If you want to draw crystals, first you need to answer a question: what crystals? There are so many different shapes! Luckily, they all have something in common—they can be built using a simple geometric formula.
In this tutorial, I will show you how to use these formulas to draw all the types of crystals you can imagine! This will not only be a fun activity, but also a valuable exercise at drawing things in 3D.
Disclaimer: this is not by any means a scientific article. I'm not an expert on crystals, and this is simply an artistic approach to drawing them in various shapes.
1. The Basics of Perspective
Before you start, you need to make sure you understand the basics of perspective rules. I'm not talking about horizon lines and vanishing points, and all that stuff—I'm talking about what happens to the objects when they're rotated.
When we are taught how to draw figures in math class, perspective is usually conveniently ignored. These drawings are supposed to show three dimensions: width, height, and depth, but not in the way we actually see them. Just compare these two cubes: one of them is easy to draw... and the other one is correct.
What's the difference? It's all in the angles and lengths. That square face of the cube only looks like a square (right angles, equal sides) when you look at it directly. When it gets rotated, it loses its right angles and two of its sides get shorter—to finally get to 0 degree angle and 0 length when the rotation is complete.
Not all figures have square faces, but all have axes that define their width, height, and depth. The length of these axes and the angles between them define the actual 3D form of the figure. They're also crucial to developing all seven systems of crystals!
If this short introduction was too brief for you, you can learn more about perspective from these courses and tutorials:
- Digital DrawingHow to Draw Animals in PerspectiveMonika Zagrobelna
- Drawing TheoryThink With Forms, Not Lines: Take Your Drawing to the Next LevelMonika Zagrobelna
- Drawing TheoryLive Perspective: A New Approach to Depth in DrawingMonika Zagrobelna
- Drawing TheoryLive Perspective: Draw Animals in 3D SpaceMonika Zagrobelna
As I mentioned, there are seven basic crystal systems:
Let's learn about them step by step!
2. How to Draw the Cubic Crystal System
Cubic crystals are the simplest of them all: they have three equal axes, all perpendicular to each other. In simpler words, cubic crystals have a square base and equal faces (but they don't have to be cubes!).
Let's start with the square base. Imagine one horizontal side of the square and rotate it—the bigger the rotation, the more shortened the line should be.
Cross it in the middle with the other axis. Although it's as long as the other one, perspective will change it—the longer the first line, the shorter the second one. Pay attention to the angles as well—the closer to horizontal position the longer one is, the farther away the other one.
Attach a copy of the line to both ends of the other lines to create a square in perspective.
But these were just two axes: width and depth. Let's add the third one now. Although it seems vertical, it's affected by perspective as well—it's rotated towards us, because if it wasn't, we wouldn't see the square at all. Just take a cup and try to see both the side at full length and its top as a circle—not possible! So the height must be shortened as well. The more "squarish" the square, the shorter the height (just like the more oval the top of the cup, the less of the side you can see).
Copy the square to the top by drawing parallel lines through the top of the height axis.
Connect the corresponding corners of both squares.
To create a sense of depth, accentuate the lines that are in the front.
3. How to Draw the Tetragonal Crystal System
Tetragonal crystals are to cubic crystals what rectangles are to squares: they have only two equal axes, still perpendicular to each other. This means they have two types of faces on them.
Let's start with a square base: these will be the two equal axes that we need. Remember the rules!
The third axis should have a different length. Let's make it way, way longer than the other axes to accentuate the difference.
Copy the square to the top.
Connect both squares.
As before, accentuate the visible lines.
4. How to Draw the Orthorhombic Crystal System
Orthorhombic crystals have three axes perpendicular to each other, but this time all three are unequal.
Start with one axis, picking any length you want.
Cross it with another axis. The angle must follow the rules of perspective, but the length should have nothing to do with the first axis.
Outline the plane.
Add the third axis. Again, pick any length you want.
Copy the base rectangle to the top.
Connect both rectangles.
Accentuate the visible lines of the form.
5. How to Draw the Monoclinic Crystal System
These crystals have three unequal axes, just like the previous system, but this time only two of them are perpendicular to each other. This is where the fun begins!
Draw the first axis using any length you want.
Cross it with another axis. Pick any length you want, but keep the angle characteristic for a rectangle (these will be our two allowed right angles).
Outline the rectangle.
Add the third axis. Give it any length and any angle you want!
Copy the rectangle to the top. Be very careful here—the copied rectangle will not be directly over the original one this time!
Connect both rectangles. Notice how these lines follow the angle of the third axis.
Finish the drawing by accentuating the front lines.
6. How to Draw the Triclinic Crystal System
As you can probably guess, these crystals have three unequal axes and not a single right angle between them. It makes them quite hard to draw properly because it's easy to make them look wrong—as if you didn't know how perspective works!
Draw the first axis any way you want.
Cross it with the second axis of any length, at any angle.
Outline the shape made by these two axes. It may look like a rectangle in perspective, but it's really not!
Add the third axis, of any length, at any angle. Try to avoid anything similar to a tetragonal system.
Copy the base to the top very carefully, because it's not above the original at all.
Connect the corners of both bases.
Finish the drawing.
7. How to Draw the Hexagonal Crystal System
Hexagonal crystals are quite simple and effective: they have three axes of equal lengths with equal angles between them, and one more axis of a different length, perpendicular to all of them. It sounds complicated, but it's easier than you think!
Start with one axis of any length.
Cross it with another axis of the same length (affected by perspective). They both should look like a slightly tilted "X".
Cross them with a third axis of the same length.
Connect the axes, creating a hexagon.
Add the fourth axis now of any length, perpendicular to the base.
This time, to copy the base hexagon, copy the axes first.
Connect the ends of the axes.
Outline the copied hexagon.
Finish the drawing.
8. How to Draw the Trigonal Crystal System
This system is, in my opinion, the most confusing to understand and draw properly without making it look wrong. All three axes are equal, with none of them perpendicular to each other, but all faces have the same shape.
Start with one axis.
Add another axis of the same length, at any angle.
Outline the rhombus.
Add the third axis. It must be the same length, but placed at a non-right angle.
Copy the axes of the rhombus on the top.
Connect both rhombuses.
Outline the upper rhombus.
Finish the drawing.
9. How to Draw Detailed Crystals
But these are just the bases, so-called prisms. We can create more interesting crystal shapes by combining prisms/planes with other formations. Let's take a look at a few of them.
Mark each side at the same length, and connect the marks to create triangles. Erase the lines within the triangles.
Instead of copying the base to the top (thus creating a prism), connect the corners of the base directly with the end of the third axis.
Again, don't copy the base—just draw the third axis twice, symmetrically, along one of the base axes. Connect them with a line parallel to that axis, and then connect it with the corners of the base.
This time, copy the base and put it on top of the third axis, but scale it down, creating a pyramid with a cut tip.
You can combine all these methods to create various crystals. Most of these shapes are pretty straightforward, but let me show you two special ones as a demonstration of building complex crystals out of simpler shapes.
10. How to Draw a Dodecahedron
This crystal has 12 faces and looks very effective, but it's pretty simple to draw.
Start with a cube. Mark all the axes in the middle.
Elongate each axis equally, taking perspective into account.
Add a pyramid to each face.
Accentuate the lines visible in the front. Be very careful here!
11. How to Draw a Pyritohedron
Pyritohedron is a special type of dodecahedron, with 5-sided polygons as its faces.
Draw a cube. Add a dome to its top and bottom.
Add domes to a pair of other faces. They don't have to be the same as the previous ones!
Add domes to the last pair of faces.
Finish the drawing by accentuating the lines in the front.
Now you know how to draw every crystal shape you need! If you want to create something crystal-related, you may be interested in our other tutorials:
- Concept ArtCreate a Crystal Beast Concept Art Work in Adobe PhotoshopMonika Zagrobelna
- VectorHow to Design a Gem Swapping Mobile Game UI in IllustratorMary Winkler
- Text EffectsHow to Create a Quick Sparkling Diamonds Text Effect in Adobe PhotoshopRose
Or maybe you'd like to keep drawing other geometrical things? We've got you covered!
- GeometricHow to Draw a Star (Multiple Points!)Eugenia Hauss
- GeometricGeometric Design: The BasicsJoumana Medlej
- GeometricGeometric Design: Working With 5 and 10Joumana Medlej