Digital Tools for Permaculture Design

Free and accessible tools for digital permaculture designs

This is an evolving resource base, curating links, reviews, and tutorials for apps that help with permaculture design but that do NOT require a monthly payment. (If you already use Adobe products, those will work just fine, but you may still find some apps here to be helpful.)

Digital tools for permaculture: an evolving resource base

7 Reasons to use Digital Tools for your Permaculture Designs

this section by Paige Payne

  1. It’s easier to create layers. You can create one base map as your base layer. Then you can go in and create new layers for each of the maps you need to draw digitally. Simply click add a new layer and it’s done, you have a clean slate to draw on. With hand drawing you have to make actual physical copies of each and every layer starting with your base map. 
  2. Less paper and waste. You can simply print the finalized version if you want actual paper copies. You don’t need all of those extra drafts laying around.
  3. It’s super easy to erase or revise as needed. If you don’t like something where it is click on it and move it. You don’t need to erase it or start another new draft all over from scratch.
  4. It’s easier to play around with layout of text and the overall look of the map without having to commit to the printed drawing (i.e. less erasing, paper, etc)
  5. The right digital tools will do the scaling for you. No math involved when you are trying to get creative! Yay!
  6. The digital versions are so much easier to share via email, social media, etc.​
  7. Digital tools make it easier to create clean and legible maps if your handwriting and drawing skills have not been refined. 

Digital tools can be helpful for mapping “invisible” layers as well, such as in this example , mapping where ethics and principles show up in her design.


A handful of simple tools can make your design process and presentations flow so much better, and can really help ensure that clients, students, and stakeholders understand and support your ideas. 

Each step in the GOBRADIME design process calls for certain types of tools, and as you can see, there’s a lot of crossover.

​Most of our favorite digital tools for permaculture can be used in a variety of ways, so here’s an assortment of recommendations so you can explore and find what tools work best for your situation.

tools for each permaculture step

Which apps and digital tools are best for permaculture designers?

Truth be told, you can probably envision, collaborate, build, and present your multi-layered permaculture design project, using only the tools that came with your computer and/or the free apps provided by Google. You can make drawings, presentations, documents, spreadsheets, videos, and more. 

Reasons to use other apps and digital tools (besides Google and/or what came on your device)

  • They offer specialized capabilities that your native apps don’t.
  • They give you quick access to special information that would take much longer to find by other means. 
  • They are often easier to use, and tend to come with good tech support, whereas the tech support with your built-in apps will be a bot, at best.
  • They make it possible to do things you never thought possible, with just your phone, tablet, or laptop!

When it comes to choosing what software, apps, and digital tools to use, it can be hard to know where to even start. Especially if you’re still a student and/or if you aren’t super computer-savvy, the idea of downloading a bunch of stuff gets overwhelming. Also, permies tend to be…er..frugal, and we definitely don’t want to pay $30 and more every month for use of a tool that we could find for free and/or purchase for a one-time payment that supports an ethical company. 

To spare you the confusion, annoyance, and accidental credit card payments we endured, we’ve tested and curated a collection of tools we can confidently recommend. 

And they’re cheap! Most come with a robust free trial, and you could go all-in on the most expensive version and still only spend a few hundred bucks. In rare cases, we have included apps that offer a monthly membership, but only in cases where the free version of that tool is absolutely adequate for all of our purposes as permaculture designers.

Free and easy apps for beginner designers

(personal pics from a technologically challenged designer)

  1. Jitsi Meet, for meeting with clients, students, and stakeholders. Use the screenshare feature to review maps and data together.
  2. Loom for creating fast, easy to share screencast video presentations and tutorials.
  3. Trello, for brainstorming, creating task lists, collaborating with others, and so much more.
  4. Canva, for creating charts, diagrams, infographics, and all sorts of graphic designs, easily.
  5. SketchUp, for creating 3D models of your landscape and structures.
  6. Notebook, for collecting field data, organizing information, and creating scrapbooks.
  7. Sketchbook, for drawing and rendering multi-layered designs. Import images, draw shapes, add text, and more.
  8. Google Slides, for creating PDF design presentations. There are so many apps that do this, but Google Slides is just so dang easy and it works from anywhere.
  9. Otter Voice Notes, for keeping track of ideas and transcribing meetings.
  10. Many apps can do a Reverse Image Search, and it’s super helpful for identifying plants, insects, birds, rocks--you name it! This is the best one for iOS.
  11. Whichever AR Measurement app came with your phone. Use these all day, every day, when working out the placement of plants and components on your site.
  12. Whichever photo and video editing apps came with your phone. Learn to take good photographs, and take the time to edit them. If you let them, your permaculture photos could educate thousands!
  13. Untools. Because it’s amazing.

Want to learn more about this and other topics related to permaculture, sustainability, and whole-systems design? We offer a range of FREE (donations optional) online courses!

50+ Digital Tools & Apps for Permaculture Designers

All of the apps mentioned on this page, PLUS a bunch of super-useful mapping apps, are linked in this PDF.  

This list includes 50+ free, cheap, and open-source apps and web-based tools. These are NOT affiliate links. This is a curated, tested resource list, offered as a service to the permaculture design community, based on professional recommendations and hands-on trials with each tool.

Permaculture Design on Your iPad

We won’t get into the pros and cons of each type of device and system, but for sure if you have a device that works with a digital pencil, a whole world opens up for you as a designer. The iPad with Apple Pencil is an AMAZING tool for permaculture design.

iPad Apps for Permaculture Landscape Garden Whole System Design!

More Tools and Tutorials

Once you’ve got your apps picked out and have started getting comfortable with digital tools in general, you’re ready to watch some tutorials.

We’ve assembled an evolving collection of tutorials on creating permaculture designs, and they come from a wide range of sources. Some videos will appeal more to you than others, and that’s the idea!

Google Earth For Farmers 1: Download, Basic Functions
Google Earth for Farmers 2: Drawing and Measure Tools
Putting Together a Permaculture Garden Design using OmniGraffle

How to Use a Standardized Scale for Permaculture Design

How to use Google Maps to create a Landscape Base Map

Landscape Design & Garden Drawing with Procreate for iPad Pro

How to Use a Standardized Scale for Permaculture Design
How to Make Sector Map

Permaculture Design in Illustrator - Residential Landscape Plan

How to use SketchUp contour lines for permaculture design swales : sustainablesurvival

How to make a FREE Topographic Map for Permaculture Design

permaculture design map

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