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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Fan Art
Design

How to Create the USS Enterprise From Star Trek in Adobe Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

If you’re a true Star Trek fan, then you’re going to love this tutorial since we’re going to be recreating the iconic NCC-1701 starship, using a step-by-step process based on some basic geometric shapes and tools.

You can always expand your collection by heading over to GraphicRiver, where you’ll find a great selection of vector illustrated starships.

That being said, grab a hot cup of the energizing space juice, and let's get started! 

1. How to Set Up a New Project File

Since I’m hoping you already have Illustrator up and running in the background, bring it up and let’s set up a New Document (File > New or Control-N) for our project using the following settings:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 800 px
  • Height: 600 px
  • Units: Pixels

And from the Advanced tab:

  • Color Mode: RGB
  • Raster Effects: Screen (72ppi)
  • Preview Mode: Default
setting up a new document

2. How to Set Up a Custom Grid

Even though today we’re not working on icons, we’ll still want to create the illustration using a pixel-perfect workflow, so let’s set up a nice little Grid so that we can have full control over our shapes.

Step 1

Go to the Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid submenu, and adjust the following settings:

  • Gridline every: 1 px
  • Subdivisions: 1
setting up a custom grid

Quick tip: you can learn more about grids by reading this in-depth piece on How Illustrator’s Grid System Works.

Step 2

Once we’ve set up our custom grid, all we need to do in order to make sure our shapes look crisp is enable the Snap to Grid option found under the View menu (that’s if you're using an older version of Illustrator).

Now, if you’re new to the whole “pixel-perfect workflow”, I strongly recommend you go through my How to Create Pixel-Perfect Artwork tutorial, which will help you widen your technical skills in no time.

3. How to Set Up the Layers

Once we’ve finished setting up our project file, it would be a good idea to structure our document using a few layers, since this way we can maintain a steady workflow by focusing on one section of the illustration at a time.

That being said, bring up the Layers panel and create a total of four layers, which we will rename as follows:

  • layer 1: background
  • layer 2: starship
  • layer 3: warp lines
  • layer 4: texture
setting up the layers

Quick tip: I’ve colored all of my layers using the same green value, since it’s the easiest one to view when used to highlight your selected shapes (whether they’re closed or open paths).

4. How to Create the Background

We’re going to kick off the project by quickly creating the interstellar background, so make sure you’re on the right layer (that would be the first one), and then lock all the other ones so that we can get started.

Step 1

Create a 360 x 360 px circle, which we will color using #343434 and then center align to the underlying Artboard, positioning it 108 px from its top edge.

creating and positioning the background

Step 2

Take a couple of moments and add the static stars using a couple of 4 x 4 px circles, which we will color using a lighter orange (#EFC36C) and a slightly darker one (#EF986C) and position on the background as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, select and group all of them together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the static stars

Step 3

Start working on the first of the moving objects by creating its tail using a 4 x 16 px rectangle, to which we will apply a 90º Linear Gradient using #6FCDE2 for both color stops. Set the right color’s Opacity to 0%, positioning the resulting shape next to one of the static stars.

creating the tail for the moving object

Step 4

Add the head section using a 4 x 4 px circle, which we will color using #6FCDE2 and then position onto the tail as seen in the reference image. Once you have the shape in place, select and group (Control-G) the two together before moving on to the next step.

adding the head to the moving object

Step 5

Add a few more moving objects using copies (Control-C > Control-F) of the one that we’ve just finished working on, which we will position on the sides of the background as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, don’t forget to select and group (Control-G) all of them together.

adding the moving objects to the background

Step 6

As soon as you’ve finished working on the background, you can select and group (Control-G) all its composing shapes together, locking its layer before moving on to the next one.

locking the background layer

5. How to Create the Starship

Assuming you’ve finished working on the background, make your way to the next layer (that would be the second one) and let’s start building the iconic USS Enterprise NCC-1701 starship!

Step 1

Create the main shape for the ship’s secondary hull using a 28 x 64 px rectangle, which we will color using #AAAAAA and then center align to the underlying background, positioning it 140 px from its top edge.

creating the upper section of the secondary hull

Step 2

Add the hull’s center section using a 28 x 80 px rectangle (#AAAAAA), which we will adjust by individually selecting its bottom anchor points using the Direct Selection Tool (A), and then pushing them to the inside by 4 px using the Move tool (right click > Transform > Move > Horizontal > +/- 4 px depending on which side you start with). Once you’re done, position the resulting shape as seen in the reference image.

creating the center section of the secondary hull

Step 3

Position another smaller 20 x 4 px rectangle (#AAAAAA) beneath the one that we’ve just adjusted, and then select and unite all three shapes into a single larger one using Pathfinder’s Unite Shape Mode.

creating the lower section of the secondary hull

Step 4

Create the hangar’s entry section using a 12 x 4 px rectangle (#7F7F7F), which we will adjust by setting the Radius of its bottom corners to 4 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties. Position the resulting shape beneath the larger hull, making sure to leave a 4 px gap between them, which will act as a hard shadow.

adding the hangar section to the secondary hull

Step 5

Start adding details to the current section of the ship by creating an 8 x 8 px circle (#7F7F7F), on top of which we’ll add a smaller 4 x 4 px one (#F2A16B), which we will group (Control-G) and then position at a distance of 2 px from its bottom edge.

adding the circular detail to the secondary hull

Step 6

Add the vertical detail line using a 2 x 56 px rounded rectangle (#7F7F7F) with a 1 px Corner Radius, which we will center align to the hull, positioning it at a distance of 2 px from its circular detail.

adding the vertical detail line to the secondary hull

Step 7

Create a slightly bigger 8 x 24 px rounded rectangle (#7F7F7F) with a 4 px Corner Radius, which we will position on the vertical detail line so that it overlaps its bottom section by 4 px.

adding the rounded rectangle to the secondary hull

Step 8

Next, take a couple of moments and add the little rectangular details using fourteen 2 x 4 px rectangles (#7F7F7F), which we will position onto the sides of the hull as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, make sure you select and group all of them together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the rectangular details to the secondary hull

Step 9

Add the shadow cast by the ship’s main hull using a 152 x 152 px circle, which we will color using #343434 and then center align to the current section’s top edge.

adding the projected shadow to the secondary hull

Step 10

Mask the shadow that we’ve just created using a copy (Control-C) of the ship’s secondary hull (highlighted with red), which we will paste in front (Control-F), and then with both shapes selected, right click > Make Clipping Mask. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the current section’s composing shapes together, before moving on to the next step.

masking the circular shadow

Step 11

Star working on the ship’s main hull by creating a 136 x 136 px circle, which we will color using #D8D8D8 and then center align to the previous section’s top edge.

creating the main hull

Step 12

Add a subtle highlight by creating two copies (Control-C > Control-F twice) of the circle that we’ve just positioned, and then pushing the top one to the bottom by 4 px, cutting it out from the one from underneath afterwards using Pathfinder’s Minus Front Shape Mode. Color the resulting shape using white (#FFFFFF), before moving on to the next step.

adding the highlight to the main hull

Step 13

Add the ring sections using five 2 px thick circles (#AAAAAA), with the following Width and Height values:

  • first circle: 126 x 126 px
  • second circle: 106 x 106 px
  • third circle: 86 x 86 px
  • fourth circle: 66 x 66 px
  • fifth circle: 46 x 46 px

Position the shapes as seen in the reference image, making sure to select and group all of them together afterwards using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the ring sections to the main hull

Step 14

Start working on the detail lines by creating the vertical one using a 140 px tall 2 px thick Stroke (#AAAAAA), which we will center align to the ship’s main hull.

adding the vertical detail line to the main hull

Step 15

Create the second line using the Rotate tool, by selecting the one that we’ve already have and then right click > Transform > Rotate > Angle > 360 / 16 (which gives you a 22.5º angle), making sure to use the Copy function. The first value is the actual circumference of the circle, while the second one is the number of segments that we want to delimit after adding all the line details.

adding the second detail line to the main hull

Step 16

Gradually add the remaining strokes using Illustrator’s repeat function, by pressing Control-D six times, until you have the same result as in the reference image.

adding the remaining detail lines to the main hull

Step 17

Make sure that all of the lines’ anchor points are snapped to the underlying pixel grid, by turning on Pixel Preview mode (Alt-Control-Y) and then manually selecting and repositioning them with the help of the Direct Selection Tool (A). Take your time, and once you’re done, select and group all of the adjusted strokes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

example of anchor snapping

Step 18

Create an 8 x 6 px rectangle, which we will color using #7F7F7F and then center align to the circle’s bottom edge.

adding the bottom rectangular detail to the main hull

Step 19

Add a 4 x 24 px rectangle (#7F7F7F) above the shape that we’ve just created, adjusting it afterwards by setting the Radius of its top corners to 2 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties.

adding the taller detail shape to the main hull

Step 20

Select and group all of the main hull’s details, masking them afterwards using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the larger underlying circle (right click > Make Clipping Mask).

masking the details of the main hull

Step 21

Start working on the bridge section by creating a 28 x 28 px circle, which we will color using #EDEDED and then center align to the larger underlying circle.

creating the main shape for the bridge section

Step 22

Adjust the shape that we’ve just created by selecting its bottom anchor point using the Direct Selection Tool (A), and then pushing it to the bottom by 12 px using the Move tool (right click > Transform > Move > Vertical > 12 px).

adjusting the shape of the bridge section

Step 23

As we did with the ship’s main hull, give the bridge section a 2 px tall highlight which we will color using #FFFFFF.

adding the highlight to the bridge section

Step 24

Add the hard shadow using a copy (Control-C > Control-B) of the shape that we adjusted a few steps ago, which we will color using #343434 and then push to the bottom by 4 px using either the keyboard’s directional arrows or the Move tool (right click > Transform > Move > Vertical > 4 px).

adding the shadow to the bridge section

Step 25

Create the center section of the bridge using a 12 x 12 px circle (#7F7F7F), on top of which we will add a smaller 4 x 4 px one (#EDEDED), which we will group (Control-G) and then center align to the larger underlying shape.

adding the center section to the bridge

Step 26

Add some of the bridge’s details using a few rectangles (#7F7F7F) and a circle (#7F7F7F), which we will position as seen in the reference image. Take your time, and once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the current section’s composing shapes before moving on to the next step.

adding the little details to the bridge section

Step 27

Create the rectangular details sitting on top of the hull’s second ring section, using four 8 x 4 px rectangles (#AAAAAA), which we will rotate using a 45º angle (right click > Transform > Rotate > 45º), making sure to snap their anchors back to the Pixel Grid.

adding the detail rectangles to the main hull

Step 28

Finish off the hull by adding the two circular details using an 8 x 8 px circle (#7F7F7F), on top of which we will add a smaller 4 x 4 px one (#F2A16B), which we will group (Control-G), duplicate (Control-C > Control-F), and then position onto the sides of the ship as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the current section’s composing shapes, before moving on to the next step.

adding the circular details to the main hull

Step 29

Start working on the left propulsion unit’s wing by creating a 24 x 12 px rectangle (#D8D8D8), which we will position at a distance of 22 px from the secondary hull’s bottom edge and 6 px from its vertical detail line.

creating the main shape for the left wing

Step 30

Give the shape that we’ve just created a subtle highlight using a 24 x 2 px rectangle, which we will color using #FFFFFF and then center align to its top edge.

adding the highlight to the left wing

Step 31

Add three 4 x 4 px detail squares (#7F7F7F) positioned 2 px from one another, which we will group (Control-G) and then position 2 px from the wing’s left edge and its top highlight. Once you have them in place, select and group (Control-G) all of the current section’s composing shapes before moving on to the next step.

adding the detail squares to the left wing

Step 32

Create the main shape for the ship’s left warp engine using a 16 x 128 px rectangle, which we will color using #EDEDED, and then position at a distance of 4 px from the smaller wing and 28 px from the ship’s main hull.

creating and positioning the main shape for the left warp drive

Step 33

Add the tip using a 12 x 12 px circle (#F2A16B), which we will center align to the taller rectangle, positioning it at a distance of 8 px from its top edge.

adding the tip to the left warp drive

Step 34

Create a 16 x 8 px rectangle (#EDEDED), which we will adjust as seen in the reference image, positioning the resulting shape on the lower half of the tip.

adding the upper rectangular detail to the left warp drive

Step 35

Fill in the gap between the warp engine’s main body and its tip by positioning a 16 x 2 px rectangle, which we will color using #EDEDED.

adding the smaller detail rectangle to the left warp drive

Step 36

Add some of the current section’s highlights (#FFFFFF) using the reference image as your main guide. Take your time, and once you’re done, move on to the next step.

adding the highlights to the left warp drive

Step 37

Create the left wing segment using a 4 x 32 px rectangle (#AAAAAA), which we will adjust by setting the Radius of its left corners to 2 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties. Center align a 2 x 12 px rectangle (#7F7F7F) to the resulting shape’s right edge, grouping (Control-G) and then positioning the two at a distance of 2 px from the current section’s bottom edge.

adding the left wing to the left warp drive

Step 38

Add the right wing using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the one that we’ve just created, which we will vertically reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Vertical) and then position on the opposite side of the warp engine.

adding the right wing to the left warp drive

Step 39

Create a 16 x 4 px rectangle, which we will color using #636363 and then position below the warp engine’s main body.

adding the bottom rectangle to the left warp drive

Step 40

Add the rear end of the engine using a 16 x 16 px square (#7F7F7F), which we will adjust by setting the Radius of its bottom corners to 6 px.

adding the rear end to the left warp drive

Step 41

Give the shape that we’ve just created a set of four 2 x 16 px rectangles (#636363) positioned 2 px from one another, which we will group (Control-G) and then mask. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the left warp engine’s composing shapes together, before moving on to the next step.

adding the vertical lines to the rear end of the left warp drive

Step 42

Finish up the ship by creating the right warp engine using a copy of the one that we’ve just finished working on, which we will vertically reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Vertical), and then position on the opposite side. Once you’re done, select and group all of its composing sections using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the right warp drive

6. How to Create the Warp Lines

Assuming you’ve locked the previous layer and already moved on to the next one (that would be the third one), let’s take a couple of moments and add the little warp lines that help create the illusion of movement.

Step 1

Create the left-sided warp lines using five 2 px wide rounded rectangles (#FFFFFF) with a 1 px Corner Radius and varying heights, which we will position as seen in the reference image, making sure to select and group (Control-G) them together afterwards.

creating the left warp lines

Step 2

Add the right-sided warp line using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the ones that we’ve just finished working on, which we will vertically reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Vertical) and then position on the opposite side of the ship.

adding the right warp lines

Step 3

Finish off the current section by adding the bottom warp lines (#FFFFFF), making sure to select and group all of them together afterwards using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the bottom warp lines

7. How to Create the Texture

Since we’re pretty much done working on our starship, we can now move on to the fourth and last layer, where we will create the subtle texture covering the entire illustration.

Step 1

Unlock the first two layers and then quickly grab a copy (Control-C) of the background and the ship’s sections that go outside of its surface, which we will paste (Control-F) back onto the texture layer, making sure to color them using black (#000000) afterwards.

creating the main shapes for the texture

Step 2

Select all of the shapes that we’ve just pasted, and make them behave like a single larger one by using Pathfinder’s Make Compound Shape advanced option.

turning the texture shapes into a compound shape

Step 3

Select the resulting compound shape and turn it into a texture by going to Effect > Photoshop Effects > Texture > Grain and setting the Intensity to 58, making sure to set the Grain Type to Sprinkles.

texture settings

Step 4

Finally, set the resulting texture’s Blending Mode to Soft Light, lowering its Opacity all the way down to 20%.

adjusting the blending mode

Live Long and Prosper!

It might have taken us a while to get here, but I truly believe the end result makes it all worth it. That being said, I hope you’ve managed to follow each and every step, and if you have any questions, feel free to post them within the comments area and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!

final result preview
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