Animal Crossing Terraforming Guide - How To Unlock And Use Island Designer

Here's how to unlock Island Designer--paths, waterscaping, and cliff construction--and our best tips for terraforming your island in AC: New Horizons.


One of Animal Crossing: New Horizons' biggest features compared to past games is Island Designer, an app for the in-game NookPhone that lets you terraform your island to your liking. This includes pathmaking, building water features, and building cliffs--or destroying those things, if you want. The island you get is not the island you have to have, and it can be changed to your heart's content.

Below, we've outlined how to unlock Island Designer as well as each part of the app, how to work each of its features, our best terraforming tips, and everything else you need to know. We have tons of other Animal Crossing guides, so be sure to check out our Animal Crossing: New Horizons guide roundup for all the latest.

How To Get Terraforming: Unlocking The Island Designer App

Island Designer is a later-game feature, so there are a few steps you'll need to take over at least two weeks of playtime in order to unlock it. You need to have unlocked the Resident Services building and begun Tom Nook's Project K assignment, which requires you to:

  • Build the campsite
  • Invite the first camper to live on your island
  • Build three housing plots (following his instructions)
  • Get three villagers to move into those houses (one per day)
  • Get your island to a three-star rating

Project K will take quite a few days to complete, plus the time and effort it takes to decorate your island and improve your rating. Luckily, as long as you plant flowers and trees and put some furniture here and there, you should be able to get to three stars pretty easily once you've improved your population numbers.

The day after you've reached three stars, Tom Nook will give you the Island Designer app on your NookPhone. At first, you'll only have access to the path tool and two types of paths (grass and dirt), but you can unlock more path options, the waterscaping tool, and the cliff construction tool with Nook Miles.

Path Types And Unlock Cost

Each additional path type costs 2,000 Nook Miles with the exception of the Custom Design path, which costs 2,300. This will let you use any Custom Design as a path. You can unlock each of the additional path styles at the Nook Stop machine in Resident Services.

  • Grass (free)
  • Dirt path (free)
  • Stone path
  • Brick path
  • Dark dirt path
  • Arched tile path
  • Sand path
  • Terra-cotta tiles
  • Wooden path
  • Custom Design path

Unlocking The Waterscaping And Cliff-Construction Permits

You can unlock the ability to waterscape and, separately, the ability to build cliffs at any time after you've received the Island Designer app. Each permit costs 6,000 Nook Miles and can be redeemed at the Nook Stop machine in Resident Services.

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How To Terraform Using Island Designer

Before you really get going with Island Designer, you'll want to familiarize yourself with all the tools. The app itself includes a manual that will walk you through the basics; each tool is operated with A, and you can use the + button to switch between permits and path types. We outline specific use cases and our best tips below.


When you're using the path tool, pressing A on a plain grassy area will build a path, and then pressing A again will remove it. You can also use the grass tool to remove paths if you prefer. You can use different path types next to each other, but they won't be flush with one another; there will be a gap between them.

If you have a few of the same path "tiles" adjacent to each other, pressing A on them will first round the path, and you'll have to press A again to remove it fully. You can use this to create rounded edges and various shapes.

For example, to make circles on the ground, put four path tiles next to each other in a square, then hit A on each of them again to round them out. For hearts, do a bigger 3x3 square with one corner missing, then round out the sides nearest that empty corner.

Special Cases

Not all the path types were made equal. You can only dig into dirt, dark dirt, and sand paths; you can plant flowers and trees on these paths as well. All other paths are more solid, but you can still place items on top of them like you would grass, dirt, or sand. Keep in mind that fossils will only appear on grass, so it's not recommended that you totally cover your island in paths.

Using Custom Designs

You can also use Custom Designs you've either made or downloaded as paths if you've unlocked the ability to do so (it costs 2,300 Nook Miles at the Nook Stop machine). This is far easier and more efficient than placing the designs on the ground one by one like in previous games.

Regular Custom Designs mostly work like any other path, but unlike regular paths, you can remove them at any time using Y (which is likely to be an accident and can be frustrating). Also, Custom Designs do lay flush with one another even if they're different. Because of this, you can make a more complex path using several different designs; if your design has multiple pieces, use + to switch between them (like when making corners or edges to a road, for example).

If your Custom Design has at least one transparent pixel, you can layer that design over the standard paths. This way, you can round out the edges of your custom designs like you would the regular paths--just lay down and shape a regular path first, then put your design over it. You can also place Custom Designs that utilize transparency on regular grass.

If you change a Custom Design in the NookPhone app, any path you've put down using that design will change with it. This can make it easy to update your paths without having to redo all of them, but make sure you're editing the right ones!

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For waterscaping, pressing A on land will dig a trench for water. Pressing A again will fill up the trench; as with paths, if you have a few "tiles" of water next to each other, pressing A will first round out the edges and then, when pressed again, remove the water entirely.

Waterscaping is the most finicky of the Island Designer tools, and it definitely takes practice. For example, to round out a sharp corner, you'll have to place your character a bit back from the edge. Be patient!

When building rivers, keep in mind that bridges span four water tiles. The edges of the river also have to be even for three or four tiles in order to support the bridge.

Your character can hop across any water feature that's one or two tiles wide. With this in mind, you can create land bridges across rivers without fully dividing the river--you can fill in a piece of land in the middle of a river and jump across it. Keep in mind that villagers won't be able to cross rivers without bridges.

Warning: Fishing

When waterscaping, make sure you leave enough river to fish in normally, if you care about fishing. You'll want at least some river on a cliff section in order to catch clifftop-only fish, and you'll want any river you hope to fish in to be a normal width (three or four tiles so you can get your bobber wherever you need it to go).

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Cliff Construction

Cliffs are built and destroyed from the level below them, and like with everything else, you can round them if you have multiple cliff pieces next to each other. You can build up to three tiers of cliffs on top of one another, but you won't be able to climb up the third tier, and you can't build new tiers right up to the edge of the previous tier--meaning you can't make big cliff walls.

Villagers won't be able to go up cliffs without an incline, so keep this in mind when placing villager houses on cliffs.


To build waterfalls, you need to be up on the cliff you'd like the waterfall to go down. You can then use the waterscaping tool to build the waterfall at the edge. You need to fill in the waterfall first before you can destroy the cliff it's on.

Other Tips

When terraforming, it's a good idea to have anything edible on hand--preferably your native fruit, since it's the least profitable of the fruits. You can eat fruit to gain a kind of super-strength that allows you to dig up trees whole and destroy rocks. Using this fruit power, you can move trees in your way without cutting them down and having to grow them all over again. You can also destroy rocks that are in undesirable locations, as they will "grow" back in another spot the next day. You can keep destroying rocks until they end up in good locations.

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