In this tutorial, I’ll cover how to use Illustrator to set up perspective drawings, and help you choose the best way to approach your new perspective drawing projects. We’ll review some theory and then work through examples of working with 1-point, 2-point, and 3-point Perspective.
There are two main ways to approach a perspective drawing. The first is an unmeasured system where you use vanishing points and visual reference to construct objects. The second is a more precise mathematical approach. Choosing the best starting point for your drawing has a lot to do with the information you’re starting with and the final image you’re creating. The best place to start is with the unmeasured approach, which is the focus of this tutorial.
The key feature of this system is it’s flexibility. You can use it to quickly set up a composition, or you can use it to create a detailed line drawing. Keep in mind though, this system is not the best choice if you’re final drawing is based on precise measurements, as when working from engineering drawings or blueprints.
There are many precise, mathematical systems for drafting in perspective that I will not be covering in this tutorial. For more information on one of these approaches take a look at the Visual Ray Method. Let’s take a close look at working with an unmeasured perspective system using Illustrator.
Setting Up the Horizon Line
Setting up your file for a perspective drawing is simple.
Start by dragging a ruler line down from the top and placing it as your horizon line. If you don’t have your rulers, use Command + R or go to View > Show Rulers. Next, drag over a ruler line from the left to mark your vanishing point.
Draw a 2-point line anywhere on the screen. Next, using the white arrow (Direct Selection tool), select one corner of your line and drag it over to the intersection of your horizontal and vertical ruler lines. The arrow will change when you’ve hit the intersection. Now you’ve attached the line to the vanishing point.
Now do the same to any other vanishing points (VP) with a new line. When finished, name the layer "horizon," and create a new layer.
Select the lines on the horizon layer, then click on the colored box in your Layer pallet and drag it up to the new layer. Before you let go, hold down the Alt button. This will make a copy of the selected item onto a new layer but in the same position. Lock your horizon layer and you’re ready to start.
Working in 1-Point Perspective
Draw your horizon line, and choose a spot on this line to be your central focus. This will be your vanishing point.
In this step, you must decide where you want your object to appear in this image. If you place the object above the horizon line, you will be looking up at it. Below the horizon line, you will be looking down on it. Go ahead and place your object.
This is the object I will be drawing throughout the tutorial. The three drawings on the left are called orthogaphics they show the object broken down into top, side, and front views. The drawing on the right is a isometric view of the object. This is just for your reference.
Draw the front plane of your object where you decided to place your object. This front plane has nothing to do with the vanishing point. Verticals are vertical and horizontal are horizontal.
Let’s connect the corners of your front plane to the vanishing point. I’ve found the best way to connect the corners to your vanishing point is to copy line segments while keeping one anchor point stationary. To do this, you will have a line segment with one anchor point sitting on top of your vanishing point.
With your Direct Selection Tool, select the anchor point (not on your vanishing point) and move it over near the corner of your shape. Now before you release your mouse, push Alt, this will make a copy of the line segment.
The reason this can be a little tricky is because if you are holding the Alt button when you first click on your anchor point, you will move the whole line. It only works if you engage it after you begin moving the point. After you’ve made your copy, use the Direct Selection tool to line up the anchor point of your vanishing line with the corner of your object.
Let’s establish the depth. This step can be tricky. The distance you travel back toward the vanishing point is compressed due to the rules of perspective. The closer you are to the vanishing point, the more compressed the distance becomes. The best way to start is by using proportion.
Take a look at the relationships between other parts of what you have already drawn, also look at the length of the side you’re trying to draw. This method basically boils down to eyeing it, but in an intelligent way.
Clean up your lines. Typically, I use the Scissors tool and cut all the vanishing lines. I’ll delete all but one or two of the long lines from the vanishing points because it’s easy enough to make quick copies of that line if needed later. Use the white arrow to clean up the edges and make sure they line up by watching for the arrow to turn white.
Let’s quickly clean up by connecting points. Select two points with the Direct Selection Tool and hit Command + J (Object > Path > Join). If a dialog box pops up, then the points were exactly on top of one another and you have created a clean corner. If the connection was made but no box popped up, then the two points were slightly off and you should do it
again. Below is the result of drawing our object using 1-point perpective.
Working in 2-Point Perspective
Draw your horizon line. Choose two spots on this line to be your vanishing points. Where you place these vanishing points will greatly affect the outcome of your drawing. If you place your vanishing points to close together, your images will become overly distorted.
If you place your vanishing points equal distance apart from your object, you’ll end up with a static composition.
To achieve a more dynamic view of your object, vary the distances. Have one vanishing points close to your object and one far away. This set up has a dominant and secondary vanishing point.
Once you have established your vanishing points, begin by drawing the front edge of your shape. The height is arbitrary, but use proportion and relationships to establish the rest of the shape.
Draw lines from the top and bottom of your first line to the left vanishing point (LVP) and right vanishing point (RVP).
Block in your first big shape.
Use the first shape you’ve blocked in as reference for your other big shapes and block those in.
Clean up the lines and add details.
Below is the result of drawing our object using 2-point perpective. Notice how stylistically we make the outer edge thicker than the inner lines. This method is covered in the tutorial How to Create a See-through Information Graphic.
Working in 3-Point Perspective
Set up your horizon line and mark off your first two vanishing points. The third vanishing point is either above or below the horizon line, close to the center of your composition. Most of the time, your third vanishing point should be off the page. It should be more hinted at than a main focus. If your third vanishing point is too close, your object will become overly distorted. Keep in mind, the best time to use a third perspective point is if the object you’re drawing is very large or very small.
Follow the same steps covered in Working with 2-Point Perspective, but all vertical lines must vanish to your new Vanishing Point.
Connect the edge to your vanishing points and block in your first big shape.
Use the first shape as a reference to help block in other large shapes.
Use the scissors tool to cut the excess lines.
Use the Direct selection tool to line up all the corners.
Now that the object is less visually cluttered it is easier to add details.
Cut and clean up details.
Below is the result of drawing our object using 3-point perpective.
I hope this tutorial helps some of you begin working with perspective in Illustrator. The methods I have covered in this tutorial can be used for a wide wide range of professional projects. I limited this tutorial to just the fundamentals, and I hope to get into some more advanced technical illustration techniques in future tutorials.
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