Exploded Axonometrics from Digital Models


Chameleon House Exploded Axon.jpg

Using a provided Rhino 3dm file, this workflow demonstrates how to develop 2D axonometric drawings from 3D models exported into Adobe Illustrator. We will discuss the proper procedure of turning a 3D model into a 2D drawing, then manipulating lineweights, adding notations, adding color via the pen tool,
Uses Tool(s) Rhinoceros , Illustrator CS5

Axonometric Diagrams

An axonometric drawing (also referred to as a plan oblique axon) uses a 45 degree plan grid, keeping the original orthogonal geometry of the plan. An exploded axon takes this original construction and displaces selected elements to illustrate construction assembly or, in the context of architecture, spatial relationships. Exploded axonometrics can be extremely detailed, such as a construction detail, or they can be more diagrammatic, such as in a program or circulation diagram.

In order to add lineweights, the drawing must be brought into a vector-based editing program--in this case, Illustrator. In this workflow, we'll take the 3D model from Rhino and create 2D drawings of each layer, then export them into Illustrator files. From there we'll take each of the layers into Illustrator and place them into a single file on separate layers, and change lineweights and add text to finish our diagram.

The Rhino file provided for this workflow has been prepared in the following ways:

  • The 3d model is centered on the construction plane (where the coordinates are 0,0). This is done because when the drawing is exported, the center of the drawing will be the origin.
  • Cameras have been setup to create a new saved view titled "AXON." Saved views allows us to set up scenes and be able to return to that original view at any time if we should pan or rotate away from it. Our view is set up for a 45ยบ axonometric diagram.
  • Objects have been distributed onto layers corresponding to assemblies that may want to be exploded from one another.


Creating 2d Geometry from the 3d Model

Before we begin, it's important to note a few things:

  • We have several layers that we'll be working with in this model, and we'll be turning the layers on and off individually to properly extract the 2D drawings.
  • The camera view is a saved view titled "AXON" that you can always get back to by right clicking on the view title and selecting Saved Views from the drop down menu, and then AXON. Remember this in case you move the view at all so that your 2D drawings correspond.
  • Finally, there is a registration rectangle around the model that will help you properly align the drawings once exported into Illustrator. DO NOT delete this rectangle until after placing all of the drawing layers in Illustrator.

Once you're all set up, begin by turning off all the layers except for the Registration and one other layer. Press Command + A or Ctrl + A to select all visible objects. Now you can perform a standard Make2d operation on the visible layer. The resulting 2D geometry will go to the origin (0,0). Notice the layers on which this new geometry has been placed.

Exporting from Rhino to Illustrator

To export geometry from Rhino to Illustrator, select all of the 2D lines and hatches (but not the 3D model) in the Top view, and use the "Export" command. Name the file and select ".ai" as the file format.

There are several options for exporting. To export with scale, specify what the drawing should be scaled to under "Preserve model scale." For example, 1/16" scale would mean that 1' in the model will be 1/16" in the exported drawing. If scale does not matter, in the case of some diagrams or drawings that will be scaled to an image, choose "Snapshot of current view." The drawing can then be scaled later in Illustrator. For this workflow, scale does not matter as long as we keep the same scale and view for all of our layers, so we will choose the "Snapshot of current view" option.

Taking Linework into Illustrator

  • Video

Open the newly created .ai file in Illustrator. You should be seeing the layer you exported in 2D and the registration rectangle surrounding the drawing. The file has maintained the source layers from Rhino and they will display by name in the Layers panel. Maintain these layer names as you go through this process.

Select all of the linework and change the stroke color to black. Now you'll begin changing the lineweights by selecting the lines for heaviest weight and changing the stroke weight to the appropriate visual weight. If you're unsure about the lineweight relationships in your drawing, refer to the Axonometric Drawing Conventions )

Though your lineweights will always be dependent upon the scale you are printing or viewing at, the following weights will give you an idea for drawings at 1/16" scale:

  • Profile Edge (building) = 1.25 pt
  • Profile Edge (others) = 1.0 pt
  • Corner Lines = 0.75 pt
  • Far Lines = 0.5 pt
  • Details = 0.25 pt
    • The smallest stroke weight printable is .125 pt

Exploding the Drawing and Creating Construction Lines


Once you've placed all of the drawings into a single Illustrator file and placed them onto separate layers, you are ready to explode the drawing. Begin by deleting or turning off the Registration layer.

Select an entire layer by clicking the circle to the right of the layer name. With the layer objects and the black Selection Arrow tool selected, hold down the shift key while you drag the layer in an orthogonal direction that will help to display all of the objects clearly in the final drawing. Repeat this for each layer.

Construction lines help the viewer understand how the exploded drawing can become a complete object. Create a new layer titled "Construction Lines" and select the Line tool. Draw the construction lines by clicking on one point and dragging to where it would connect to another object on the drawing. Repeat this for each object and connect the main points that project to another object. Once you've drawn all of the lines, select the entire Constructions Lines layer and click the Dashed checkbox in the Stroke dialog box. Choose the appropriate dash and gap length and stroke weight so that your construction lines are visible but not distracting from the rest of the drawing.

Adding Color to the Diagram


Adding color to the axonometric diagram can help the viewer quickly distinguish between different parts of the drawing. To add color, start by selecting a layer to add color to, and choosing that layer from the Layers panel. Choose the Pen tool and trace the outline of the object using control points, using anchor points as necessary for curved lines.

Select the newly created polygon and change its color in the Color panel. Then, change the objects opacity in the Transparency panel, and then send the object to the back of the layer, behind the line drawing. Repeat for all objects and layers.

Adding Text


Select the Text tool and click to create new text line, or click and drag to create a new text box. Add your notation text, then use the Pen tool to draw a callout line from the text line to the object your describing. Use shift to snap to orthogonal angles while using the Pen tool.

Once you've completed your notation, use the black Selection Arrow tool to select the notation text and the callout line, hold Alt or Option while clicking and dragging to create a copy of the notation. Change the text and reset the callout line to another object, and repeat until all objects have been appropriately notated.

Common Problems

  • My drawing is out of scale. How do I change the scale?
    • When you go to File>Export Selected, you will be asked to determine an export scale. Make sure you have something close to what you would like your final output to be - though you can always scale later, it will help to have the drawing at the correct size early on.


Creating an Axonometric Drawing using the Shear command
This workflow shows how to use the Shear command to create an isometric view in Rhino of an existing digital model. The linework will then be exported to Illustrator where a few pointers on stylistic effects can help create descriptive and eloquent presentation diagrams.
How to create a clean drawing from a 3D Model in Rhino
This workflow details methods for the creation of a section and plan drawing from a 3 dimensional model in Rhino and the process for cleaning up the output, deciding what information to keep / delete and what needs to be drawn to complete the understanding of the space.