Affinity’s Awesome Isometric Tools
One of the absolute best things about Affinity Designer is that it allows you to intuitively create an isometric illustration. In other vector design programs, like Adobe Illustrator, you can also create isometric illustrations. However, you need to create your own grid and manually create all shapes to conform to that grid. In Affinity Designer, you have some amazing tools that make it much easier to create an isometric illustration.
To create an isometric illustration in Affinity, simply set up your isometric grid, then draw using the shape or pen tools with ‘edit in plane’ selected to draw directly on the isometric plane you want. Here’s a tutorial on how to do just that and build a simple isometric house.
Step 1: Set up the Artboard
To begin our isometric illustration, we’re going to open a new document and start using the isometric tools panel. Create a new document at any size you like. I usually like creating a square document when working with isometric illustrations. For example: New Document > Web, 1920 px by 1920px 72dpi
Once your new document is open, find the isometric panel. If you can’t find it, it’s located in View > Studio > Isometric. Once you have the Isometric panel opened, click Modify Grid at the bottom of it. This will bring up the Grid and Snapping Axis settings for your isometric grid. You can adjust the settings and see what happens on the artboard below.
I usually only adjust the spacing and divisions. For this document I’m going to use a spacing of 40px and 2 divisions. I like to have tight grid lines because it allows for finer details in the isometric drawing.
Step 2: Start to Draw
Now that we’ve got our grids set up, we can start drawing. Zoom in a few times using the Zoom Tool. You want to be close enough that you can use the grids properly. When you start drawing you’re going to want all edges and corners to align perfectly. Let’s start by building a cube.
At the top of the Isometric panel, choose Side. This will change the grid making it easier to draw the side of a shape.
Next, hit Edit In Plane. This is one of the most powerful isometric illustration tools in Affinity. This allows you to draw a shape that already matches the side orientation of your shape. Next, draw a square using the Rectangle Tool. As you draw, you’ll notice it’s drawing a shape already at the angle you want it to be in. Make sure your shape aligns with the grid on each corner. If you want your shape to be a perfect square, remember to hold shift as you draw.
Once you have your first side shape, we can start on the front. Do the same thing you did before, this time selecting Front. Then draw another square to be the front of your cube using the Rectangle Tool. Remember to hold shift if you want a perfect square.
Once you’ve drawn the front, you’ll want to select a colour different from the side. Making the different planes of your isometric drawing different colours is a big part of making them look three dimensional.
I often like to make the Front the lightest colour, the Side the darkest colour, and have the Top colour somewhere in the middle. For that reason, I usually choose my top colour first, then adjust accordingly for the side and front. You can select your colours using the Swatches panel or at the top left of the screen when a shape is selected.
Next, we’re going to draw the top of the cube. Using the Rectangle Tool, with Top selected in the isometric panel, draw the top.
And now we have our isometric cube. Everything else in isometric design is built on this, so if you’ve got this, you’re good to go. At this point we can start adding things to make it more interesting. We can turn it into a house, a swimming pool, anything really. Maybe we should make it a house with a swimming pool! Yes. Let’s do that. First, I’m going to zoom out a bit. Zoom out with the Zoom Tool, pressing ALT to change the tool to zoom out.
Step 3: Transform The Cube
Since I’m drawing a house, I’m going to need some land so it doesn’t float in space. My house needs somewhere to live. Somewhere with grass. To do that, I’m going to use the Rectangle Tool again to draw a Front, Side, and Top underneath the cube. I’ll draw the top first since this will establish the dimensions I want to use for the yard. Then I’ll use CTRL + Shift + [ to bring it below the cube.
Since I’m making the cube a house, I’m going to give it some new colours. Starting with the top, I’ll pick a colour that works well with the green of the grass in the yard.
Step 4: Add A Roof
Now we have a small yard with our brown cube. Since the cube doesn’t quite look like a house just yet, we’ll need to add some details. To start, I’m going to add a flat roof. Since we’re trying to keep things simple here, a flat roof is easiest. To do the roof, I’m actually going to extend the front and side shapes up by one grid point.
Make sure that when you adjust each shape you click the according plane in the Isometric panel. This will make it easier to be accurate. At this point, you’re going to need to start moving shapes behind and others in front to make the isometric illustration look realistic. You can right click on any shape > Arrange to bring up arrangement options. Or use the key commands.
Once you’ve extended the front and side shapes up, you can draw two new shapes for the back sides of your cube. Remember to match the colours to the correct direction they face.
After that, we’re going to give some top surfaces for our roof using what we just drew. Using a width of about two grid boxes, draw four rectangles for the new top of the roof. Then give them some depth, drawing the inner surfaces of the roof. To make them fit correctly, you’ll need to zoom in and use the Node Tool. The Node Tool lets you grab and manipulate each individual node/anchor point on the shape. Before the Node Tool will work, you’ll need to convert your shape to something we can manipulate. Do this by right clicking on the shape > Convert To Curves. Once you do that, you can fit the shapes perfectly with the Node Tool.
At this point, you might also want to go back in and adjust your colours. If the roof colours are exactly the same as everything else the individual shapes could get lost. I made the main front of the cube a bit lighter and lightened the top part of the roof.
Now our flat roof has some depth. You can make the top roof part as tall or as shallow as you want. I made it one grid square deep since that’s how much I extended the roof up before.
Step 5: Add Windows
Next, we should give this house some house-like features. Maybe a window? Two windows? The window design will follow the same principles as the roof. But, rather than having something extrude from our cube, we’re going to put the windows within the cube.
First, figure out where you want your window. Then, draw it. Use the Rectangle Tool, and figure out which plane you want to draw it in. I’m going to draw my window on the Side plane. Then, to make it look inset within the cube, I’m going to add a front and top for the inner window sil. I’m giving it a blue colour to make it look more window-ish. You’ll need to use the Node Tool again here to adjust the shape to fit. Remember, right click and hit Convert To Curves first.
Once your window is drawn, you can add another window if there’s room. Either make a new one or duplicate the one you already made. To duplicate it, first select all planes in your window. Then hit CTRL + G (Or Command + G on Mac) to group the shapes. Next, holding Shift + Alt, drag the new shape away from the original.
You can play around with the placement of your windows now. Keep them aligned with your grid, but move them wherever you want. As long as they stay on the same plane they were drawn in. I’m going to add a third window to my house using the same duplication method. It gives the house a very modern feel.
Since I’ve put my windows near the edge of the side plane, I want to add some more windows to the front plane. First, I’m going to click the Front plane. Then I’ll start drawing a new window like I did before. This time, I want to leave enough room for a door on the side so the windows will have to be small. I’m going to use the same colours at the original windows.
Step 6: Add A Door
Now that my windows are all done, it’s time to add a door. For me, the door is usually tricky to do. I don’t know why, but it never looks quite right. For this, I’m first drawing a shape for the door area, then adding some windows over top. This gives the effect of a glass door. I’m using the same glass colour as the other windows.
Step 7: Add a Pool
I love adding pools to isometric illustrations. They’re just so much fun. Plus, they’re really easy to make. First, select Top plane, then draw using the Rectangle Tool where you want your pool to be. I’m going to make an infinity pool with a small edge around the pool. I’m not making the pool very deep. When I drew the yard earlier, that established the depth of the land I’m working with. I don’t want the pool to extend below that.
With the infinity edge, I’m going to make the bottom of the pool extend right over it, then place a semi-transparant side surface over top. This will make it look like glass.
Step 8: Add Some Detail
Something that can take a pretty standard, plain isometric illustration to the next level is adding small details. For an outdoor setting like this, that could be trees, rocks, pathways, grass, bushes, signs, or even people. I’m still going to keep things simple here. That means we won’t be adding much.
I’ll start by adding a small pathway from the front door to the edge. Since it’s a path, it doesn’t need any side or front surfaces, just the top. I’m going to add some trees too. The trees are simple to create. First just made a cube with the green colours you want for your tree. Then duplicate that cube. With the second cube, hold ALT and click and drag to make it smaller than the first cube. Put that under the first cube, aligned to the center. This will be the top of your tree. For the trunk, just make a brown Front and Side and move them behind both cubes.
When you’re happy with your tree, just group it together using CTRL + G. Then put it wherever you like in the yard. Duplicate it by pressing ALT when you click and drag. You can also make some trees smaller than others. Just adjust the tree’s bounding box as is, no need to press anything. Affinity Designer automatically maintains it’s original shape.
If you’re planning to add some more depth to your isometric illustration, you might as well start that now. Since you’ll be duplicating the trees anyway. So we’ll start there. Right click on your grouped tree, and go to Layer Effects. Go to Gradient Overlay and give the tree a slightly darkened effect using a white to black gradient on Multiply. Make sure the darker part of the gradient is on the darkest surface of your tree. Play around with the Opacity to get the desired look. Then hit Close. Now you can duplicate those trees as much as you like.
This might be a good time to adjust some colours. If the green of your tree is too close to the grass green it will get lost. Make the greens different enough that there’s some contrast.
Step 9: Finishing Touches
My isometric illustration is almost complete. Now that I’ve got my trees placed, my pool filled, and my house windowed, I’m ready to polish things up. First, I’m going to add some depth to the rest of my surfaces. Just like we did with the trees, I’m going to add a Layer Effect of a Gradient Overlay to everything else. I’m also going to adjust the colours on the house to remove some of the saturation in them. The colours in the yard are so colourful that the house can be a little more muted.
To get the full effect of the colours, you can remove the isometric grid. If you’re done adding elements, this can be removed anyway. Just go into the Isometric panel and click Grid Settings. Then uncheck Show Grid.
And we’re done! This is a very simple isometric style illustration that you can do in under an hour. Once you’ve mastered this, you can start adding more detail, curved edges, textures, and other elements. Or, if you like making cute little geometric houses, why not create a whole neighborhood?
What else would you like to see a tutorial for? More isometric illustration in Affinity Designer? Isometric text? Let me know in the comments below.
Below is an isometric illustration I did a while back. I did it entirely in Affinity Designer using the isometric tools with help from the rectangle tool, the fill tool, and the pencil tool. This was one of my first isometric illustrations so it was mostly experimental. Fortunately, doing this illustration taught me the fundamentals of doing isometric drawing in Affinity Designer. You can check out the speed design for it on YouTube.