Re: graphics/illustration tips and techniques

Subject: Re: graphics/illustration tips and techniques
From: Mpschiesl -at- ra -dot- rockwell -dot- com
To: droberts63 -at- earthlink -dot- net, kandres -at- UDel -dot- Edu
Date: Tue, 4 Jan 2000 11:57:43 -0600

Thanks for bringing up my favorite topic. (I have been putting a book together
for the tools/techniques that you could use for technical illustration).

You can look up 'illustration' on Yahoo! and check out links to professional
Most of the sites won't have a 'how-to' section (some may), but they will give
you some
ideas and inspiration for putting together good designs. If possible, print out
some of
the styles and designs that you like best (best layouts, best order of
information, best
designs, clarity in illustrating information, etc.).

All of the other tips that I have for you depend on the tools you have.

A graphic artist friend of mine told me how he would take digital pictures of
and coffee makers, would import the images into a graphics package (I like Visio
best for this), and would trace the picture. It is super-simple, and it
produces pretty
good results. After you do tracing for a little while, drawing will become
pretty natural
to the point where you can create pretty good illustrations without the digital
You can show your hand installing a component or show some bolts that are to be
fastened to the product. You can organize text around the drawing to show LEDs
to list product features.

For this, you will need a digital camera (pref w/ good resolution) or a scanner,
some type of graphics program that will let you draw vector graphics on imported
images (Visio, Illustrator, etc.).

Isometric Drawing
After you get a good feel for tracing items, you will be able to create pretty
good 2D
and 3D isometric drawings using AutoCAD, ProE, or some other 'drafting' package.
Usually, I will draw 'xlines' in AutoCAD LT to define the angles for height,
width, and
depth (typ. 90, 15, 145 respectively). Then I will build a box that is
approximately the
measurements of the product. This becomes my frame. Then I begin to chisel
parts and add features on the basic design frame work (sculpting). To draw my
computer, for example, I would build a box that is 8" wide x 16" high x 18"
deep. The
front of it is curved, so I would add a little curvature to the front of the
box. Then I would
chisel out the recessed area where my CD-ROM and other drives are. I would then
add detail for the drives, for the on button, for the grating on the front, and
other things.
For each individual component (such as the side latches, the protruding on/off
my iomega disk, etc.) I could zoom in and create a little box (frame), then
sculpt the
subcomponent. So if I wanted to show someone how to install an iomega
I would draw a little box for the iomega cartridge sitting along the 145 degree
in front of the computer, then I would add the detail to the drive and the
cartridge, and
maybe add a little arrow showing action. This whole thing is a little difficult
to describe
with text alone, so maybe I'll launch you a couple of examples off the list.

Perspective Drawing
After tracing, you will notice that things in the world do not appear as perfect
When I look at my car, the front end (or closest side) actually appears a little
than the back (or furthest side), even if they are physically the same width,
Sometimes, when illustrating a particular principle, I use perspective drawing
it gives a better illustration for motion, etc. For one point perspective
drawing, you
make a single point out in the distance, then draw rays from that single point
sketch your design into the rays. What you end up with is a design that looks
it is coming from somewhere. The nearer looks nearer and the farther looks
I recently used this method to make a conveyer belt moving a box on it. The
perspective helps me show some things that would not be as effective in a normal
isometric drawing. There is also a two point perspective drawing, where you
draw rays from two points in the distance, which creates an effect that is very
close to what you truly see. I will try to launch you an example of the one

Misc. Graphic Design
If you just want to add some flair to how you show particular information, or if
want to find better ways of organizing information graphically, I would again
recommend looking at magazines, etc., and adopt good methods that you see
others doing (and you will save time by not following bad designs that others
tried). Find flowcharts, electrical diagrams, software diagrams, and process
that are both intuitive and aesthetically pleasing. Also, getting familiar with
tools, filters, etc. of your graphics package may be a good idea as time goes

Graphical Tools
My favorite tools are AutoCAD LT, Visio, and PhotoShop. I have heard good
things about MacroMedia FreeHand, but have never been able to try it. Paint
Shop Pro can do a decent job for many tasks, including illustration, graphic
and web graphics/animations (I haven't used it too much personally).
can do some things well, and can also equally frustrate the daylights out of me.
It is not uncommon for me to use two or three different packages to create a
design. For instance, AutoCAD can help me build a great framework and has
array functions for drawing repetitive objects. Then I may import the graphic
Visio to use different color features or to add text (BTW, editing a Visio
object in
FrameMaker is a lot less trouble than editing an AutoCAD object). Also, I
flip-flop a design between PhotoShop and Illustrator, since PhotoShop does
well with raster graphics, while Illustrator allows me to manipulate objects
Each package has its own features, and I try to capitalize on all the features

Again, a digital camera can be pretty helpful (but not always necessary). A
cheap little quickcam may be an alternative, if necessary, or you can use
photos and a scanner to import images to your computer. I have been wanting
to get a Wacom artpad for several months (cheapest version ~$100), which
allows you to draw with a 'pen' rather than a mouse (and is sensitive to
levels of pressure so you can draw thin or fat lines).

Other Resources
I would check out (or They have articles,
links, and tutorials for tech writing, illustration, etc. There are a million
and one
books out there for graphics packages, which may be nice, but I haven't come
across too much info that will help make really intuitive technical
Also, STC has a special interest group (SIG) for illustration, and may have some
help on their website (if they have one). I subscribed to this SIG a few months
and haven't heard anything from them, so I don't know how active they are (they
did take my $5 though).

I think that you have enough info here to keep you busy. I'll try to launch you
some examples of what traced artwork, isometric design, and perspective
drawing looks like. I have a lot of fun doing this stuff!! I hope that this
info helps
you out. (BTW, you don't have to be born with tons of talent, which is a common
misconception. Desire + instruction + practice will get you there.)

Take care,

Michael Schiesl

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