by infinite_resolution


May 27, 2010

Drawing in Perspective using Adobe Illustrator

For all of you who have endeavored to draw street scenes in Illustrator, there’s good news. Adobe Illustrator makes it a breeze to draw in perspective. All it needs is to become familiar with the underlying concepts and the tools provided and you are ready to go. Here’s a quick synopsis of the tools and concepts. For detailed understanding there’s a full tutorial in downloadable PDF file explaining how a drawing of Taj Mahal was drawn in Illustrator.


Let’s start with the basic concepts:

But before we begin, please understand that Perspective Drawing in Adobe Illustrator is NOT a 3-D environment. It is an extension of traditional perspective drawing techniques. Artists have the capability to define a perspective grid (one-point, two-point or three point), define a relative scale, move the grid planes, and draw objects directly in perspective.  Or  they can attach flat art onto the grids by dragging with the new Perspective Selection tool. There are several operations such as Transform Again that honor Perspective and therefore enable quick drawing in perspective.

Let’s see how one can draw using perspective. The first step is to set up the Perspective Grid. You can render a Perspective Grid via View>Perspective Grid menu or just by selecting the new Perspective Grid (PG) tool (or using the shortcut Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I to show/hide Perspective Grid).

The Perspective Grid tool in the toolbar is used for fine-tuning this grid though widgets provided on the grid. The Grid Plane widgets allow three state behaviors using Opt/Alt click:

(a) Grid plane
(b) Transparent fill plane, and
(c) No plane view state.


The Perspective Selection Tool


The Plane Selection Widget

Perspective rulers are available and can be turned on or off from View>Perspective Grid>Show Rulers. These rulers display along with the Perspective Grid. You can draw in Perspective using line group tools and rectangle group tools while the grid is visible. The Perspective Selection (PS) tool (available in the same tool group as PG Tool) allows a perspective object to be moved, scaled, duplicated and transformed in perspective–and placing regular objects into perspective (using ’1′, ’2′ or ’3′ keys to select the desired plane while dragging). It is also possible to move/duplicate objects from one plane to the other using PS tool. Grid opacity can be controlled in the Perspective Grid Presets. ‘View->Perspective Grid->Snap To Grid‘ enables snapping to Grid. Scale can be defined–to be used in displaying readouts to give the real world dimensions of an object (honoring the scale of grid). While Perspective Grid is visible you can easily switch to Perspective Selection Tool using Cmd/Ctrl from rectangle/line group tools and the PS Tool. Text and Symbols can be placed in Perspective, text being editable using the button given in the Control Panel. Placing objects on perspective grid plane works for most objects except raster images. Pattern-fills will not honor perspective.

You can also do:

(a) Perpendicular Movement of Perspective Objects (enabling move/duplication of objects such that the move happens towards a plane parallel to it). Pressing ’5′ key on the keyboard’s top row of keys before or during the movement using PS Tool would enable regular Perspective movement into Perpendicular Movement of Object.
(b) Marquee selection (You can select between normal marquee and Perspective marquee after starting to drag the PS tool and then switch between different plane of current grid using ’1′, ’2′, ’3′ or ’4′ keys),
(c) Real-world measurements in Control Panel and
(d) Arrow keys movement in Perspective for Perspective Objects.

You can switch the active plane by clicking on the cube’s planes in the on-screen widget while having ‘Perspective Selection‘ or ‘Perspective Grid‘ tools selected and also have a ‘No Plane‘ active state. A context/object menu is available to attach an object to the currently active plane in Perspective. Similarly a Perspective Object can be released from Perspective using the ‘Release with Perspective‘ item in Context/Object menu, without affecting the appearance of the object.

Objects are aware of the height/depth at which they belong in perspective. This means that by doing a Perpendicular movement of object the dimensions reported in Info/Control panel will remain true. The Perspective Selection tool works in object’s plane i.e. Scale/Move takes place in plane where the object belongs and not in current plane height/distance. Multiple bounding boxes are shown in case objects selected are at different heights (even if they are in the same plane). Move operation (with PS tool) would work fine for multiple selections, i.e. each object would move in its own plane and the relative positioning would be maintained. Transform Again (Cmd/Ctrl+D) works for Perpendicular Movement. Scale would scale the objects whose bounding box is used for scaling even when multiple objects are selected.

Before drawing/placing object you can infer plane positioning from (Smart Guides have to be ON for this):

a. Other objects by going to one of the anchor point (getting the ‘anchor’ label) and pressing Shift key. This would temporarily hide other planes.
b. Grid Lines by going to ‘Intersect’ point and again pressing Shift key. Changing plane in this state would bring that plane to appropriate offset.

Once the object is drawn/placed the inference mode would be reset and all planes would get restored to normal visibility/offset. A plane can be moved to match an object’s depth/height. To do this select the object and then use ‘Object->Perspective->Show Object Grid Plane‘. ‘Opt/Alt+Drag’ a plane would make a copy of the object
on the plane to new location. If nothing is selected on plane all objects would be copied else only the selected once would be copied. For precise Perpendicular movement any plane can be moved to any specified depth by doing a ‘Shift+Click’ on plane widget. The dialog would have options to move/copy objects along with the plane. This would come only with Perspective Selection tool and not the grid tool. When multiple objects across the plane are selected the info/control panel won’t show any information. Moving a plane with Shift key pressed would snap the plane to the next available grid line. There’s a Plane Switching widget available that activates whenever Perspective Grid is visible. It works with all the Perspective aware tools and can be used to switch planes. View->Perspective Grid -> Define Grid functionality allow to numerically manipulate the currently defined grid in the document and also one can save the grid as a Preset from the same dialog.

Double-clicking on the  on Perspective Selection tool opens a dialog that provides fine control over the various parameters for this tool.

Here’s a step-by-step guide explaining how the Taj was created (best downloaded and viewed in Adobe Acrobat):


The Taj drawing file:

Contributed by Anil Ahuja, Adobe Illustrator Engineering Team


  • By Thierry - 8:29 AM on August 23, 2010  

    WOW. Really impressive.By the way, the link to the drawing file is broken.

  • By Will Smith - 3:42 AM on August 26, 2010  

    Amazing step by step guide, it’s just great .

  • By mohit - 6:53 AM on September 27, 2010  

    I don’t have the CS5, is this possible with CS4 also?

  • By Ruth Ann - 2:37 AM on November 14, 2010  

    So new to this, now that I have th perspective building grid on my stage, how do I get out of it?

  • By Anil - 6:41 AM on December 13, 2010  

    This is only possible using Illustrator CS5

  • By Andrew Buckle - 4:03 PM on December 13, 2010  

    Good comprehensive study into the Illustrator perspective tool, I must admit I have found it one of the more difficult features of CS5. After reading this, I understand it a little better. Lovely illustration as well

  • By Aftab Adeel Joyia - 9:13 AM on March 15, 2011  

    Its really awesome, but links are not worked.

    • By Terry Hemphill - 12:04 PM on March 17, 2011  


      Thanks for the comment. The link to the Illustrator file that was broken has been fixed.

      –Terry H., Illustrator Marketing Manager

  • By Jonathan Levy - 4:53 PM on April 16, 2011  

    Can the folks at Adobe make this possible for a future release:

    “Placing objects on perspective grid plane works for most objects except raster images.”


    • By Terry Hemphill - 10:51 PM on April 18, 2011  

      Hi Jonathan,

      Thanks for the suggestion; I’ll pass along to the team. BTW, you can submit feature requests on the Illustrator Forum:

      There are two workarounds for using raster images and the Perspective Tools:
      1. Live Trace the image, then use the Perspective Grid to manipulate it. But sure to consider the size of the raster image and resize/resample it before using Live Trace so you don’t end up with an unnecessarily large file as a result.
      2. Place an image and embed it (linked images won’t work).
      – Drag a rectangle on the perspective grid. Make sure you drag it the right size and on the right place, you cannot change it later.
      – Select both the rectangle and the image.
      – From the main menu, select Object > Envelope Distort > Make with Top Object.

      –Terry H.

  • By Jay Fresno - 4:50 PM on June 25, 2011  

    Number 2 on the Perspective Grid Nomenclature page indicates that the whole grid can be tilted using Shift/Alt. Please give more detailed instructions on how to tilt the grid. It doesn’t work for me.

  • By eric german - 11:27 AM on August 18, 2011  

    Quick question regarding 1 point perspective in CS5. The plane widget tool lets me work with a left, right and bottom plane. How do I work in a plane parallel to the picture plane (computer screen) in 1 point perspective? That is to say, if I want to have a shape rise perpendicular to the ground plane, and then copy that shape but scale it back towards the vanishing point? Am I missing how to work in the plane parallel to the picture plane in 1 point?


  • By Malena Luongo - 4:22 PM on October 24, 2011  

    The plane switching widget isn’t showing up when I activate my perspective grid. How do I make is visible?

  • By Vanan-Voice - 6:53 PM on July 26, 2013  

    i did not face any problem regarding switching widget at anytime … bcz i have created many Voice over company Websites. its basically Voice over Company Site..

  • By Vanan-Voice - 6:54 PM on July 26, 2013  

    i did not face any problem regarding switching widget at anytime …

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