I am working on an illustration for a client who needs it to be very photorealistic. I used illustrator to get as close to his expectation as possible but its not quite there yet. Can anyone help me with any notes or recommendations on software and/or tools to use to achieve this?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

This is what I came up with: enter image description here

This is what the client needs it to be like: enter image description here

  • Chances are very high that the client has a CAD version of the snowboard design already, this CAD file might be useful in making an artistic rendering.
    – Yorik
    Oct 19, 2016 at 18:45
  • 1
    @Yorik its actually quite common that they dont have it. If they only have one designer the designer may be using worse tools than we do. Its only big or definitely more complicated layout engineering type firms where the designer absolutely positively has a 3D CAD
    – joojaa
    Oct 20, 2016 at 7:58
  • Rendering a 3D model would be so much easier, but it's not impossible to do with Illustrator, just kind of time consuming. It's definitely missing shadows and perhaps a few highlights. As a test I tried doing it in Photoshop. With this specific example, it wasn't too tedious. I added bunch of feathered blotches of black and white and used blend mode Overlay on some of the layers.
    – Joonas
    Oct 20, 2016 at 10:49

5 Answers 5


The example result is probably done using cad or 3d software, but the primary difference is lighting effects. The quickest way to modify the original to mimic some of this might be:

  • spread the layers vertically to give more separation
  • for each layer, add some solid shading layers consisting of black silhouettes of the section you want shaded, with a low opacity. Highlights can be achieved as well using white, low opacity, and possibly a "lighten" blend mode.
  • add drop shadows. One could use a layer blending mode or one can duplicate the layer, silhouette it as black, add a strong blur, and a low opacity and then move this layer downwards to look like it is a shadow on the layer below it. This would probably require a clipping path to prevent the shadow bleeding onto the background.

This looks easier to do in Solid Works, 3dsmax or Blender rather than Illustrator.

If you are skilled, you can pull this off even with Sketchup and render the final image with Maxwell Render or Vray.

Better said, if you never had contact with 3D modelling programs and render engines and you have to learn one fast, go for the Sketchup + Vray alternative. Sketchup is very easy to learn with straight forward tools and Vray has a lot of tutorials on youtube on 'how to' and a lot of photorealistic materials.

  • You can also use Kerkythea, wich gives very good results and it is free :o)
    – Rafael
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:41
  • @Rafael I can only recommend what I worked with :D Thank you. Will check it out soon.
    – Alin
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:43
  • Yup, Take a look. kerkythea.net/cms
    – Rafael
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:44
  • @Rafael Was already there :) But browsing through the gallery it doesn't look that great :)) But I guess that's not all it's capable of, those are simply submissions of others testing it so, can't know till I try it myself.
    – Alin
    Oct 19, 2016 at 17:47
  • Some years ago they messed up the gallery. The comunity was very active. But they changed the CMS and the gallery went to the drain.
    – Rafael
    Oct 19, 2016 at 20:21

You are on the right track, but I am not sure if you can go all the way on Ilustrator alone. To be more specific, how the textures wrap arround the curved objects and the bumps on some of this textures.

The second image could be a 3D render, probably using an ambient occlussion render. But also in 3D you have tools to make the bumps on the textures.

A quick test using only ambient oclussion on the Blender Internal renderer.

enter image description here

If you want to keep on the Ilustrator path, add some shadows.

If you want to go on the 3D render path, use Blender. The shapes are pretty easy to make. It is not Photorealistic. I would use the Blender internal Render and ambient oclussion, not Cycles render. A very difusse light is also needed.

To simulate the isometric look use a veeeeeeery long lens and put your camera far away.

Another option is to use Sketchup+Kerkythea, both free, but I like more the blender option because it is all integrated in one. But also you have more freedom to trace the shadows separately.

  • 1
    "It is not Photorealistic. I would […] not use Cycles." Cycles is now, and has been for a while, the preferred rendering engine for Blender, and it is trivially easy to make photorealistic renders of scenes like the above with Cycles.
    – wchargin
    Oct 20, 2016 at 0:19
  • The second image is not in my opinion "photorealistic" , and playing with the way shadows project on the internal renderer a simmilar look is very easy to achive.
    – Rafael
    Oct 20, 2016 at 5:58
  • In my opinion, in this case in cycles you need to "fight" a bit versus the phisical acuracy, to make a little "fake". n_n
    – Rafael
    Oct 20, 2016 at 6:01
  • @wchargin depends on what you mean with photorealistic. As in physically based then its not so clear
    – joojaa
    Oct 20, 2016 at 7:58
  • about the isometric look: can't you just render with an ortho camera?
    – Luciano
    Oct 20, 2016 at 8:42

First off, great job so far! To start with since you say Photorealistic let's be clear, yours isn't photorealistic yet but neither is the bottom example, so don't be too hard on yourself.

As far as improvements go:

  1. Especially because of the glass in yours I'd explode it out. Right now yours is more like a cut section of sorts. More of an exploded axonometric would help. Basically expand so there's air (space) between each layer.
  2. What is the outer casing? Notice in the bottom one there's some idea of what the sides look like. Yours is lacking this critical component.
  3. You have a big shadow under the segment but your light is all coming from dead-on. It doesn't make sense, and doesn't help the dimensions. Rotate your imaginary light source:

Currently something like this:

enter image description here

You want to rotate this imaginary light source to match the drop shadow. Which would put it somewhere sorta like this. And by doing so indicates that more of the surface should be in shadow:

enter image description here


if you got guts you can achieve something very close to it in AI, but isn't worth such effort. The below example was clearly made using some 3D Tool, lights, fine reliefs, textures, etc.

But you may try either working with AI + PS together to achieve this level of quality with much less effort than PS alone, if you know how materials work and got the skills to work it on, you can do the below picture from either a vector pseudo-3d or an actual 3d model but with no details or textures whatsoever.


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