It was 18 months ago that the design agency 2xanadu used an isometric grid to create a repeat pattern for a bike frame made by Hong Kong company Luma. Now they’ve repeated the trick to create the city on the left, which will appear on Luma cycling apparel and gear.
See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials
Isometric grids are a great way to achieve a 3D/2D look. Couple them with a repeat pattern and you can achieve some striking effects.
Time to complete
Click here to download this tutorial's project files
The isometric grid is a useful tool for drawing objects in perspective. It’s formed of vertical lines plus lines at 60 degrees to either side, all meeting at common points to form a web of equilateral triangles. We’ve provided one in the project files – an Illustrator document named
Like every great idea, our city begins in the sketchbook or layout pad, with a printout of the grid under the top sheet. Sketch some elements and scan them in.
Import the grid into a new Illustrator document and lock the layer. Now place one of your scans over it in a separate layer and set the opacity to 70% so the grid can be seen underneath.
Start drawing with the Pen tool (
P). Join all paths up – there should be no overhanging bits. Keep it clean and use the grid to achieve straight lines at 30° to the horizontal.
When you’re done, start adding some fine details. Remember that this will be a repeat pattern and that it will be a small part of a much bigger canvas, so you don’t need to go mad. Just use different weights of stroke and simple shapes to create depth and detail.
We want the overall look to be sharp and very graphic, so use the built-in halftone black-and-white swatches (accessed from the Swatch panel or using
Window > Swatch Libraries > Patterns > Basic Graphics).
Once you’re happy with all your elements, make sure they’re grouped individually, then copy each one and paste it into Photoshop.
In Photoshop, put each element in its own layer group. Within each group, create a new layer beneath the element and call it ‘Colour’. Set the element layer’s blending mode to Multiply, then go to the Colour layer and start colouring it in.
Once all your elements are finished, start composing the central part of your cityscape. When you’re happy with your work, go to
Layer > Flatten image.
Now slice the image into two from top to bottom. Move the left half to the far right of the document, and the right half to the far left.
Slice the image into two from left to right this time. Put the bottom half up against the top of the document, and move the top half down to the bottom.
You will be left with a space in the centre. Fill it in with the rest of your elements, but don’t go over the edges of the empty space, or you’ll compromise the repeat pattern which you’ll create in step 14.
Flatten the image again and tweak the overall look using
Image > Adjustments > Levels. Now paint a neon-glow look over certain areas with a soft brush at 70% opacity and the mode set to Screen.
Flatten the image again. Now select all and copy and paste, and start creating your tiling.
To give the pattern a more random feel, we’ve actually used four tiles with some small variations – we’ve moved buildings around, added stuff and taken stuff away. This yields a more diverse and arresting look than a strict repetition of the pattern.
For use on the cover of Digital Arts' May issue, the colours were altered to boost the vibrancy and contrast, creating the stunningly eyecatching artwork as seen in the first and next steps.
Based in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, the team at 2xanadu describe themselves as “a young full service creative agency who instigate and facilitate innovative art and design projects across the globe”. Their client list has included Jimmy Choo Couture, Focus Bikes, Luma and United Business Media. Contact