Creating Isometric Art with Hexels

By Mark Knight

Isometric drawing is a great way to present a 2D design in three dimensions. This short guide will help you to ‘think isometric’ and use Hexels’ dedicated iso tools with confidence.


Perspective vs isometric

Perspective drawing is a way of presenting a three dimensional look by replicating how our eyes judge depth. Objects appear smaller the further away they are and lines tend to converge in the distance. An isometric viewpoint ignores perspective with parallel lines that are of equal distance apart at any point.

Isometric viewpoints have become increasingly popular in video games, illustration, and design. Hexels has simplified the process of creating isometric art by allowing artists to paint on a series of multi-directional grids.

Hexels provides tools and a set of canvas grids specifically for working on isometric art. These tools and grids enable artists to paint lines, shapes, and volumes that all align to the same isometric angle.

Getting started

When launching Hexels, start with Trixels template. This uses vector mode and is designed for isometric art.

The document will load with the default ‘Trixel’ grid (circled top left). Over on the right side of the screen is the ‘Shape’ tab (Ctrl+6). This tab presents an array of isometric grid presets.

The presets change the grid aspect ratio as shown above. There is also a ‘custom’ option which allows the user to define their own aspect ratio. The following demonstrations use preset Isometric (1:1).

Think 3D!

Before drawing, take a moment to think differently about the grid. Although the grid is made up of triangles, consider it as squares rotated in a 3D space.

Imagine extruding a square up or down. Having a single colour can make it hard to visualize the square as three dimensional, so let’s add some shading.

Adding two shades of colour to the extrude gives the illusion of lighting and tricks the brain into thinking it’s seeing a three dimensional object. Also note that in our 3D space, the red square is nearer to the viewer and the blue square is farther away. Covering the blue square, completes the illusion of depth.

Lighting isn’t always necessary. By only applying outlines to the edges that would be visible in a 3D space, and hiding the distant square, the same illusion of depth is achieved.

When lighting an isometric shape, consider this isometric lighting rule.

Simplify with Primitives

An isometric vintage radio

When tackling an object such as a radio, it can help to break it down into primitive objects first. For the radio, I created a cuboid with dimensions measured in squares rather than in grid triangles. I used the ‘isometric lighting rule’ by adjusting the Value (v) slider in the Color tab.

Using the Line tool (L) and the Color picker (alt), I painted areas as if they were being cut away.

Re-applying any of the initial face colours, elsewhere in the primitive, gives the illusion of removing or adding areas of the solid object.

Sub Grids

For the angled corners of the radio, I switched to the ‘Ramp Right’ grid (alt+2) from the top toolbar. Notice the change in the grid to accommodate different grid slices.

The other sub-grids achieve different angles and shapes that aren’t possible with the standard Trixel grid. Other grids, such as Sideways Trixels and X-els, are available from this toolbar too.


Let’s consider the metal faceplate and glass in the radio image. The actual shape can be seen as complex when thought of as a component (red circle). However, as part of an object, only the visible areas need be drawn. By breaking the shape down into primitives and ignoring the buttons, the shape is simplified into two cuboids.

An easy way to create a glass effect is to use layers at different opacities. Create the solid glass primitive on a new layer and simply lower the opacity to make the image transparent. To change the color directly behind the glass, add a new layer below the glass layer and color it white.

Markings and highlights, such as the analogue tuning display and shiny surfaces, are created using the Outline tool (O) on a new layer.

Creating Text

The isometric text logo was created on a new layer using the standard ‘Trixel’ grid and the ‘Ramp Left’ (alt+3) grid. Again, using the isometric lighting rule, I added depth to the text.

The text Layer can be re-scaled and positioned by using the Transform tool (T).

Adding Detail With Pixel Layers

A wood grain effect was created by selecting the side of the radio with the Magic Wand (S), adding a new pixel layer, and using the Line tool (L) to draw black lines. Notice that the selection made on a trixel layer constrains brush strokes painted on a pixel layer. The wood grain effect was faded out with layer opacity, and the whole process repeated for each surface of the radio.

Using the same methods and techniques, I continued building components and details using vector layers. I added highlights to edges using the Outline tool (O) with opacity reduced and I used pixel layers to paint the aerial, dial, and handle.


Finally, glow was ‘Enabled’ via the Glow tab. This brightened the scene and softened edges.

Simplifying Complex Objects

This exploded view of the radio may initially appear more complex to create than its solid counterpart. Ignoring color and shadows, the image is made up of primitive shapes that can be drawn using vector layers with edges defined by the Line (L) tool. Details such as transistors, speakers, and the aerial are created on pixel layers, again with the Line tool (L).

Whether static or animated, projecting image components outwards, along isometric planes, greatly increases a three dimensional effect.


From engineering plans, presentations, video games and concept art, the use of Isometric views are prevalent. Hexels grid based drawing makes creating isometric designs intuitive and fun.

Try the Hexels 14 day free trial and share your isometric creations with the Hexels User Group on Facebook.

Hexels Adventures | Ep. 7 Elves’ Workshop

This holiday season, Mark Knight takes you on tour through the Hexels workshop where elves create cubic presents from magic pixel dust. Watch as he uses Hexels 3 to draw out a series of bustling Elves, animates them frame by frame and brings it all together using animated layer transforms.

Watch the final sequence and check out previous episodes of Hexels Adventures.

Making of: Hexels 3 Modern Living Space

Mark Knight is back with a new hexplanation of how he built the slick Modern Living Space from the Hexels Adventures episode. Mark breaks down each step that makes up the scene, which includes the use of new pixel tools to meld with vector shapes.

Get started on your path to geometric goodness with Hexels 3.

Hexels Effects | Normal Map Lighting

Hexels Effects are an excellent way to add a unique spin to your art. In this guide, Mira highlights one of the most exciting effects: Normal Map Lighting. Learn how to animate the lighting of your isometric scene with a simple sequence of layers, from daytime to a starry night sky!

Download the example file and follow along.

Find the Normal Map Lighting effect and others on the Hexels Effects page.

Baking for Maya with Marmoset Toolbag 3

Steffen Unger from Airborn Studios wrote an excellent guide to make it easy to take your models from Maya and bake awesome maps in Toolbag 3’s Baker.

Download the PDF on Gumroad.

Airborn Studio’s has recently worked on blockbuster titles such as Overwatch and Halo 5, check out their work on ArtStation.

Color Palette Magic!

By Ken Kopecky, Lead Hexels Kengineer

Artwork by Mira Karouta, Art Hextraordinaire

Although it looks deceptively like a plain old list of colors, the color palette in Hexels 2 has a few tricks up its sleeve.

“Organize your mind, organize your life.”

While Hexel’s can’t tell you where you left your car keys, it will keep track of all the colors you have dipped your paintbrush into. The color palette helps you track, organize, and play with your color choices off-canvas.

The layout of your palette can help you keep track of what’s what.

  1. Double-click an empty slot to make a new swatch with the currently selected color.
  2. Hold alt and drag an existing swatch to an empty slot to make a copy of it.
  3. Double-click the copied swatch to tweak it in the color picker window.

Automatic Gradients

Having trouble finding the eight perfect color steps between salmon and magenta? Hexels allows you to create gradients right on the palette by dragging one color swatch onto another. All empty swatches in between will be filled with beautiful new hues and shades.
Hexels can even create multi-color gradients, hitting every color swatch along the way as it fills in the empty gaps.

Drag and drop a color onto another to create gradients!

Paint a pretty tree with your shiny new gradient ramps.

Color-Space Travel

Color palette gradients can be formed in two different ways, two different dimensions of color: RGB color-space and HSV color-space. Blends between some RGB colors can look muddied and gray (pop quiz: what’s yellow + blue? You guessed it, a drab gray).

You can set the color palette to use HSV gradients by clicking on the little gear icon.

HSV gradients are formed across the rainbow of hue instead of blending red, green, and blue components individually. This means yellow and blue can make green again!

Note: The color wheel is a circle, it loops around. The shortest path across the hue rainbow may  not always be what you expect.

Import and Export Photoshop Palettes

Hexels can import and export Photoshop’s .aco color palette files. As of version 2.55, Hexels even supports importing Lab colors (yellow, black, chocolate, probably others).