Isometric Drawing for Designers: 5 Best Practices and Examples

Posted on July 3, 2024 | Updated on July 11, 2024

Isometric projection is a popular design that has captured the audience’s attention for years. Many brands have adopted it to curate visual interest and appeal. Because these designs are so unique, they inspire designers to add this technique to their portfolios.

This design trend gives graphics depth and complexity. By adding three-dimensional visuals on a flat surface, you can create some of the most engaging images on the block. Yet, as a designer, it is important to follow the top best practices to jumpstart your journey in isometric drawing.

What Is Isometric Drawing?

Isometric drawing is a technique for creating a three-dimensional representation of an object on a two-dimensional surface. The design involves drawing objects at a 30-degree angle to the horizontal plane, allowing a 3D representation without distortion. 

In an isometric drawing, the lines remain parallel rather than converging as they do in a perspective drawing. This gives you the ability to present complex structures clearly. As such, isometric projections are useful for diagrams, architectural plans and more. 

In every isometric design, designers must follow a grid to guide line and shape placement. The horizontal lines slope at a 30-degree angle, while the vertical lines remain vertical, following the 120-degree rule. As a result, the viewer receives a bird’s eye view of the objects within the graphic.

A city skyline displayed on a smartphone screen.

Source: https://dribbble.com/

Best Practices for Isometric Projection

To excel at isometric drawings, designers must follow a few techniques that create a strong foundation for these designs.

1. Simplify Complex Shapes

Isometric projects often have intricate structures, but breaking these down into simpler components can make the drawing process more manageable. 

One effective strategy for simplifying complex shapes is to find the basic geometric forms that make up the overall structure. Designers can deconstruct complex objects into simpler shapes like cubes, cylinders and prisms. By sketching these basic forms first, you can ensure the proportions and perspectives are correct.

2. Maintain a Consistent Perspective

Following the 30-degree angle rule and maintaining equal dimensions along the x,y and z axes is challenging. Keeping up with consistent angles can appear off balance and disrupt the illusion of depth if straying from the angles.

The easiest way to achieve consistency is to start with a rough sketch. Laying out a quick design allows you to correct any issues early on. Then, you can establish snapping features within your design software to further assist in keeping lines straight and angles in the proper position.

3. Focus on Detail and Texture

Detail and texture are key pieces to enhancing realism and visual interest. While the geometric nature of isometric designs simplifies shapes, adding more to your objects brings illustrations to life.

Adding detail is about incorporating smaller elements to add depth and complexity. For instance, this could include tiny features like windows on a building or intricate patterns on surfaces. Even though these details are subtle, they make the drawing look complete. 

With texture, you can make the drawing appear more realistic. This includes techniques such as shading, gradients and brush strokes. For example, you can add depth to flat surfaces by applying shading to create light and shadow. Experiment with your design software to achieve the right balance. Doing so will ensure your isometric drawings are precise and visually appealing.

4. Use Grids

Isometric grids are crucial for guiding object and line placement. They help designers maintain consistent angles and proportions, providing a structured framework to work with in the design. Grids also keep all elements aligned. They ensure every part of the drawing adheres to the same scale, making the overall composition cohesive.

Plus, grids make every part of the process simple. If you are constructing complex scenes — these guides provide reference points — eliminating guesswork or avoiding distortions while drawing freehand.

Designers can find isometric grids in various software, such as Sketch, Figma and Adobe Illustrator. Additionally, numerous downloadable templates and online tools provide ready-to-use isometric grids.

5. Experiment With Perspectives

In perspective design, the parallel lines would converge. However, isometric drawings achieve the opposite because all angles must be equal in length and space. As a best practice, try practicing with perspective to push boundaries and explore new possibilities.

Varying the angles and viewpoints can be one way to experiment. For example, you can create different compositions by layering different elements at varying heights. This route adds complexity and movement to the design, which can draw the viewer’s attention to other parts of the composition.

Examples of Isometric Drawings

Look for inspiration and use the following examples to recreate your own. Practicing others’ isometric designs is key to helping you improve.

Isometric 3D Illustration

An isometric drawing of an interior with a couch, lamp, and window.

Source: Isometric 3D Illustration by Mithobs on Dribbble

This first example is of an isometric design with detailed environments. The drawing features a warm, softly lit room with a large circular window. Notice how the light gently casts down onto the plush sofa. The careful use of shading and gradients adds depth to make the room appear three-dimensional. 

Additionally, the designer has added texture to bring life to the design. Soft cushions, wooden flooring and sheer curtains offer tactile qualities to create intimate, atmospheric spaces.

Clean and Minimalistic

An assortment of electronic devices on display.

Source: BASIC ISOMETRIC by Ankit Jaiswal on Dribbble

This next example showcases isometric drawings of everyday objects. These radio, cell phone and camera illustrations depict clean lines and minimal detail. The design also uses a limited color palette, enhancing the geometric shapes and maintaining a cohesive look. It focuses on the essential forms and perspectives, which communicates the object structure and function without overwhelming the viewer.

Complex Scenery

Cityscape with tall building and green trees under blue sky

Source: Isometric by Valeria on Dribbble

The last isometric illustration depicts a lively urban scene, where details are the highlight of this image. The drawing features a mix of buildings, each with different depths and heights. It also incorporates outdoor seating, trees and clouds to add engagement to the atmosphere. Overall, it recreates everyday life with colorful architecture and dynamic environments, adding complexity and interpretation.

Bring Your Isometric Drawings to Life

Mastering isometric drawing involves an understanding of its basic principles. Once you know the foundations of isometric projection, you can learn to create stunning illustrations that captivate audiences. It could be for a technical diagram or a product design. Either way, brands need isometric drawings to offer deeper illustrations and communication.

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About The Author

Coraline (Cora) Steiner is the Senior Editor of Designerly Magazine, as well as a freelance developer. Coraline particularly enjoys discussing the tech side of design, including IoT and web hosting topics. In her free time, Coraline enjoys creating digital art and is an amateur photographer.

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