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By Lauren Harmon | Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Draw an orthogonal cube in Illustrator: Deke's Techniques

Learn how to draw a cube inspired by a New Yorker cover in this week’s episode of Deke’s Techniques. This technique uses orthogonal projection to give the illusion of a 3D object in 2D space. To create it, you need nothing more than the Line tool in Adobe Illustrator.

Isometric illustration techniques like this one are something every designer should know, but they come particularly in handy for technical drawings like product designs, assembly instructions, and more. Or in this case, just some fun pop art.

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  1. First, a few settings. Create a new document in Illustrator and make sure to turn off Align New Objects to Pixel Grid. Then go to the View menu and make sure the bounding box is turned off (i.e., it should read Show Bounding Box) and turn on Smart Guides.

lynda.com members can get a head start on this project using the exercise file A few squares.ai.

  1. Select the Line tool and click the intersection of the two guides that appear on screen. The Line Segment Tool Options dialog will open.
  2. Enter a Length of 50 points and an Angle of 90 degrees and click OK to create your first line. If you have trouble seeing it, go to the Options bar and change the Stroke to 1 point.

  3. Choose the Rotate tool and Alt- or Option-click the top of the line. When the Rotate dialog opens, enter an Angle of 120 degrees and click the Copy button.

  4. Press Cmd+D or Ctrl+D to duplicate step 4. You’ll end up with 3 lines, rotated 120 degrees from each other, forming a “Y.”

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  1. You don’t need to use guides anymore, so turn them off by pressing Cmd+; or Ctrl+;.
  2. Alt- or Option-drag a copy of the top left arm of the Y down to snap at the bottom point of the center vertical line, as shown in the image below.

To ensure the lines are snapped properly, hover over the point until you see a double-arrow cursor and then release your mouse.

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  1. Create another copy of the left arm by Alt- or Option-dragging it to the outer point of the top right arm of the Y.

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  1. Now we’ll create two copies of the right arm. Alt- or Option-drag and snap a copy to the bottom of the vertical center line, and then Alt- or Option-drag and snap another copy to the top point of the left arm of the Y, creating a diamond shape that forms the top of our cube.

Tip: You can press Cmd+Y or Ctrl+Y periodically to enter/exit Preview mode and make sure everything is snapped and aligned properly.

  1. Now select the vertical line and Alt- or Option-drag copies to the left and right sides of the cube, completing the shape.

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  1. Now you need to transform the surfaces of the cube from simple lines, or paths, into shapes by joining those paths. Start by selecting the three original lines (the Y) and press Cmd+C or Ctrl+C to make copies. Press Cmd+F or Ctrl+F to paste them in front of the drawing.
  2. Deselect these lines, and then Shift-select the lines that comprise the front right surface of the cube. This includes the center and the right-hand “arm” of the Y. Press Cmd+J or Ctrl+J to join the lines together.

  3. Right-click the new path outline and choose Arrange > Send to Back to make sure you don’t accidentally select any of those paths in the next few steps.

  4. Now select the lines comprising the left-hand surface of the cube and press Cmd+J or Ctrl+J to join them. Do the same with the top side of the cube.

  5. Fill the sides of your cube with any colors of your choosing, or use the Eyedropper tool to sample them from the exercise file and create the colors shown below.

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If you’re a member of the lynda.com library, check out the follow-up tutorial that shows you how to make a cube of cubes from your cube—a design cribbed straight from the pages of the New Yorker.

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Interested in more?

Become a lynda.com memberThe entire Deke’s Techniques collection

Adobe and Illustrator are registered trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries.

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