How to Make Fantastic Isometric Illustrations in the Simplest Way

Isometric illustration is the use of isometric projection to visually represent three-dimensional objects in a two-dimensional plane.

Isometric illustrations of objects all align to the same scale to create an illusion of perspective, but without the vanishing point of actual perspective. Other 3D illustrations are dimetric and trimetric, but isometric illustrations use the same angles, which are usually of 30°. Isometric illustration can be an excellent way of visualizing buildings, areas, or products for architects, interior designers, or industrial engineers, and it also has a certain aesthetic appeal. The most common software used for this kind of design is Adobe Illustrator.

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Create an Isometric Grid

Select the Rectangular Grid tool from the Toolbar, click once, then add an appropriate width to the popup options box, such as 2,500 pixels. Next, add some horizontal and vertical dividers, such as 60. These figures can be set to your own preferences. The grid can be centered, and the color customized, then rotated 45° while holding Downshift. The grid then needs to be scaled to make it isometric, which can be done by double-clicking the Scale Tool to bring upscale properties. Select non-uniform, then in the vertical field, enter 57.74. The grid may then need to be resized to fit the background rectangle. 

The isometric grid can be set a standard background grid by selecting it, then going to View – Guides – Make Guides. The grid can be made to disappear, then return by typing command – Colon. Now the grid can be used to draw isometric shapes with the Pen tool. Make sure that under view you have Snap to Pixel deselected, and then the Pen will default to the intersection points of your grid.

Shear, Scale, Rotate

For those more experienced with isometric projection, a grid may not be necessary, and other tools will be quicker. With a 3D object, such as a cube, the starting point can be three squares, which will be the three faces of the cube that are visible to us. 

Select one of the squares then double click the Scale Tool. Select non-uniform then enter 86.602 into the vertical field. Next, choose the Shear Tool and in the Shear Angle Field enter -30. This will turn the square into a parallelogram and give it a sense of perspective. Then choose the Rotate Tool and also enter -30 into the angle field, and this will create a left face of a 3D cube.  

For the square that will be the right face of the cube, the same actions of Shear, Scale, and Rotate will need to be performed, except that the negative values will become positive. For the top face, the shear angle will need to be positive (30), then angle for rotate will need to be negative (-30). 

To put the sides together to make a cube, smart guides can be used, and to make applying the same processes to different objects quicker, actions in Illustrator can be enabled.

Extrude and Bevel

This technique is used to give an extra dimension to flat isometric shapes that have already been rotated. The same effect can also be achieved using Guides, but the Extrude and Bevel Tools are a much quicker way of doing this. 

Select the object, go to Effect – 3D – Extrude & Bevel, then in the popup box, check Preview is selected. This enables live isometric rotation with three-angle controls, as well as perspective control. The Bevel Tool allows the object to be given a value for depth, which will create a 3D effect on flat surfaces or even a shadow. The object edges can also be given a number of different styles.  

It is relatively easy to get started with isometric illustrations in Adobe Illustrator, though this can be made as complex as the artist wishes it to be. By using isometric illustration, creative, interesting, and useful versions of the world can be created, with many applications in modeling, design, and various other industries.

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