What are the general principles I can apply to make a shape look like it is made of glass? More specifically I want to make some simple graphics that give the impression of looking at a lens side (see below). I was hoping to find a scheme that would work for a variety of different lens shapes (convex, concave etc.).

Biconvex lens image from <code>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lens_(optics)</code>

So far I have tried to add contour to the lens shape which could be reflections from a light source very far away. The dark background colour reduces the complexity of any refractions through the lens as suggested by @Dom.

Lens attempt on a dark background.

  • The conversation in the comments on this post has been moved to chat.
    – JohnB
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 15:12
  • So, where's the chat/comments?
    – voices
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 9:47
  • No idea either ...
    – boyfarrell
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 9:49

1 Answer 1


Some initial notes

Let's make a google search (images): https://www.google.com/search?q=crystal+logo

1) You can see how difficult is to make an abstraction of a crystal. Verey few logos succeed there.

2) "How to make an illustration" depends on what kind of illustration do you want. The key word here is "style".

Depending on what is this approach the look could be called a diagram, a cartoon, illustration, cute, amazing, etc.

Let's make another search (images) https://www.google.com/search?q=crystal+vector

That is better but the problem is that you don't need faceted crystals which are easier in some cases.

3) It is obvious you don't want this dull diagrams of lenses: https://www.google.com/search?q=lens+diagram

Here is my aproach

Actually I'm starting to use this style for some diagrams I'm doing myself.

If we need a realistic image I would use a 3D image as a base.

But if we don't need the realism, just a cuter diagram I'm using a simple shadow (s) and a reflection (r) (A)

But I can not see the reflection so I need some base color (B)

And I am adding a "sandblast" (C)

But the trick is that all those elements are actually using transparency. It is a lens after all. So If I use a darker background I know I can show light in the next steps. (You can see that the beam of light is behind the lens)

I can play with the light instead of those boring yellow arrows.

enter image description here

All transparencies are simple gradient ones (I'm using Corel Draw here but you have them in Illustrator and Inkscape)

For the last one I'm using a starting object and a final object to give shape to the beam, but there are other approaches to that.

Edited some time later.

I'm adding an image on how to make a simple typical glossy button.

You can see here how the different simple elements combine together.

enter image description here

An additional variation regarding style is adding some blurs on the same objects we had before.

enter image description here

  • Such a great answer! I really like the way with just a few elements (gradient and colour) you can get something that looks lively and fun.
    – boyfarrell
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 16:02
  • 1
    Are those 3D examples your own work too, was that ray traced?
    – boyfarrell
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 16:05
  • Raytraced is a generic word on 3D rendering. Yes. But more specific was with Kerkythea and photon map, but in general any "photorealistic render engine will do, like cycles in blender.
    – Rafael
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 16:15
  • How do you do the sandblast? Can you elaborate on it? It looks glossy; more like a stray reflection than the etched surface you'd see on a real lens, but it's the key element that really sets C, D, E, F & G off. Especially with the dark background and transverse beam of light.
    – voices
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 10:05
  • You are right. I would use the exact same technique as a glossy reflection. I do not want to represent an actual sandblast, because it would be intrusive. Remember that this is for a diagram or for illustration purposes, not to represent real life.
    – Rafael
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 10:21

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