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).
This is not an animation, but a screen recording right out of Adobe Illustrator! Each face of this dodecahedron is a live Transformation object created from the same pentagon shape, with movements and rotations added in the AxoTools Transformations panel.
Sure, it’s unlikely you’ll ever need a shape like this, but we often need art rotated away from our usual three planes. This demonstrates how, whether it’s a skylight, an instrument panel, or graphics on a milk carton, that task is now a whole lot easier!
You can download this file from the link at the end of this post and with AxoTools installed, even in demo mode, examine how this crazy “disco ball” was built.
Each facet is made from a pentagonal path, turned into a live object that specifies its movements and rotations. The orientation is set relative to the current AxoTools projection, so in the AxoTools Projection panel you can adjust the settings with the dial controls to see the dodecahedron rotate as a unit in real time!
When Ron Kempke built this, he used his math superpowers to determine the angles and offsets.
But fear not! For those who would rather not break out a scientific calculator, it’s possible to let Illustrator do most of the heavy lifting. First, make a copy of your base pentagon to create some guide art. Imagine the dodecahedron as two “tulip” shapes placed face-to-face. We know that the shape across the “shoulders” of the tulip would be equal to five segments equal to the width across the base pentagon. That will allow us to draw a top view of the shape.
The offset from the base pentagon to the section at the shoulders tell us the foreshortening of the slope of each “pedal.” Draw vertical guides this distance apart. Draw a vertical line from the base of the pentagon to the height of its shoulders. Rotate this line until its width matches the offset distance in the top view. Measure the angle of this line (26.56° in this case) for use in the Transformation objects later. Draw a horizontal guide at the top of this rotated line.
Copy the pentagon and rotate the copy 180°, then position it so each pentagon’s tip and shoulders match as shown below. Select the pentagons and scale them vertically, using the foreshortened height of the rotated line as a guide.
This art, of course, isn’t a real side view, since the upper and lower pieces would be horizontally scaled and sheared differently. We’re only interested in finding the foreshortened vertical dimensions in order to create our Transformation objects.
With these principles in mind, click the link below to download Ron’s file and examine the settings in each piece.
Sometimes we run into jobs that require variations of artwork where we start with a sample, and once approved, the customer provides the remainder of the information. This often means duplicating what we have and embarking on a tedious process of changing the parts that are different. If the text needs more than one style, re-applying fonts, weights, colors, etc., can become time consuming. Here’s a way to streamline that process using the TextSync plugin.
Say we’re doing a series of information on various states. Let’s start with Minnesota, using a state outline and an area text object. Since the text frame may shrink or grow from one state to another, it’s probably a good idea to go to the Type menu and set the Area Type Options to enable Auto Size.
In this first example, we set the state name to a larger size, bold, and add a color. Assign a character style (I called it “State”). Assign the remaining text another style (in this case “info”). Select the capital city of St. Paul and change its formatting, then assign a style. Next, the term “Vikings” will change for other states, so select it and assign a new style, even though the actual formatting doesn’t change from the text surrounding it. Last, assign a character style to the text of the beer name.
In the Layers panel, duplicate the layer and give each a descriptive name. With nothing selected, export all of the text of the document with the menu command File > TextSync > Export Text Objects… You’ll see a dialog prompting you to create a text file to save the data in. At this point your document contains a hidden index correlating the text objects to each line item of the file. Because of the way the text is broken into blocks according to its formatting, it’s probably easiest to edit it in a spreadsheet application such as Microsoft Excel. Here’s what our sample’s file looks like:
The first column contains the ID of each text object. Do not change or delete these! The “<p>” at the beginning of column C represents a paragraph break. Similarly, a tab character would be indicated with a “<t>” notation. You can see here that it’s helpful to not include the return character in the formatted state text, so that it stays in the column we won’t edit.
Let’s select cell B1 and change the state name to Illinois. Now tab to column F and change Vikings to Bears, then change the beer name in column H, then make changes for Wisconsin in row 2.
Now we’ll import this back into our Illustrator document. We can save this file out as tab-delimited text and in Illustrator, select it with the menu item File > TextSync > Import Text Objects… A faster way, though, if you’re editing the text file on the same computer as your Illustrator file, is this:
Select the data
Copy the data to the clipboard
In Illustrator, press the Alt or Option key as you select the menu item to import.
Your text will update with formatting preserved, because the tabs in the exported file represent the areas where formatting changes. That’s why we gave the football team its own character style, even though the characters didn’t really change. If we replace the state outlines to match, we’ll get something like this:
To change the text formatting, you need only double-click the character style in the Character Styles panel and change the specifications there, and the text with that style will update everywhere in the document.
You’ll probably find this most useful for when you have many labels with similar formatting, or using layers with different specifications for different products.
If you have one or more text objects selected when you export, only the selected objects will be exported. With nothing selected, everything is exported. If text files are imported with no IDs or IDs that don’t correlate with existing text objects, new text objects will be created, one for each line of text. This can be useful for importing files with lists of callouts to be added.
Please keep in mind that each “chunk” of text represents what’s known internally in Illustrator as a text run. Each text run ends and a new one begins where the formatting changes. TextSync doesn’t support specific format changes, but was created to allow the contents of many formatted callouts to be exported and edited outside of Illustrator, then updated in their original locations with minimal effort.
I hope this saves you as much time as it’s saved me. Remember, it comes with 100 trial uses to import and export to test if it’s useful for you.