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How to Create an Isometric Pixel Art Vehicle in Adobe Photoshop

This post is part of a series called Isometric Pixel Art.
Dress Up for Halloween With Isometric Pixel Art in Adobe Photoshop
How to Create an Isometric Pixel Art Neighborhood Block in Adobe Photoshop
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial you'll learn to make an isometric pixel art car. Have your character ready; it's going for a ride.

We'll be creating a relatively generic sedan. It won't be too flashy, which is ideal for recycling many times over on the same illustration (useful if you're making a city scene!). But even though it'll be generic, it wouldn't hurt to see some reference images; maybe there are simple design elements from actual car models that you can incorporate into your car graphic.

Make sure you have already gone through the isometric pixel art character tutorial; it covers necessary basics for the illustration style, and we'll use the character created in that lesson as a sort of yardstick for the car.

1. Volumes

We'll start with the main shapes of the car, mostly rectangles at first and then some more interesting shapes.

Step 1

We'll be making a pretty average size car. So it should be wider than two of our characters, of course, as at least two should be able to sit side by side in it, and the length should be around twice the width. So let's make a rectangle to represent the footprint.

rough footprint for our car

Step 2

The corners will not be straight and pointy, so let's round them up a bit.

making softer corners

Step 3

Select and copy the rounded rectangle and then fill it with black.

making the shadow

Lower the opacity on this layer to 20%.

Tip: you can change the opacity percentage by pressing numbers on your keyboard while the move tool is active. Pressing 2 equals 20% opacity.

Step 4

Once you have lowered the filled rectangle's opacity, paste the original rectangle right over it, leave it in a new layer, and move it up 4 px. We got the car's shadow done already; remember to update it if at any point you change the dimensions of the car.

the shadow and the bottom line of the cars body

Step 5

Now duplicate the car body's bottom line and place the copy 10 px higher (remember you can do this by selecting it, then pressing Alt-Shift-Up Arrow) or adjust this height as you see fit; keep your character around on another layer so you can check size against it whenever you want.

car bodys bottom line duplicated

Step 6

Let's join those two rectangles and remove the background lines till we get this sort of flying brick!

flying brick

Step 7

We'll give the car a rear bumper that projects out a little bit by selecting the top two corners and moving them down a pixel (and across two)

making the rear bumper

Step 8

Now add a rectangle to where you'd want the windows and windshields to start projecting up.

add lines for windows and windshield placement

Step 9

Draw a diagonal line (1:1) from the leftmost corner of this new rectangle, and duplicate it so that two parallel diagonals project out of the brick shape. These lines will meet at the top with a new 2:1 line, which will be the car's roof.

starting windshield and roof

The roof shouldn't be a lot higher than the previous top line (and should preferably be an even number of pixels higher, if you like being obsessive with detail).

Step 10

Now on the frontmost corner of the new rectangle we'll need another pair of lines to define the windshield. They won't be diagonals like the first lines, however, because windshields almost always get narrower as they go up, so they'll be 1:2 lines.

defining the edges of the windshield

Step 11

Let's join these windshield lines to get the complete outlines for the front windshield. Delete the leftover pixels inside these outlines.

front windshield outlines finished

Step 12

Now we need another 2:1 line for the top outlines of the windows.

top outlines of windows

Let's get rid of those cluttering pixels:

clean up

And make a nice line to join the top and bottom window outlines at the back of the car; I chose to make them with rounded corners:

finish window outlines

Step 13

Finish the top of the car by adding a rear outline (with a rounded corner) and one vertical line on the window to separate the front and back.

finishing lines

2. Tires

Now we arrive at a pretty new element: a circle.

It's relatively easy to turn a front view flat element into the isometric view by setting a vertical skew to 26.5˚.

Doing that would result in this:

using the transform  skew 265 vertically method

First, you have the front view circle; then, you have it with the 26.5˚ skew; and finally you polish off the jagged bits.

But we'll do our tires in a different way to have more control over the aesthetics and less jaggedness, and end up with very round looking tires.

Step 1

Let's use the character to set a few heights. The bottom line here is the floor level, the middle line is the car body's bottom line, and the top line will be the top of the tire. Next to people, tires usually go up to about mid-thigh level, so these will be a little big but they'll work alright.

defining the tires height

Step 2

Now let's add two vertical lines to have a square. Delete the rest of the pixels (it's fine to keep the bits of the middle line to make placement easier later on).

square tires

This square will be the boundaries of our circle. It's OK if it looks a little taller than it is wide. The two vertical lines here are 7 px apart.

Step 3

Here in red is the circle I'll be using; it maintains mostly straight lines so it will look quite clean but still round enough.

finishing the circle

In black is the finished circle, with the pixels from the guide square already erased.

Step 4

Time to add the tires to our car. Here's my placement suggestion.

the tires on the car

But feel free to try slightly different places.

It's useful to move these elements around with the arrow keys while on a different layer, to find where you think they'll look best. Once they're on the sweet spot, you can merge down.

3. Details & Color

We've got most of the main lines finished already, so it's time to start filling in all the blank areas with details and color!

Step 1

Let's finish up the tires. The tire rubber should be thicker, so add an extra row of pixels all around the inside of the circle like this:

make the tire thicker

No need to do it on both tires; we'll work on one until done and then copy it.

Step 2

Fill the inner blank circle with grey or whichever color you might like for rims.

fill the rim

Here there's already a bit of detail work in darker grey added to the rim. We're working on such small detail that it's important to keep checking how it looks when zoomed out; if it doesn't "read" cleanly then you should simplify.

Step 3

Usually antialiasing is to be avoided in isometric pixel art, but I think at such a tiny scale exceptions can be made. In this case, the antialiasing helps significantly to make the pixels in the middle of the rim look like a concentric circle. That's about as much detail as we can add to such a small element.

add detail to the rim

Step 4

To finish the tire I added an extra pixel of antialiasing to make the rim look less jagged, and I also added a couple of pixels as highlight for the tire rubber:

add some highlights and a bit of antialiasing

The tire is done, so now it can be applied to the other circle:

copy tire

Step 5

To do the windows, you could try adding highlights and reflections or try showing more details of the interior. There may be many ways to approach them. The style I use I think manages to achieve the window effect without much work.

Fill the window areas with a dark aquamarine or blue color.

fill with dark blue

Should be lighter than the outline color but not by that much.

Step 6

Now add some lighter detail with a brighter shade of the aquamarine/blue, as if the light only manages to hit whatever is up close to the glass (the dashboard, the wheel and the door edges) leaving the rest in obscurity. No need to worry about so much detail here.

interior details

It's meant to look like tinted windows.

Step 7

Let's add the car color!

Here's a pretty bold choice:

add the car color

Add a darker shade in the lower area. 15% less brightness should work alright.

Step 8

We'll only use the front part of the line that goes through the middle of the car. Select it and copy it many times below it; we'll make the headlights, grill and other details with these pixels.

add some lines on the front

But the line on the side we won't really need, so remove that.

remove the line on the side

Step 9

Fill the pixels between these new lines with white or some light color that will stand for the headlights.

add the headlight color

Step 10

Now we add the grill, cutting through the middle of the big white area we just made. The grill will be a dark grey, just a bit lighter than the outline color.

add the grill

The leftmost headlight is only a pixel wide because it's implied that it goes around the corner of the car, which is pretty correct, geometrically.

Step 11

Now the bottom line will make the fog lights and the license plate. Go ahead and remove the unnecessary black and white pixels.

the license plate and the fog lights

Step 12

To finish those details we'll lower contrast on the lines around the white pixels, making them a dark shade of the car color, but quite a bit brighter than the usual outline color.

lower contrast to some lines

Step 13

Now that most of the "face" of the car is finished, it's a good chance to smooth out some of the corners, as we get closer to the final look.

smooth out the corners

Here I've smoothed out the corner over the leftmost headlight and the rightmost corner over the trunk, as well as the bottom rear bumper corner. I think these changes make the car look a touch sportier.

Step 14

Add highlights where you think necessary (reference images might help).

I think highlights right next to the edges help to convey a metallic look, so I applied them to most of the edges.

initial highlights

Step 15

And here I'm adding a new lighter shade on some select areas that I want to pop out a bit more.

brighter highlights

Remember that you can make a shade lighter by reducing its saturation. Useful in case you're already at 100% brightness but the shade isn't still light enough.

A big highlight area over the hood I think helps bring out the volume of the car and make it look metallic.

hood highlights

The last highlights needed would go on the edge of the roof and around the windows

roof highlights

Step 16

Now let's add a couple of little car door handles. They'll simply be two lighter pixels right over two darker pixels.

door handles

Similarly, you can add door bumpers:

door bumper

Step 17

Optional minor detail: lower the contrast for the rear roof line:

lower contrast on some lines

Step 18

Let's add some rear view mirrors!

They'll be like this:

the rear view mirrors

With one of them looking wide and the other thin as it's being seen edge on.

Find them a nice spot and place them.

rear view mirrors placement

Remove any unnecessary pixels and clean up unnecessary high contrast.

rear view mirrors finish

Step 19

And that's pretty much it for your car!

Isometric pixel art car with character next to it

How does it look right next to your character? Would you prefer to make it wider, longer or smaller? These changes aren't hard to do. But I think this size is fine.

4. Variations

It's very easy to make different color versions of your car! You can go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation… to easily find other colors you might like. Apply the changes only to the proper car areas, and edit the colors individually if necessary.

Finished isometric pixel art car in 6 different colors

Soon, you'll have a fleet, ready to populate the streets of a pixel art city.

Your Vehicle Is Done!

I hope you're happy with your car(s)!

It wouldn't be too difficult to turn that sedan into an SUV or a compact car. Add some racing stripes or other accessories, and your inventory could keep growing!

Check out the house tutorial if you still want more pixel art.

I hope this was helpful and not too heavy on minutiae!

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