Radio explains how to create isometric icons in Illustrator using a grid and the 3D Extrude tool.
- Software: Illustrator CS3 or later
- Project time: 1 hour
- Skills: Master grids, Use the 3D Extrude tool effectively, Shade 3D objects
We normally work to an unwritten formula when we do isometric work. We keep things as simple and accurate as possible by using a grid and working with colour guides to keep the icons in the same shade and tint.
Over the following steps, we’ll walk through how to create isometric icons that you can build up into a 3D custom map or cityscape image. Once you get the hang of drawing the simplest shapes in this isometric style, you can draw just about anything.
The first thing to do is find a good reference image of the element that you are trying to draw. Next, open Illustrator and make a grid: we use a blend of lines at 30° and -30° and then go to View>Make Guides. This helps to keep everything at the correct angles for your final scene.
Next, draw a rectangle. Using the 3D Extrude tool is a quick and easy way to get your rectangle into an isometric shape. You can play with the settings like Extrude Depth to get it looking how you want. We turn Surface to No Shading, as we prefer to do this ourselves.
Now go to Object>Expand Appearance. This makes it easier to work with the shapes. Use your grid if you need make the shape longer or taller.
After selecting your colour palette, add colour. Make sure you consider where your light source is. As a rule, we normally make the top part of an element the lightest, with the right-hand side one shade darker.
Use smart guides to be more accurate – this will particularly help when you draw the stroke around your objects. We normally do the darkest shade around the entire image and then a much lighter shade for the highlights. Keep your dark outside stroke on the top layer, otherwise the lighter highlights will overlap.
Now start to add the really tiny details, making sure you adhere to your colour guide. Duplicate your first stroke here and make it two or so shades lighter (although not lighter than your main highlights).
A tip for when you’re adding the details is that using Round Corners (Effects>Stylize) is a quick way to add curves while still keeping it isometric.
For the disc entrance, we drew a rounded rectangle and used the 3D Extrude tool. For a flat shape like this, turn the Extrude Depth to 0. Expand the shape, add colour and a stroke around the element as you did before.
We created the blue light by adding a Linear gradient at 0°. Make both swatches the same shade of blue but drag the opacity of the right swatch down to 0.
To draw the remote, make a rounded rectangle and play with the corner radius setting.
Once you have your rounded rectangle, use the 3D Extrude tool to extrude the shape. Again, expand and colour – as in the previous steps.
For smaller details like the circles here, repeat the process we already outlined, playing with the position options to get them at the right angle.
To add the button detail, use a stroke with a tapered edge. This makes the shape look a lot smoother.
The last bit of detail on the remote is the cross button Draw it flat and extrude the shape then add colours and shading as before. Now you can create the rest of the elements in your city individually, pasting each icon into the final scene on a new layer.
Don't forget to check out our Adobe Illustrator CS6 review.