One of the simplest 3D presentations you can do is using isometric perspective, with 120° between each axis. This perspective is often used in technical and engineering drawings. In this tutorial, I am going to show you an easier way of creating an isometric icon using Photoshop actions.
1. Create an Isometric Grid
First, we need to create an isometric grid which will help us in placing the object accurately.
Start by making a new file (Control-N) in Photoshop. Set its canvas size to 600 px × 600 px.
First, we will create an isometric grid made of line vectors. Activate the Line Tool with Weight: 1 px. Hold Shift and then drag to draw a vertical line.
Select the line using the Path Selection Tool. Hold Control and then drag the line to duplicate it.
Repeat this process a few times until we have enough vertical lines on the canvas. Still using the Path Selection Tool, select all the vertical lines and then click Distribute Widths from the Option Bar.
Now, the distance between each line should be distributed evenly.
While the lines are selected, hit Control-J to duplicate them.
Hit Control-T to transform the selected lines. Rotate them 60°.
Once again, duplicate the vertical lines and then rotate them, this time -60°.
Move the lines until they are aligned perfectly and give us a perfect triangular pattern.
Put all the layers into a group layer for easier layer management.
2. Create an Isometric Action
To turn a flat object into isometric perspective, you will need to apply some transformations. To speed up our workflow, we will record them as Photoshop actions.
Let's move to preparing the action for isometric transformation. For this purpose, we will use text to help us see the exact result of the transformation. Start by making a simple piece of text on the stage.
Open up the Actions panel. Click the Create new set icon.
Create a new action by clicking Create new action in the Actions panel. We are going to name it right, because this action is going to align the object along the y axis on the isometric perspective. Click Record.
Starting now, everything you do is going to be recorded in the action. So, make sure to do everything as cleanly and effectively as possible. First, hit Control-T to perform a transformation. Set the Width (W) percentage to 86.6025%. Hit Control-Enter to apply the transformation.
Perform another transformation (Control-T) and then skew the selected object vertically -30°. Hit Control-Enter to apply the transformation.
Click the Stop icon in the Actions panel to stop the recording. Just to make it clear, change the text to right. This is the result, before and after the action is applied.
Let's add another action, this time to align the object along the x axis on the isometric perspective. As with the previous one, we will use text for the transformation object. Click the Create new action icon and name it left.
Start by applying a transformation (Control-T). Resize its width to 86.6025%. Hit Control-Enter to get the result.
Apply another transformation (Control-T), this time skewing it vertically 30°. Stop the recording.
Here is the result with the isometric grid in the background.
We need another action this time to lay down the object on the floor. Click Create new action icon in the Actions panel.
Hit Control-T and resize its width to 86.6025%.
Apply another skew transformation. Skew vertically 30°.
Add another transformation. Rotate the object 120°. Stop the recording.
We need one more action to transform the object to stand parallel to the z axis. Make another new action.
Hit Control-T and then resize the object's width to 86.6025%.
Apply another transformation, this time skewing vertically -30°.
Add another transformation. This time rotate it 60°. Stop the recording by clicking the Stop icon in the Actions panel.
We have finished creating all the actions needed for object transformation into isometric perspective. I suggest that you leave the text for handy reference while building the icon. Sometimes, it's hard to determine which action is needed. These pieces of text will help you to choose the right action.
If you want to use the actions faster, you can add shortcuts. Double click the action name and then add a Function Key in the Action Options dialog box.
3. Draw the Isometric Icon Basic Shape
Our isometric icon is built from the front view of each element and then transformed to isometric perspective using actions. We will cover the first phase now.
We can begin building the base shape for our isometric icon. In the Layers panel, make a new group of layers for our laptop icon. We will start by drawing its main body, keyboard, and trackpad.
We will draw every element from the front view—everything from its screen to its trackpad, and even its screen thickness. Activate the Rectangle Tool, and then click and drag to draw a rectangle on the canvas.
Draw another rectangular smaller than the previous one. Its size should be proportional to the previous one.
We also need to draw another rectangle with the same height as the screen. This is going to be its thickness.
Our next job is drawing the laptop's main body. Draw another rectangular shape. It should have the same size as the screen.
Don't forget to draw its thickness.
Draw the keyboard layout, made from a simple rectangular vector shape.
On top of the shape, draw smaller rectangles for the keyboard buttons. Set the color to black.
Let's draw half a CD that is going to be inside the laptop. Start by drawing a simple circle. Hold Shift and then click and drag to draw a circle.
Add a rectangle path covering half of the previous shape. From the Option Bar, set its mode to Subtract Front Shape.
Add another circle. Make sure its center is in the same place as the big circle. Set its mode to Subtract Front Shape.
Select all the paths and then click Merge Shape Components to simplify the path. After this step, all the paths are now combined into one simple path.
Use the same steps as earlier to draw a smaller half-donut shape for the inner part of the CD.
Put the CD on the right side of the keyboard. So far, here's what we have.
4. Transform the Basic Shapes Into Isometric Perspective
We have finished drawing the basic shapes. Now it's time to transform them to isometric perspective using our actions.
We will start transforming into isometric view using actions. Select the screen vector shape using the Path Selection Tool.
While the screen vector shape selected, select the right action and then click the Play icon.
Here's the result. The screen is now transformed and parallel along the x axis.
You might be confused in selecting the right action. If you do, make sure to take a look at the handy reference we made earlier. If by accident you play the wrong action, hit Control-Z a few times until the object returns to its original condition.
Select the keyboard and CD vector shapes. In the Actions panel, play the top-right action we made earlier.
Both objects, CD and keyboard, will be transformed and laid down along the y axis. But there's a small problem: they are upside-down. We need to fix them.
While they are selected, hit Control-T. Rotate them 180°.
Activate the Path Selection Tool and carefully move the CD and keyboard until they are attached to the screen.
Select the keyboard thickness and play action right. If you are not sure which action is suitable here, refer to the handy guide.
Move it until it attaches to the keyboard side.
Repeat the same process to the other thickness.
This is what we have so far.
Let's work on its detail. Select the CD layer and then move it down 1 px. This simple step will give the illusion that the CD is inside the main body.
Zoom closer using the Zoom Tool. Activate the Direct Selection Tool. Select the vector shape point and move it until it snaps onto the pixel grid. This process will give you the sharpest detail and prevent blurriness on the vector edge.
Hold Control and then click the keyboard thumbnail layer. We will have a new selection based on its shape.
Add a new layer and place it underneath the keyboard. Fill the selection with black. Remove the selection by pressing Control-D and then apply Gaussian Blur to soften the shadow, Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
Activate the Eraser Tool and erase the unneeded shadow under the laptop.
Of course, we also need to add a shadow under the CD. Add a new layer under the CD and then Control-click the CD layer to make a new selection based on its shape. Fill the selection with black.
Remove the selection by pressing Control-D. Blur the shadow by applying Gaussian Blur, Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Reduce the shadow's layer Opacity to make it softer. It has to be softer than the keyboard's shadow since its position is higher, not directly on the surface.
Activate the Brush Tool and then draw the screen's shadow on the surface manually.
Now, select the screen vector shape and select Inner Shadow from the Add Layer Styles icon.
Use the following settings for Inner Shadow.
Add a Gradient Overlay with the following settings.
Notice that the CD is just plain flat. We can add a nice color gradient similar to what we have added to the screen.
Add Inner Shadow and Gradient Overlay to the CD using the following settings.
Awesome Work, You're Now Done
Finally, this is what we have in the end. I also add a nice touch of text on the floor, and reveal the isometric grid layer with low Opacity in the background. I hope you enjoyed the making of isometric icon using an action and are prepared to build your own icon. Show me your result while following this tutorial in the comment section. I'd love to see it. Thanks!