I am tasked with taking a normal picture and tracing the geometric design in Adobe Illustrator and saving as an SVG. I have traced simple shapes and saved as SVG before, but this particular image really has me scratching my head. I will attach a small version here for reference:

enter image description here

What I have tried


I have since went forward with the custom brush pattern approach. It got me surprisingly close as you will see below. I drew a circle and chose the custom brush, then I used Effect>>Distort>>Distort and Transform to make 6 concentric circles (there are 6 circles in the original picture, if I'm not mistaken). I scaled them at 92% which resulted in a nice transition of 1 circle to the next smaller circle, however it left me with a lot of empty space in the middle. I'm not sure how to get the scaling right; perhaps I need to make my custom brush thicker? My custom brush is provided to the right of the satellite mock-up.

enter image description here

Even after I get the scaling/copying just right, the issue of the 3/4 perspective is unresolved.

I will leave my original question here so as not to invalidate any existing answers.

Question: Is there a fairly time-efficient technique that Adobe Illustrator can bring to bear for a task like this? Any help big or small will be appreciated, thank you.

Optional Question: Is my custom brush technique going to pan out? I'm still stuck at the scaling and how to rotate the perspective to match the original picture. I would appreciate any specific tips with regards to those problems.

Further Clarification

  • Need to retain as much of the underlying geometry as possible
  • Result should resemble a wire-frame, nearly as complex but high resolution (or infinitely scalable)
  • Need to export or save as SVG
  • The three prongs that stick out could be traced the old-fashioned way easy enough, so the focus will be on the circular geometry and all the criss-crossing lines
  • The shape is actually not very complex, it just has a repetition in 3d that is a bit hard to replicate with the tools in illustrator. On a cad application with real 3d tools, or a DCC 3d application, this would take an hour or 2 to accomplish. Unless ofcourse youd need to draw all the joints.
    – joojaa
    Jan 13, 2018 at 10:11
  • The crossbars do not appear to be on the parabola but on the wires attaching the beam structure
    – joojaa
    Jan 13, 2018 at 12:15

1 Answer 1


The circular reflector of the antenna is possible to draw as 3D model.

Obviously a plausible look-alike version is ok, you do not need radiotechnically accurate copy(= sub-millimeter tolerances regardless the huge size). A 3D modeller who has climbed at least a little upwards from a full novice level draws it in 2 hours, an experienced modeller needs 50% less.

There are plenty of free and commercial 3D models available. Search for them. Some keywords: parabolic,antenna, reflector, radar, radio telescope

ADD: In Illustrator the wanted projection needs 3D or an incredibly tedious envelope mesh distortion warping as a full 2D solution. If the pattern can be flat, but parabolic on a 3D parabolic surface, you can use illustrator's 3D effect Revolve + texture symbol mapping.

See this( the same technique used for decorative purposes) Want to make a concave lens effect

You can drag your wireframe to symbols panel and take it from there as mapped artwork onto the revolved dish.

Here's an ultrasimple attempt to do it:

enter image description here

  1. A wireframe element (diagonals are missing), used later as a swatch

  2. A rectangle filled with wireframe element swatch, used later as mapped texture symbol

  3. Fake parabolic profile curve, 2 anchors only, actually a piece of ellipse

  4. The profile revolved and texturized. Can be expanded for final drawing.

This reflector is not especially plausible because it has no truss structure, which is essential part of the construction. Creating it with Illustrator's 3D is hopeless - there's no such tools included. Even simple freeware CAD can offer more. The next image is an example. It's about 50% less dense than a real thing, measures are random and all parts are only wires, but at least it has thickness and surely it's available as vector SVG:

enter image description here

As a construction it's not complex. Only a 15 degrees sector was put together and 23 copies were made. Used CAD = DesignSpark Mechanical.

ADD2: Your radio telescope seems to be available in a marketplace for 3D models https://www.cgtrader.com/3d-models/exterior/sci-fi/radio-telescope Its primary format seems to be a huge polygon mesh. Before purchasing it you should ask the seller how it is convertible to line art vector drawing - you surely do not want all those 100000 triangles, only the visible outlines. The marketplace offers free conversion to other formats, but that's not automatic, the availability must be asked.

  • I had just updated my question with some modest progress when I saw your answer. I feel I'm getting close with the custom brush approach, but if it doesn't work out I will look into what existing 3D models could work for my use case, thanks for pointing me in the right direction. Jan 13, 2018 at 10:31
  • @ArashHowaida I mean if one wants a convolited approach then yes one can do this in illustrator. But it is much much simpler in 3D because illustrators 3D like effects are very very bad at doing this. Its possible. Bit then again its easier and faster (sic) to do this in Notepad than with illustrator native tools.
    – joojaa
    Jan 13, 2018 at 12:12
  • @user287001 wow, that's so cool what you have demonstrated here. On the one hand I never realized how limited illustrator is when it comes to this type of thing, but on the other hand I'm really surprised how well these other platforms render it. It seems like the tricky part is getting the svg format. Thanks again for going the extra mile with this answer, it helped a lot! Jan 15, 2018 at 10:19
  • @ArashHowaida 3D is far wider field than 2D graphic design. 3D spans atleast 5 different categories of applications, if we ignore the niche products. So choosing the right tool for the job is imperative. Its not that illustrator is more limited its just meant for people who draw things themselves, after all it emulates drawing with pen and ruler. You asked is there a easier way, yes there is its just that even yhe barebone basics of 3D is much wider than the enture graphics design industry. Indeed just understandin designing shaders alone consumes a decade of life.
    – joojaa
    Jan 15, 2018 at 11:03
  • @ArashHowaida Producing SVGs in my example is based on an undocumented feature. Something has been forgotten when the CAD was decimated in order to make the free version. Printing wireframes as 2D PDF do not produce a bitmap, but a PDF which is editable in Illustrator. I have seen 2D vector exports elsewhere only in pro versions of commercial 3D software. Even that has a workaround. For ex. in free version of SketchUP one can output a high resolution bitmap image and trace it to an at least somehow usable vector image in Inkscape or Illustrator.
    – user82991
    Jan 15, 2018 at 15:17

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