Isometric drawing: a designer’s guide

Isometric drawing: Quick links

Isometric drawing is a form of 3D drawing, which is defined using 30 degree angles. This is a type of axonometric drawing, so the same scale is used for each axis, resulting in an undistorted image. Since isometric grids are quite easy to set up, once you understand the basics of isometric drawing, creating a freehand isometric sketch is relatively straightforward.

This article explains everything you need to know about isometric drawing. You will learn exactly what defines an isometric drawing, how it differs from a point perspective, what to do to start creating your own isometric projection, and more.

Further elevate your artistic skills by following the tutorials in our drawing guide (which will teach you how to draw just about anything), and you can also use this roundup of artistic techniques you should know.

What is isometric drawing?

An isometric drawing is a 3D representation of an object, room, building, or drawing on a 2D surface. One of the defining characteristics of an isometric drawing, compared to other types of 3D representation, is that the final image is not distorted. This is because the shortening of the axes is equal. The word isometric comes from the Greek and means “equal measure”.

Isometric drawing: 30 degree angles

Isometric designs are built around 30 degree angles (Image credit: Christophe Dang Ngoc Chan, Mike Horvath)

Isometric drawings differ from other types of axonometric drawings, including dimetric and trimetric projections, in which different scales are used for different axes to give a distorted final image.

In an isometric drawing, the object appears as if viewed from above from a corner, with the axes defined from that corner point. Isometric drawings begin with a vertical line along which two points are defined. All lines drawn from these points should be constructed at an angle of 30 degrees.

Isometric drawing vs perspective at one point

Isometric drawings and one-point perspective drawings use geometry and mathematics to present 3D representations on 2D surfaces. One-point perspective designs mimic what the human eye sees, so objects appear smaller the further away they are from the viewer. In contrast, isometric drawings use a parallel projection, which means objects stay the same size regardless of their distance.

Isometric drawing: perspective at a point

Point perspective mimics what the human eye sees (Image credit: Oliver Harrison – CC BY 2.5)

Basically, isometric drawing does not use perspective in its rendering (i.e. lines do not converge as they move away from the viewer). Isometric drawings are more useful for functional drawings which are used to explain how something works, while one point perspective drawings are generally used to give a more sensory idea of ​​an object or space.

How to draw an isometric cube

Drawing a cube using isometric projection is very easy. You will need a piece of paper, a ruler, a pencil and a protractor (or for the shortened version, using grid paper, skip to the next section).

Using the ruler, draw a vertical line on the page and mark three equally spaced points along it. Draw a horizontal line through the lowest point and, using the protractor, draw an angle of 30 degrees to the line on each side. Draw a line through the lowest point of the 30 degree angle on each side.

Repeat this step through the middle point and the same through the top point, but with the top point, mark the angle down. The lines of the second and third point will intersect at a certain point, and from this intersection draw a vertical line descending to the angular lines coming from the lower point. You should be able to see the shape of the cube where all the lines intersect.

Use an isometric grid

For all cheaters who don’t have the tools (or the tilt) to create an isometric projection, there’s a surefire way to disparage your axonometric drawing: just use an isometric grid. The template can be downloaded online and will save you a lot of time and effort.

You can also learn how to set up your own grid in Illustrator by following the video tutorial below.

Once your eyes get used to the deception of the triangle pattern, you will immediately notice how isometry works. The super handy thing about the grid is that it already has all of the 30 degree angles configured for you. This tutorial shows you how to draw a cube using an isometric grid.

The advantages of isometric drawing

Isometric drawings are very useful for designers, especially architects, industrial and interior designers, and engineers, as they are ideal for visualizing parts, products and infrastructure. It’s a great way to quickly experiment with different design ideas.

There are a number of other situations in which isometric projection is useful. In orientation systems, for example in museums or galleries, an isometric wall map can show visitors where they are in the building, what is happening elsewhere, and how to get around.

Some of the best infographics use isometric projection to allow them to display more information than would be possible in a 2D drawing. Some logo designs also use this approach to create impact.

Representations of places, like the one created by Jing Zhang, are only a use of isometric drawing techniques. (Image credit: Jing Zhang)

Exploded isometric drawings are useful for revealing parts of a product that may be hidden or internal. They are used by architects, engineers and product designers around the world to better explain the intricacies of a design. To create an exploded isometric you need to know the detailed inner workings of anything you draw, so they are typically used at the final design stage for presentations to clients.

Isometric drawing examples

Click on the icon at the top right to enlarge the image (Image credit: Mauco)

Illustrator and artistic director Mauco created this isometric map to represent the areas surrounding the SPECTRUM building in London. It only shows the main roads and landmarks to help people get oriented.

Click on the icon at the top right to enlarge the image (Image credit: Jing Zhang)

Jing zhang is an illustrator working primarily with clients in the advertising industry. She has built a particular reputation for her detailed exploded isometric designs, including this creation for Slack. This is part of a series meant to accompany the brand’s stories, focusing on things like a happy mobile workforce (above).

Click on the icon at the top right to enlarge the image (Image credit: Tim Peacock, The California Sunday Magazine)

This design was created for a California Sunday Magazine article titled The Tech Revolt exploring political activism in the tech industry. In this one, the illustrator Tim peacock uses isometric projection as a way to reveal the inner workings of a Silicon Valley office building.

Click on the icon at the top right to enlarge the image (Image credit: MC Escher)

MC Escher was perhaps the king of the use of isometric projections in his works. His use of parallel geometries to represent stunning stairs that go nowhere will be familiar to most. In Cycle (1938), we clearly see how isometric projection enters into his work, from the ground motif to the use of cubes that turn into steps.

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