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How to Create Exploded Isometrics

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Read Time: 11 mins

Exploded isometrics are my subject in this third and final tutorial on the topic of isometrics. If you have not read either of the first two tutorials on isometrics, then I suggest you start with them: Basic Isometrics and Orthographics and Advanced Isometrics Using the SSR Method.


Exploded isometrics are commonly referred to as assembly drawings. This is because they are often used in
technical manuals to show all the parts of a product and how they fit together. This is usually accompanied by a legend containing all the information about the different parts. One of the most common places to see assembly drawings today is with flat packed furniture. This is why I chose an Ikea chair for my example.

For this example, I did not have a set of blueprints, but I did have the object itself, and after a quick Google search, I had several photos of the chair as well. The most important of these was the side view of the chair.

Next was a three quarters view for reference and a photo without the cushion on so I could see the back slats.

Making Orthograhics

I started by tracing the side view photo to make the side view of my orthographics. I only needed the side view this time because I'm going to use a combination of proportion and a grid to establish the depth of the chair.

I was careful to make sure the bottom of the side of the chair is a horizontal line. This line is one of the only parts of the chair that is parallel to the ground and will play an important role in grounding the chair visually once the isometric is finished.

Side of the Chair

Step 1

I started with the side of the chair. I used the SSR method to place the side onto the isometric grid. I'm using both the SSR method and a grid to build this chair.

Step 2

I copied my first shape and moved it over following the lines of the grid until I judged it the right distance apart. This was arbitrary but I used proportion by looking at the thickness of the wood compared to the width of the leg in the reference photos. Be sure to keep both shapes inline with each other on the isometric grid as you move them. This process is building the wireframe of your object.

Step 3

Now grab the line tool and click anywhere on the page, and create a 2 inch line at an angle of 30o. When working on isometrics I often create these scrap lines. I usually have several 30o lines and several 150o to help build shapes and to line up objects.

Step 4

Switch over to outline mode (command y) and place this new 2 inch line across the top edge of the two shapes. This is when you see if you really have kept your shapes inline.

Step 5

I use the Scissors Tool (C) to trim the excess of the scrap line, and make a cut on the far object where the scrap line meets it. This will make more sense later when you have to clean up the lines of your shape.

Step 6

Now do the same at the bottom and far end of the shape.

Step 7

The next step is to cut and clean up all the lines that you would not be able to see if this was a solid 3D shape. The cuts you made earlier where the scrap line crossed the wireframe will speed this process up.

Step 8

Next select the entire shape and create a copy of the side of the chair. By using a combination of deleting the centerlines, cutting, and joining paths, I will simplify the side of the chair to create one solid shape that is just the outline.

Step 9

Fill this new outline shape with white and place it directly on top of the original chair side. A trick for doing this is to select an anchor point with the black arrow and watch for it to turn white as you line the shapes up. This will signal you're inline with another anchor point. Once this new shape with the white fill is sitting on top of your chair side, send it to the back (Object > Arrange > Send to back) and group them together (Command + G).

This process can be time consuming, but when making an exploded isometric it is important that every individual part of the chair has a white fill. This is because you will be moving the shapes around later and layering objects to create the layouts. This may cause shapes to overlap in unexpected ways. The white fill will also make it very easy to add a thick outline to your shapes as needs arise.

Bolt Head

Step 1

Next up I created the bolt head that appears on the side of the chair four times. I began by creating a circle then a hexagon inside of the circle. I used the Align pallet to make sure the hexagon is centered in the circle. Then I used the SSR method to place the bolt head into isometric.

Step 2

Next I added some depth. To do this I copied the shapes and moved the copies a small distance away on the isometric grid.

Step 3

Next I cut and deleted the hidden lines and connected the edges. The hidden lines are all the lines in the wireframe that you could not see if it was a solid 3D shape.

Step 4

I then created an outline copy and filled it with white, lined them up and grouped them together.

Step 5

Lastly I copied the bolt head and using my photo reference I placed copies along the arm in the appropriate places.

Chair Depth: Placing the Far Arm of the Chair

Step 1

In order to figure out how far apart the two arms of the chair will be, I measured my own Poang chair. My measurements showed that the width of an arm is 2.5", and the overall width of the chair plus the arms is 25". So applying this knowledge to a grid the whole chair will be 10 squares wide and an arm will be one square wide.

To make this work for me, I scaled my completed arm to exactly the width of one grid square.

Step 2

I then made a copy of the arm and moved it over so that there were 8 empty spaces between the 2 sides. I made sure to keep the 2 sides inline on the grid.

The Seat and Back of the Chair

Step 1

With the arms finished, the next step is to go back to the side view orthographics from the beginning and select the seat and back of the chair.

SSR the back and seat onto the isometric plane and line it up with the side of the chair. If at any point you've scaled the side of the chair, you will need to scale the back and seat into position as well. Always hold down Shift while scaling so you don't squish or stretch your shapes. When tweaking your back and seat into position, focus on the points where the screws connect the two shapes. These two points have to be dead on.

Step 2

Now you will need to build the back and seat of the chair in the exact same method as the side of the chair. Remember they are two parts (the back is separate from the seat).

Step 3

Copy and move the outline over by eye, thereby creating a wireframe of the shape.

Step 4

Connect the corners.

Step 5

Clean up hidden lines.

Step 6

Create a solid outline with white fill and then group them.

Step 7

Once the closest side of the back and seat are completed, make a copy of both, then move them into place on the far side of the chair.

Bridging the Gap

Step 1

Connecting the two sides of the chair is a more creative process. There is no information about the back slats or the seat in the orthographics so you have to build entirely from the reference photos. I started by making a bunch of 30o scrap lines and blocking in all the shapes.

Step 2

I used a trick to create the curved back slats. I started with a straight 30o line connecting the two sides. I then added an anchor point in the center of the line and pulled the new anchor point in the direction of the curve.

Step 3

Next I used the Convert Anchor Point Tool to add control points to the center anchor point and smooth out the curve.

Step 4

I only had to do this once for each back slat. Because the three lines that make up a slat all have to have the same curve on the same angle. So I made one and copied it two more times.

Once you have built the seat and back slats with outlines and white fills, the next step is to build the last two support slats. There is one connecting the sides of the chair at the bottom and one just under the seat. Use 30 lines and remember to build the side hidden by the side of the chair. The side is only hidden in this view. In the next step when I separate the parts of the chair to make the exploded layout, that side will be visible.


Grouping and Outlines

The last thing to do before setting up the exploded layout is to group all the connected parts of the chair together. And add a slightly thicker outline on each group to help them stand out. This is where the work you did earlier with the white fills come in very handy.

The closest side of the back, the far side of the back, and all the back slats can be grouped together. You can connect the white fills and add a thicker stroke. Do the same with the seat and the sides of the seat. The arms and the connection slats don't need to be grouped - just add a thicker stroke. Add any other final details you would like and the assemble layout of the chair is finished. Make a copy of the assembled view of the chair and set it away on a locked layer to keep it safe.

Exploded View

Exploded view layouts show each part of the object clearly, but in a way that demonstrates how they fit together as a whole. This is accomplished in large part to the leader lines that connect the parts. These lines are typically dotted or dashed in a black and white drawing, but if you are working in color they can work well as a bright red.

Step 1: Separating Your Shapes

When separating the parts of your object you need to keep everything in line on the grid. I began by moving the two sides of the chair apart to make room for the central objects. I left the seat where it was to act as an anchor to the other objects.

I created a new layer for the leader lines and started roughing them in as guidelines.

Step 2

Next I separate the back from the seat. I want to keep the seat in place as an anchor, so I move the back forward and up, always following the grid. And I move the supporting slats of wood away from the seat so you can see them

Step 3

Now that everything is in an exploded layout, the next step is to adjust the leader lines to describe the path the parts took from their original position.

The leader lines must fit onto the grid, this means the leader lines will be either 30, 90, or 150. Block in the connections of each piece of the chair.

Step 4

Now that the leader lines are blocked in, the next step is to clean up the lines that overlap shapes, and generally make it more visually appealing.

Final Touches

For the final touches you can add as many details as you like. But the most important final detail is the bolts and screws that make the connection between the different parts of the chair.

Start by building off of the bolt head created earlier for the assembled layout. Place the bolts at the end of the leader lines. Use your reference for any final details.

Once both the assembled and exploded views are complete you are finished!


This tutorial is an example of the way I work. There are many different workflows that will bring you to a similar finished product. And a large part of learning isometric illustration is leaning which methods and processes work best for you.

I hope that these three isometric tutorials will give you a foundation to develop your own workflow and add to your artist toolbox. Here are the links to the other tutorials in this series again: Basic Isometrics and Orthographics and
href="https://design.tutsplus.com/tutorials/how-to-create-advanced-isometric-illustrations-using-the-ssr-method--vector-1058">Advanced Isometrics Using the SSR Method

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