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How to Create a Line-Based Cityscape With the Rectangle Tool in Illustrator

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I really enjoy challenges of creating an image without using other drawing tools in Adobe Illustrator CC. In the case of this tutorial, we'll construct every little building in our comic-inspired cityscape with the Rectangle Tool (M). The Blend Tool (W), Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M), Pathfinder panel, and those swanky new Live Corners play second banana to our rectangles, transforming simple boxes into a metropolis.


1. Initial Buildings and Skyscrapers

Step 1

Start (and continue and finish, as we'll be using it a lot) with the Rectangle Tool (M) in drawing a tall, thin box. Draw another, shorter, wider box and Rotate it over the top the first one. you'll want to line up the left corner of the first box with the edge of the second (or something close to it). Select both and hit Minus Front in the Pathfinder panel. You'll be left with the angled edge seen below.

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Step 2

Draw various rectangles (tall, wide, short, thin, angled) and fill up your artboard. You want your buildings to be varied in basic shape as well as details (which we'll dive into in the next section).

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Step 3

To round out buildings, whether to create pill-like shapes or to simply round corners out a bit, Select the rectangle of your choosing with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and pull one of those handy little circles (Live Corners) toward the corner to the center. Doing so will round out the bottom too, which isn't an issue in this case as this building is being set behind many others and only the top half will show up in the final piece.

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2. Detailing Rectangles

Step 1

Skyscrapers are flush with windows, ledges, arches, and more. In order to create them we'll need a lot of rectangles and a few techniques to speed up the process of designing our city.

Start with a thin rectangle at the top of your building. Copy (Control-C) and Paste (Control-V) the small rectangle and align it to the center of the building with the top one, moving the second one down to the bottom. Select both thin rectangles and use the Blend Tool (W) (select each again) to create a series of rectangles within the building. Hit Enter and you can adjust the Blend Tool's options.

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Step 2

For this angled building the Rectangle Tool and Blend Tool have been in action again. If you draw rectangles that overlap and extend beyond the building's boundaries you can use the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) to delete the extraneous shapes from the building's design.

Make sure your rectangles have been Expanded in Object if they were generated using the Blend Tool. Select all of the rectangles you'd like to alter along with the building shape. Then, using the Shape Builder Tool, select the non-intersecting parts so that they become separate objects. Once done, Deselect and Delete each of them.

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Step 3

Add additional lines with rectangles set as strokes only. Delete extraneous pieces using the method from the previous step.

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Step 4

Add a series of small windows. Once again, employ the Blend Tool to get a line of rectangles across the top. Expand the blend in Object, Copy and Paste the new group of rectangles and place it at the bottom, and blend again for windows that cover the entire building's face. Add additional rectangles over the top of this new blend group to show ledges, larger windows, or space between windows.

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Step 5

Create a series of overlapping rectangles to form line designs. Repeat them along the face of the building. Portions of rectangles that extend beyond the sides of the building need to be deleted. Portions of the designs that extend beyond the bottom of the buildings can be ignored, as the buildings will be collected together and the bottom of them will be hidden or extend beyond the artboard.

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3. Cylindrical Buildings

Step 1

For the rounded building made earlier there's many options in adding patterns and design features. In this case we'll draw a series of tall thin rectangles and delete the portions of them that extend beyond the building with the Shape Builder Tool.

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Step 2

In the case that you don't want to keep the building in this state, Unite the rectangles in Pathfinder and draw a rectangle that overlaps the lower portion of them. Select both this rectangle and the new compound shape and Minus Front in Pathfinder. Optionally you can also do the same with the bottom of the building so it has a flat edge.

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Step 3

As this building began to look like a barn silo, I decided to go all the way and add small squares drawn with the Rectangle Tool and repeated throughout the building with the Blend Tool.

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4. Create Simple Line Patterns with Rectangles

Step 1

For the design on this building, rectangles were drawn that kept their size and space between them fairly uniform as well as a small selection of vertical rectangles in the center of the building. Tidy up sides with the Shape Builder Tool or in Pathfinder.

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Step 2

Use assorted sizes of rectangles to create lines across a building, make your building simple with a series of small rectangles to create windows, or Rotate the rectangles to create a pattern of diagonal lines.

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Step 3

In addition to playing with diagonal lines of the same angle, Rotate each rectangle a bit more than the last to create a radial-like effect with your lines. Keep the fill color set to null when drawing overlapping lines or fill it with white if you want each section to be a solid color (or clean lines in this case).

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Step 4

Instead of specifying steps with the Blend Tool, try out other options like Smooth Color. Select Preview in Blend Options in order to adjust how the blend appears before applying it to your objects.

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Step 5

For a woven, chevron-like pattern draw a thin rectangle and rotate it so its angle is in line with the building's corner. Copy, Paste, and Reflect it over a Vertical Axis so you have one going the other way. Overlap them so they form a V. Delete any extraneous portions of the shape (those that do not form this "V" within the building's boundaries), Group (Control-G) them together and Copy and Paste along the face of the building.

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5. Fun with Live Corners

Step 1

Select your building with the Direct Selection Tool and round the corners of it slightly by, once again, pulling the circles that appear in the corners toward the center of the shape. Draw a square with the Rectangle Tool (hold down Shift) and round the corners again using Live Corners. Copy and Paste the square to the other side and use the Blend Tool to create a small line of squares. Expand this blend in Object and Copy and Paste the group to the bottom of the building.

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Step 2

In this case, specify 4 Steps for the blend so there's even space between all of the squares.

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Step 3

Draw a large rectangle and rotate it across the lower half of the rounded building. Delete non-overlapping portions of the rectangle and repeat for additional diagonal lines.

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Keep on Building!

Once you've created a collection of buildings place them within your composition, overlapping each other. Go further with your building detail and mimic the look of famous cities around the world. Challenge yourself by building skylines like Sydney, Paris, or New York City built entirely out of rectangles. For other city-building related tutorials check out these:

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