How To Create a Sun Path Diagram – Adobe Illustrator Tutorial

How To Create a Sun Path Diagram – Adobe Illustrator Tutorial

A good Sun Path diagram is present in almost any architectural project. Being an architecture student, you don’t need an extremely detailed or highly accurate diagram full of numbers or figures. This method of creating a sun path diagram is done using Adobe Illustrator as well as online resources. To keep it simple, the diagram shows your site (where your building will be), the surrounding buildings and the way in which the sun moves across this area.

For example, if your building is North facing, you can design according to the different lights that it will get. This will help you to make decisions on where to have entrances, windows and other openings. By setting up your sun path diagram, you can get a rough idea of the things you need to keep a note of when it comes to designing. It can also show how the building heights and other constraints around the site are affected by the way the sunlight moves across the site.

This diagram should be in the beginning portion of your portfolio, along with your site analysis. Check out our portfolio guidance post. When you receive a brief, it should ideally come with a generic area or a specific site where you will be designing a building. As part of site research, a sun path diagram will show good research skills as well as showing that you understand the ways in which the sun can really affect your building and what you are going to do to accommodate it. This tutorial is for a simple Sun Path diagram, but we also have one on a 3D version.

Before anything, you need to find references. This help gives you inspiration if you don’t already have a clear idea of the layout or style you want. The best source is Pinterest. Check out our board ‘Sun Path Diagrams’.

The Steps

The first thing you need to figure out is your site. For this example, we are going to use a site in Shoreditch. We are going to use Digimap to download a version of a map of the area.

For this diagram, we are using an A2 page in portrait with the map scale at 1:1000. If you don’t know how to use Digimap follow our tutorial on How to Create Maps. After cleaning up the map, it should look something like this:

initial map

Make sure there aren’t any labels or extra vector shapes, justthe building outlines and pavement outlines. The stroke width is set to 0.5ptfor now.

Now, the map can be edited in several ways. You could use the Live Paint Tool to fill the closer buildings with a darker colour and the further away buildngs with lighter colours. Then, you can change the Stroke colour or get rid of it so that it has a clean, minimal look. We’re going to leave it as it is for now.

*Make sure you save your file; since we are working with a lot of detail, Adobe Illustrator could crash or lag.

Next, we need to figure out the sun position for the site. We use SunCalc. It’s a great website that shows you the exact sun positioning at whichever date and time you choose.

use Sun Calc to find your sun path

In this example, we’ve located our site, but the Sun Path needsto be set to a specific date and time. For diagrams like this, you can use Equinoxdates.

adjust to a generic date and time

We don’t need the current time date, just the sunrise and sunset angles. Next, we’re going to use the Clipping Mask Tool from Windows / Mac, or anything similar that will print your screen. Save this image somewhere.

To place it into Adobe Illustrator, Create a New Layer andgo to File > Place. Lock the map layer so you don’t accidently moveit.

locking layers can be quite useful

Next, turn down the Opacity of the layer, and adjust the size to roughly match that of the map. Make sure you don’t change the mapin any way as it is scaled. Now we know approximately where the sun path will be.

Lock the sun path image layer and turn it off for now.

adjust the sun path image

Create a New Layer and using the Ellipse Tool (L) Click and Drag to create a circle shape that is slightly smaller than the page. To make sure it is an even circle, hold down the Shift key. If you're using later versions of Illustrator, you might not need to hold down. Look out for the link icon in the top toolbar.

The site should be in the middle of the circle. Then, goahead and Unlock the map layer.

the circle is the base for the sun path diagram

Use the Selection Tool (V) or use the keys Ctrl + Ato select everything. Then, go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make orRight Click and choose Create Clipping Mask.

clipping masks

At this point, if you want to edit the map in any way, you can. Right Click and select Isolate Selected Clipping Mask. Now we’re going to edit the map and add some colour using the Live Paint Tool.

To get back out, Double Click elsewhere. Now turn on the sun path image layer, Lock and Create a New Layer. Then, use the Pen Tool (P) to trace the two sun path angles. This gives us a rough outline of the way in which the Sun will move across this area.

draw the sun angles

Then, Using the Pen Tool (P) again, draw around the site with a different stroke colour. Here we have used red but anything that sticks out works fine.

create a site outline

To change the stroke to a Dashed line, go to the Stroke Panel by using the top toolbar or by going to Window > Stroke andclick on Stroke to show several options. Then, check the Dashed Line box, and adjust this so that the dashes are visible.

dashed site outline

Now, Unlock the Map layer and making sure the outline is selected, drag and drop the small square in the Layers Panel down to the Map layer.


Next, get rid of the sun path image by Deleting the layer. Create a circle shape using the Ellipse (L) on the Map layer and make sure your Smart Guides are turned On. Drag the circle so that it is in the centre of the map circle, not to be confused with the site centre. You can use the Align Panel if you are having a difficult time.

add a circle in the centre

Select the Circle using the Selection Tool (V) and create a New Layer and drag and drop the small square on to the new layer. Then, Lock the maplayer.

align to the centre

Create another small circle directly above the previous one and make sure you are on the correct layer. Position this so that the centre point is on the edge of the Map circle.

add a smaller circle

With the smaller circle selected, use the Rotate Tool (R) and click on the centre of the first circle, then hold down the Alt Key and click again. There should be another window prompting you to enter an angle.

use the rotate tool

With the preview button checked, enter approximate angles until they match the point where your two lines intersect the Map circle.

Then repeat this evenly for the bottom half, 3 times. You can do this by calculating the angle in between the two lines and then dividing by 4 and adding on each time. (Yes, this is where you can finally use your maths skills)

figure out your angles + note them down

You can now Delete the middle circle. Each of the circles represent the different times. The yellow circle isSunrise (5am) and the blue circle is Sunset (10pm). The circles in-between are 10am, 3pm and 8pm respectively. Again, this doesn’t need to be detailed down to the minutes.

Delete the sun angle layer.

colour the circles

Now, Create a New Layer and lock the circles layer. Draw two lines using the Pen Tool (P) from the yellow and blue circle to the centre of the site. Then, draw a triangle shape from one of the orange circles. We are going to apply a gradient to this.

add in a triangle shape

Click on the triangle using the Selection Tool (V) andopen the Gradients Panel. Go to Window > Gradient (Ctrl + F9).

Drag Down the orange fill colour on to the Gradient Slider. Then, click on the Black pointer and click the Delete button next to the slider.

adding gradients

Then, click on the White pointer, and set the Opacity to 0%. Now, use the angle, or the Reverse button to move the orange gradient so that it is coming out of the circle end. You could also use the Gradient Tool to adjust the angle of the gradient manually by clicking and dragging.

this gives an added layer so that all the circles don't look the same

Repeat this step for the otherthree circles. You can apply the same gradient to the other shapes by using the Eyedropper Tool (I) and adjusting if needed. Or just Copy (Ctrl + C) and Paste (Ctrl + V) the same shape and Rotate.

make the white transparent

Add text to each circle using the Type Tool (T) and adjust the circles, colours and gradients as you see fit.

Final Thoughts

Below, you can see that we made the circles smaller because they were taking up too much space and defeats the purpose of the map. The text shows the times of the day.  You could also add in a key at this point to differentiate between the different colours.

It is a good idea to stick to a simple colour palette at this point. If you already have a theme of colours in your portfolio, use those for the lines or site outline and try not to use bold or garish colours and this can distract from the work and look unprofessional.

final edits

We also created a darker scheme that can look more interesting but might not be suitable for your portfolio,you should always try and keep your portfolio neat and minimal.

This Sun Path Diagram tutorial was just one simple, basic way of creating a Sun Path. You can choose to add more detail or apply this to other kinds of diagrams based around the site. If you're interested, we've also created a 3D Sun Path Diagram Tutorial to show you another way of spicing up your site analysis.

We would love to see any of your diagrams or hear about any other tips and methods that you use so we can share them with everyone.

Leave a comment below, or just let us know what other kinds of pages you would like a tutorial on!

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