The technique highlights AxoTools’ project-in-place functionality using reference points for quick, accurate placement, ad well as extruding in an axonometric view, measured from a corresponding distance dragged in a flat ortho view.
This visual approach eliminates tedious measuring or counting of isometric grid units. Try it! If you don’t have AxoTools, you can download it here.
Today I released the first in a series of short videos covering topics relating to AxoTools, both using the plugin and doing technical illustration in general. The first video briefly describes different types of projections for the benefit of those who don’t come from a technical illustration background.
The next in the series will cover how to begin an isometric drawing in AxoTools. Other possible topics may include:
Using multiple line weights (including dashed break lines for curved surfaces) to suggest form and mass
Filling art with white to overlap parts
Using flow lines
Fill modes and other Draw panel options
What is that option to rotate ellipses when projecting?
Using the line tool to draw straight lines and to toggle line weights
Entering simple equations in text fields, plus auto-entry of measurements
Use the Extrude tool to draw a drop shadow (but never for an oblique projection!)
What’s the difference between the Transformations panel and Auxiliary projection panel?
Using the Measure tool
How does Project-in-Place work?
What are the Axo Zone tool and Projection Zones for?
If you have other suggestions for short video subjects, please leave a comment below!
AxoTools Qukck Tip: Projections
I’d like to thank Ron Kempke, AxoTools’ co-author, as well as Matt Jennings of Industrial Artworks, and Greg Maxson of Greg Maxson Illustration for the use of their illustrations and advice in getting this video series started.
An isometric grid is one of the most commonly asked-for features in AxoTools, as well as a frequent topic on the Adobe Illustrator user forum. It would be really nice if Adobe Illustrator’s Perspective Grid presets included Isometric, but that’s not an option right now. In the meantime, there are some easy alternatives.
If you’re lucky enough to have Hot Door’s CADtools, an axonometric grid tool is already built in.
For the rest of us, just do a simple internet search, you’ll probably come up with a gazillion links showing how to make your own. For example, there’s this short tutorial by envatotuts+ on “How to Create an Isometric Grid in Less Than 2 Minutes.” Essentially, you create a rectangular grid with Illustrator’s built-in Rectangular Grid tool, then project it to isometric using any of several methods.
But it gets even easier! Your internet search results will likely include many Adobe Illustrator documents with an isometric grid already built. Just download it and save it as a template to use any time you need it!
So, considering how isometric grids are so easily and readily available, it’s not likely to be added to AxoTools any time soon. Instead, you can expect new features that are really new.
Some of you may recall using a free “Isometric Line Tool” plugin for Adobe Illustrator. I wrote it in 1997 to simply draw straight lines constrained to isometric angles. When I rewrote my plugins for CS6 and CC, it was renamed simply “IsoTool.”
The plugin was discontinued after it was included in AxoTools, but remained free to use after the trial had expired. As AxoTools gained new features, the free tool could seem buried amid nine tools and six panels. Now AxoTools includes a “Free” mode to accommodate those users. Unlicensed installation of the plugin have a menu item File > AxoTools > Show only free AxoTools features. If you choose this item, the next time you launch Adobe Illustrator, AxoTools will load only the free features. As part of AxoTools, the free parts go beyond the old line tool.
The Projection panel gives you any axonometric projection you choose, not just isometric. The Projection buttons won’t do anything and the Options are irrelevant, but the preset menu will allow you to save and quickly recall your favorite settings.
Now you can choose to automatically apply either of two line weights as you draw, as well as to automatically concatenate lines. The stroke widths you choose will be saved in your plugin’s preferences.
The multi-purpose Axo tool now retains its Move functions for selected artwork for Free mode users to easily move artwork along the current axonometric paths. This includes selected anchor points within a path.
The Axo Measure tool is also available for free. It measures distances and angles, including the delta between two angles, as measured on any of the axonometric or orthographic planes.
And if you later decide to go for a license (annual licenses are currently on sale for only $5/year), that remains an option as well. You can download it here for Adobe Illustrator 2019 – 2022 for either Mac or Windows.
Measuring and then entering distances and angles can be a lot of busywork, which AxoTools Measure tool can help streamline. Just click and drag with the Measure tool. These values are entered into the AxoTools Information panel as measured on your artboard in orthographic projection, as well as the three axonometric planes of your current document projection, plus the depth axis of any currently-defined auxiliary projection.
In addition, many of the text fields in AxoTools panels have shortcuts to import values from that panel. For example, you can drag the tool along an edge of an extrude art object to measure its length and angle. Then in the Extrude panel, double-click the Distance and Angle field labels to automatically enter the last-measured values, then simply click the Extrude button. It’s so fast and easy, it almost feels like we’re cheating!
The double-click trick also works for the Projection panel’s X and Z axis fields and the Transformation panel’s Extrude distance field. To auto-enter values into the Transformation’s Move/Rotate field, just type an “a” for angle or “d” for distance as appropriate for your current operation. In the transformation panel’s two fields, you can also type “=” to toggle the value between positive and negative.
You may want to measure the difference between two angles on an axonometric drawing. Using Illustrator’s built-in Measure tool, you would measure one angle, write down the result, measure another angle, write down that result, then do the math to find the difference, and it would still only be accurate for the flattened view. AxoTools’ Measure tool can work as an axonometric protractor — just click on an anchor point, then drag between two points. You’ll see the corresponding angle from your axonometric plane.
Now you can also now do simple math operations in many of AxoTools’ panels’ fields. For example, you can enter “.25 in + 2mm” and the Extrude panel will calculate the equivalent distance in your current document ruler units (e.g., 23.6693 pt). You can also do math on angles, such as “90 – 32.48” for “57.52°.” Division is done with a “/” character and multiplication with a “*” character.
You can download AxoTools and try it out with 1,000 trial operations. It’s on sale for 1/3 off through May 2022, with annual subscriptions 1/2 off, starting as low as $5!
With the latest update to AxoTools, you can enter measurements in whatever units you’re comfortable with. Here’s an example:
Say your document ruler units is set to inches, but you need to extrude something to a distance you have in mm. Illustrator supports that within the app, but it’s not automatically there for plugins. Measurement fields in AxoTools now do that conversion for you. I really hadn’t planned at first on adding that — there’s a back story here.
First, all art in Adobe Illustrator is measured internally in points. Fortunately, Adobe’s interface for plugins includes a function that takes measurements from text typed by the user in the current ruler units and converts it to a numeric value calculated as points. Then another function converts numeric point values used within the plugin to text that plugins can give back to the user, calculated and formatted using their current ruler units. That’s great, but there are a lot of users in other parts of the world that use a comma as a decimal separator. Fortunately, Adobe added a variation of these functions that support international number formats. Unfortunately, the one that parses text with commas in decimals doesn’t see the commas, and the values get multiplied by ten, a hundred, or a thousand! Adobe’s bug became my bug.
To support my European customers, I wrote a function that parses the numbers typed, and honors commas as decimal separators, and wondered “Why not look at the units specified, as well?” All values need to be converted to points anyway for the plugin to work with, so it wasn’t a great leap code-wise.
As an extension of that, I wrote a function to convert values back to text with a caveat of my own. In AxoTools’ Draw Settings panel, users can specify standard stroke weights, but we don’t all use points for strokes — many use mm. Stroke measurements have little to do with our current ruler units, so the plugin lets you specify pt or mm, does the math when needed, then remembers your preference to always display it your way.
It can be frustrating dealing with bugs, but sometimes bugs can become butterflies!
AxoTools is not a 3D application, but tries to assist illustrators in achieving a 3D look the best it can. Simple shapes are pretty straightforward, but complicated shapes can wind over and under each other like an Escher drawing. In that case, AxoTools evaluates the paths and makes its best guess on correctly stacking the pieces.
When a path is extruded, AxoTools creates closed paths for fillable areas and open paths of multiple stroke weights. To make things more easily edited, the pieces are organized into groups. In the Layers panel, you can expand these groups to find the pieces you may want to edit. Compound paths contain elements nested inside of other elements, so things get a bit more complex.
The front surface is named as a “cap,” and is placed above all of the edge pieces. The edges, which give it depth, are divided into surfaces. Each surface is composed of fillable “panels,” stroked “paths” that follow the original path’s shape, and “connector” pieces for corners that connect the front cap to the rear cap (the rear cap and hidden surfaces may or may not be drawn depending on your Extrude panel settings).