achieve realistic illustrations of architectural designs.

Architecture Perspectives in Watercolor

In architectural watercolor rendering, perspective refers to the illustration of 3-D objects on 2-D (flat) surfaces to recreate an observer’s position relative to the object’s depth.

To use watercolor to capture the facades and streets of the buildings, consider these tips:

Architecture Perspectives in Watercolor
Architecture Perspectives in Watercolor - by John Lovett
  • Horizons – Use only one horizon because it naturally appears at an observer’s eye level. On the picture plane, place the horizon line low.
  • Distance – Compared to closer objects, distant objects are less defined, have softer edges, and have color saturation.
  • Vanishing points – If the observer is at street level, the windows, and roof of the building will lead down to the vanishing point.
  • Leave out details – Visualize nearby buildings as abstract shapes. Indicate that they are there without incorporating main parts, such as doorknobs, gutters, panes, etc.

Here it’s a very good tutorial done by John Lovett on finding the perspective vanishing points in watercolor renderings.

Interior Perspectives in Watercolor

Painting interior scenes is usually challenging because the designs are often characterized by strong perspective lines and strange lighting from single or multi-sources. Depending on your viewpoint, interior scenes can be rendered using two forms of linear perspectives:

interior perspective in watercolor
Interior one-point perspective in watercolor - by Liz Steel
  • One point perspective – This works best if your design has many scenes in smaller spaces since the observer is often positioned to look through the middle of a room or design. 
  • Two-point perspective – This works best for larger interior spaces, such as malls, halls, and theaters because the lines often converge on two vanishing points.

Both perspectives are essential intersections for walls and floors and ceilings and walls. When placed correctly, they usually reveal distance and space.

Be careful with lighting and reflections as well. Interiors typically have many reflective surfaces and many artificial lighting sources, which create sets of cast shadows.

Urban Watercolor Renderings

Before painting with watercolors, it’s important to draw the cityscape’s design to create strong compositions. The depth of urban watercolor renderings relies on the following perspectives.

urban watercolor renderings
Urban watercolor renderings - by Sophie Peanut
  • Linear Perspective – Widely used during the Renaissance, urban renderings have wide visual fields with all lines pointing towards one vanishing point or two vanishing points.
  • Cylindrical perspective – Such designs resemble a flattened interior of a cylinder and capture a 180-degree line of vision. While vertical lines remain straight, the horizontal lines are curved and distorted.
  • Spherical perspective – Such designs resemble what you see when staring at a sphere’s interior. Your image will have distorted horizontal and vertical lines.

Plan Watercolor Renderings

Watercolor rendering can help you illustrate the overall idea of layout plans or floor plans for any architectural design project. While conventional 2-D plans specify the size and placement of various elements, watercolor renderings can produce 3-D plans that illustrate the project’s architectural character, scale, and materials.

plan watercolor rendering
Plan watercolor rendering - by Boryana Ilieva

Generally, the first task is to draw trees and rock projections in pencil before applying shadows on the ground. Then you can render the lawns and contours with the same number of light washes followed by the walls, partitions, and furniture.

Watercolor Rendering Services Prices

Are you looking for a professional to showcase your property using a traditional watercolor rendering or a digital one?

The price range depends on complexity, time frame, scale, the accuracy of your model, perspective, etc.

Typically, 3-D (digital) watercolor rendering demands more hours for modeling, texturing, placements, lighting, and other design elements than 2-D watercolor renderings, which are 2-3 times cheaper.

Each workflow has its advantages and disadvantages.

For larger, more complex projects, it is advisable to invest in 3-D (digital) watercolor renderings; for smaller one-off projects, traditional manual watercolors are quick and cost-effective.

Average prices for 3-D watercolor rendering services

It’s hard to estimate the average price of watercolor illustrations.

* For the below watercolor’s average price chart, we’ve reached out to 20 watercolor artists in 5 different countries to achieve the average value per illustration shown below.

Type of Watercolor Rendering Service
Manual / Traditional (average price)
3-D Digital (average price)
Exterior watercolor illustration
$430 / £320 each
$780 / £580 each
Interior watercolor illustration
$380/ £280 each
$680 / £500 each
Urban/street watercolor illustration
$900 / £660 each
$1000 / £740 each
Site plans/floor plans watercolors
$600 / £440 each
$750 / £550 each

Pricing watercolor renderings/illustrations it’s not easy. There is no strict formula that can calculate a single price for an illustration. The watercolors are priced based on multiple factors:

– complexity of the project
– the purpose of the project
– client requests
– turnaround time
– technique and knowledge of the artist
– the size of the image
– the type of the output – digital or physical
– creative license

Watercolor Rendering Hacks

The below listicle takes you through different watercolor washes for architectural rendering that works every time in all designs.

The Flat Wash

Flat Wash - watercolor technique

Start applying your chosen wash at one end until it creates a puddle. Gently tilt the board in various directions until the puddle is evenly distributed. Finally, use a thirsty brush to soak up the excess wash.

One-color Graded Wash

One-color Graded Wash - watercolor technique

This technique follows the same process as the flat wash. However, you need to wet the board with a sponge before applying your chosen wash on one end. Finally, let the wash spread to other parts of the board.

Two-color Graded Wash

two-color Graded Wash - watercolor technique

While this technique follows the same process as the one-color graded wash, you’ll use two washes of your chosen colors. After applying the first wash, apply the second from the opposite end and let it fade towards the center.

Three-color Graded Wash

three-color Graded Wash - watercolor technique

This technique uses three washes. First, ensure your board is wet before applying each wash at the center, on the left, and on the right sides. Gently tilt the board back and forth to distribute the washes. Finally, use a thirsty brush to soak up any excess wash.

Graded Wash with a Central Vertical Shine

Graded Wash with a Central Vertical Shine

If you want to create cylindrically shaped designs, such as trees trunks and curved walls, use this technique. Follow the same process as the one-color graded wash but let the gradation finish in the center. Once it dries, repeat the process from the other side

Graded Wash with a Diagonal Shine

Graded Wash with a Diagonal Shine

While this technique follows the same process as Graded Wash with a Central Vertical Shine, you’ll start applying your wash in the corners and let the gradation finish towards the center.

Glare Wash

Glare Wash - watercolor technique

You need a dry board for this technique irrespective of whether you go for a flat wash or graded wash. Don’t tamper with the wash until it is laid on.

Two Glare Washes

Two Glare Washes - watercolor technique

Once you apply the first wash, let it dry, and then apply another one with a darker tone over it. It is advisable to use striking patterns for the second application.

Choice of Colors in Watercolor Rendering

Need help choosing watercolors for your architectural renderings? First, you must accept that all watercolors are created differently. Generally, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Use high-quality paint – This provides you with more control over the medium. Low-quality ones respond unevenly and don’t produce deeper shades.
  • Use a few primary colors – You can mix any color with red, blue, and yellow because all colors can be made from them.
  • Use transparent watercolors – If you want a color to show well after layering, use apply transparent watercolors first then apply darker coats over them.
  • Use non-staining colors – These colors can easily be lifted out from the paper using a damp brush: Antwerp Blue, Cobalt Turquoise, Green Gold, Turner’s Yellow, etc.
  • Avoid easily fading colors – Examples include Alizarin Crimson, Cobalt Yellow, Opera Pink, and Rose Madder Genuine, etc.
  • Use a color wheel – Combine color schemes using their positions on a color wheel:
    • Analogous: blues and greens
    • Complementary: greens and reds
    • Triad: blue, red, and yellow
    • Analogous Complementary: yellows and oranges; blues and violets.

Pro Tip: The higher the quality of your water-color paint, the sooner it will dry beautifully.

Watercolor Rendering for Beginners

Watercolor rendering can intimidate beginners, but you’ll eventually discover new ideas for your creations with these four key techniques.


Wet on wet watercolor

This technique allows you to add wet paint to a wet area. It is best for painting simple skies and landscapes because it gives a flowy effect.


Wet on dry watercolor technique

This technique allows you to add wet paint on a dry area. It is best for illustrating more defined and detailed shapes.

Building up Color

watercolor building of colors techniques

This technique allows you to build up color by mixing plain water with paint and using one color to create a seamless effect called “ombré.”

Creating Gradients

Gradients in watercolor techniques

This technique helps you build up color by mixing plain water with different values of two adjacent colors on the color wheel. It is best for painting simple skies and sunsets.

Pro Tip: Sketch designs first to keep you on track when applying layers of washes.

Watercolor Rendering for Advanced

Even if you are a watercolor rendering guru, you can incorporate these advanced techniques in your work to inspire you to create more exceptional creations.

Washed Ink

Washed ink watercolor technique

Start by applying waterproof ink, let it dry and then scrub it off using a rough bristle brush to produce fascinating shapes and textures. Use this technique before adding watercolor washes.

Sprayed Ink

Sprayed Ink watercolor technique

This technique uses permanent artist ink to unify a painting. Once you apply the ink, spray it with fine water and the painting will have soft irregular textures of ancient weathered coating

Candle Wax Resist

Candle Wax Resist watercolor technique

Since candle wax resists painting, you can use it to preserve white areas before applying paint. It also helps you to preserve washes of underlying color.

Sanding Dry Paper

Sanding Dry Paper - watercolor technique

You can use fine sandpaper to create unusual textures on dry painting by sanding its surface lightly. Feel free to fine-tune the sandpapered areas by applying further washes.

Watercolor Rendering by Hand

A stunning watercolor painting capturing the beauty of a city fountain.
A stunning watercolor painting capturing the beauty of a city fountain.

Watercolor rendering by hand is a vital step in the early design process that bridges the gap between 2-D line drawings and 3-D end products. In addition, this technique helps artists, architects, and interior designers to communicate ideas effortlessly since it allows more flexibility.

Even though it is quick and portable, it demands careful planning. In addition, correcting mistakes can be overwhelming, so if you want to create high-quality end products, digital skills are a must.  

To sharpen your skills, click here to read more about basic hand-drawn techniques.

Digital Watercolor Rendering

All watercolor renderings can be digitally illustrated. The watercolors provide an artistic feel while digital software allows for high-level customizations as explained below.

Watercolor Rendering in Photoshop

watercolor technique in photoshop

You can apply a watercolor effect to an architectural rendering in Photoshop even if you are not a master artist. Various filters in Photoshop impersonates the aesthetics of a hand-painted image to build up the watercolor effect gorgeously. Use watercolor Photoshop brushes to add paper textures and distortion for a more convincing result.

Click here for a step-by-step tutorial on watercolor rendering in Photoshop.

Watercolor Rendering in Procreate

Watercolor Renderings in Procreate

Procreate builds your confidence when choosing the right one with wide-ranging painting and blending brushes.

It also comes with thoughtful stamps that make the painting process more fun and less overwhelming! While you’ll achieve realistic results, the brushes can only mimic a fairly accurate appearance of a real watercolor effect.

Pro Tip: Best brushes include Blotch, Mad Splashes, Water Bleed, Wet Sponge & Water Flicks.

Watercolor Rendering in Sketchup

watercolor in sketchup
Watercolor in SketchUp technique - by Jim Leggitt

SketchUp has been the standard software for architectures because of its ease of use and wide-ranging tools.

The process amazingly transforms hand-crafted watercolor designs into a digital watercolor version to produce a more artistic visualization of actual scenes. It combines the manipulation of digital images and traditional hand coloring with markers.

Click here for a step-by-step tutorial on watercolor rendering in SketchUp.

Pros and Cons of Digital and Manual Architectural Watercolor Rendering

Below are listed the pros and cons you will encounter when dealing with Digital and Manual Watercolor renderings.

The average turnaround per illustration depends on the type of workflow.

Digital watercolor:
On average, a 3-D watercolor artist can deliver a draft illustration for most projects within 5 to 10 days.

Manual watercolor:
On average, a traditional watercolor artist can deliver a draft illustration for most projects within 2 to 3 days.

Digital Architectural Watercolor Rendering

Suitable for small and large projects
Higher prices
Flexability to change details
It takes more time
Easy to convert to other 3D types of rendering
Even if printed, it does not have texture on paper

Manual / Traditional Architectural Watercolor Rendering

Cost-effective for small to average projects
Mostly suitable for small and average projects
Perceived value as art painting
Larger the project – it takes more time
Quicker turnaround
Can’t be converted in 3D / Low flexability on changes

Alternatives to Watercolor Rendering

Pen and Ink

A person is creating a hand-drawn cityscape using pen and ink rendering techniques.
A person is creating a hand-drawn cityscape using pen and ink rendering techniques.

‘Pen and ink’ is a drawing technique in fine art that uses black and colored inks to create strong areas of contrast on paper. Common techniques include hatching, ink wash, stippling, random lines, and cross contour. This technique creates a clean, finished appearance in designs.


An architectural collage rendering of a building surrounded by geometric shapes.
An architectural collage rendering of a building surrounded by geometric shapes.

Originally an analog technique, collage has been adapted to 3-D editing software like Photoshop. You can edit objects and human figures while manipulating architectural scenes. The “not so real” final product often contains textures with no shadows for diverse narratives from viewers.


A desk with architectural drawings and a tablet.
A desk with architectural drawings and a tablet.

Sketches are rough drawings used to communicate ideas concisely. They are ideal for illustrations before project implementation and during construction. Freehand sketches use paper, pen, and pencil, while digital sketches use apps and software like Autodesk Sketchbook.


An architectural rendering showcased a living room with large windows and a staircase.
An architectural rendering showcased a living room with large windows and a staircase.

Rendering software have quickly advanced to create replicas of actual built environments once a project is executed. Such hyperrealism is realized in the software or app by setting various parameters including lighting, opaqueness, texture, and reflectivity of the objects.

Watercolor Architecture Examples

Temple of Wady Kardassy in Nubia

Artist: David Roberts

Roberts sketched this temple on the spot in Egypt between 1838 and 1839 and transcribed it into a finished watercolor painting upon returning to London.

The House of the Prince of Naples in Pompeii

Artist: Luigi Bazzani

This is located on the west side of the Vicolo Dei Vettii in Regio VI. The atrium of the Domus has an impluvium and a marble table with richly carved supports.


Artist: James Stuart

This is a view of the Caryatid Porch, the Erechtheion, the west end of the Temple of Minerva Polias, and the Pandrosium on the Acropolis in Ottoman Athens in 1750s.

Key Takeaways: Should you use 3-D watercolor or Traditional Watercolor?

Architectural designs can be illustrated with both types of watercolors. Whether your architectural design is hand-drawn or digitally created, the watercolor technique naturally boosts the inspiration behind architecture to evoke emotional responses from audiences.

All you need is to decide on your end goal and pick a workflow. For example, if you are doing a manual/traditional watercolor, choose a simple brush, a piece of paper, and most importantly, basic water coloring skills and start experimenting.


Click here to understand more the logic behind cost-effective types of 3-D architectural renderings