How to draw aircraft


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22 January 2006
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I have been trying to learn how to start drawing aircraft (3 view, artistic, 3d...) but I don't know how to start. Which soft?, what I have to do to draw a wing?...If anybody would be so kind to give anwers to a few questions I have about the topic I'll write a "how to" fo the forum.
And of course...I will start to produce my own profiles and 3 views of unbuilt designs for the forum.

Anybody interested to start a class room here? ;)

For 2d work a good, and more importantly, free vector-based drawing application is "Inkscape":

For 3d work one of the most popular free tools is "Blender":

Software (II)

If you prefer to push pixels rather than polygons or vectors, then there are painting applications, such as ArtRage:

And the ever-present GIMP:

Although if you try and paint using a mouse, rather than a graphics tablet, you may end up with a twisted claw for a hand. :eek:

RP1 is a pretty good free photo editing package for Windows thats a little easier than GIMP to get started with.

If you know Photoshop well, but can't afford it, then consider GIMPShop. This is simply a hacked copy of GIMP with the menu commands moved and renamed to be as similar to Photoshop as possible. Hardened Photoshop users will find it much easier to get to grips with. Its out for MacOS X, with a slightly buggy Windows port: the official Windows version will be posted soon hopefully at
My drawings are made with Corel Draw 3 (vectorial 2D-software). A german friend do even better with the same software.
But the very best is 3D-drawing, while this may be very expensive (in time, in money also).
I do everything with Corel Photopaint 8.0 enlarged by some free additional software (rendering, fractals, etc.) A bit old software but still useful. I like much Photopaint than Photoshop, but it differs person to person.
For line drawings (3-views) , I think a vectorial software is the best tool, and here
I agree with Tophe. For 2-D Corel Draw is good, no matter if the latest version, or
an older one (that maybe is cheaper ..). A competitor is perhaps Xara,
sold by the Corel Company, but cdr-files are more common, I think. But if you want
to work in 2-D, as well as in 3-D, perhaps you should stay just with one CAD program,
as they in general can do both.
Thanks you all,

I'm going to start working and I'll post my works as soon as possible to start writing the "how to"
In the same vein, a more specific question: I know there are sw the translate a 3-view of an object in a 3D model of the same (with approximations that have to be corrected by hand for sure). Any suggestion on the less difficult to learn?

I think, you can use more or less every 3-D CAD software for this task. I was using
RCCad for quite a long time, it's really simple to use, but very limited in performance.
But for quite while it satisfied my needs, although they are absolutely contrary to yours :
I want to translate a 3D model (photo) into a 3-view ! Our friend Tophe developed a
very good method, all we have to do now, is to compensate the effects of perspective
... and that seems to be not so easy.
Any one around here with experience in this field ? ???


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To translate a model photo to a 3d view (actually a 3d model from wich you can extrapolate whatever you want) there are a couple of sw that work with a number of photos from differnt sides of the same model. One is D Sculptor. I know the method Tophe The Great uses (it explains it at lenght in his books and on his site): requires a lot of patience... ;D
Anyway, I'll try RCCad. All I need something to create a model that is able to save the file in a standard format. Then I have batteries of 3D modelers, refiners, painters (amazing this last) to produce great looking artistic views of the planes (large propeller driven airlinesr, firstly)
Thanks, Skybolt, for tip with D Sculptor. I've looked up and I think, I will download the
demo. But as far as I read the explanation on the site, and on the site of the similar iModeller
software, you always need several photos of one object. And exactly that's the problem.
Often I'm glad to have just one photo or artists impression. An aircraft, of which you
have several photos, mostly you can find as a 3-view, too.
For other methods, you need to know the focal length of the camera used ... ! Even if it is a
photo, it is difficult to find someone, who can give an answer !
In the moment, I'm experimenting with the wrap function of CorelDraw, but still yet without
success. :-[
A professional drafter and illustrator for an airplane magazine I knew, it was in the pre-computer age, used this method: he tryed to "reverse design" the aircraft in the photo, drafted a possible 3-view (rough), and projected it in the same perspective of the model. If the result was the same (er, almost), he went for it. Normally this method works, but you have to be very able with a pencil and have a good tridimensional visualization skill (I don't have it, by the way). Normally what you obtain is precise in the general arrangement but it is wrong in detail as size of the elevons and of vertical til, agle of the leading edge of the wings, distance of the statrt of the cockpit and the tip of the nose.... If you want a an example, look at the side view of the Rockwell advanced bomber from Aviazione e Marina and confront with the actual blueprint in the same thread.
Yeah, 3-D visualization skills are important in doing a drawing. I should know, I started "on the board" in the pre-CAD age. Even with good CAD, the ability to visualize in 3-D is still useful, if nothing else, it tells you when the computer is doing what it thinks you said, not what you want. *chuckle* I know of the systems interface drawing for at least one Boeing aircraft where they got depictions of similar, but not identical, interface locations swapped. I noticed it because I was working on the outfitting of one for a private party while I was at the modification center in Waco.
The method mentioned, "reverse design", is exactly what I’ve tried to do with CAD,
I think. Building a virtual 3-D model and turning and moving it, until it is identical to
the given picture. And at least for the general arrangement and, most important for
the overall proportions, it works quite well . But of course, it’s very time consuming
and I noticed, that it works more or less with all photos, but not with all artists impressions
.. not all artists seem to follow exactly the rules of perspective !.
Worse, artist impression are often done to give a certain impression (ooopps) of the aircraft depicted and/ot to emhasisize a spèecial feature or detail. AS common ruse is to "stretch" the airframe to make it more "speedy"... 8)
Well, at the end I have taken my decision. By the moment I want to try with 2D. 3D seems more hard to learn.

For 2D drawing I have been very impressed by Inkscape: powerful, easy and freeware. You have versions for MS Windows, Linux and Apple OS. And you can paint with The GIMP but I have found something similar which is even easier to learn although more expensive (about 60 €) and then I fall in love with it. It is Lineform for Apple Mac OS. The trials had been better than I thought so this is now my drawing application.
For painting I'm trying Seashore which is based on the same code as The GIMP but optimized for Mac.

There is also a very interesting soft for artistic painting which name is Art Rage (MS Windows and Apple OS available versions). It is freeware and I think I'll use later.

Greatest thanks for everyone posting here, it has been very helpful for me :D.

I'll post as soon as I get some experience.
Export options are BMP, EPS, JPG, PDF, SVG and PNG

Here it is the link

If I could learn a lot, a future option would be consider a more powerful soft like Corel Draw...but at this moment I need something very easy to learn :p
If I could justify the money (they're not cheap), I'd pick up a couple of the Gnomon Workshop's training videos, probably Feng Zhu's 'Vehicle Sketching':

and/or Scott Robertson's 'How To Draw Aircraft':

They're intended for pen-and-paper design with freehand perspective rather than dead-accurate 3-view drafting, but they look really good. Occasionally, legitimate copies of Gnomon videos appear on Ebay, but I've not seen either of these yet.

(Edited) I've realised now that you were looking for a software solution; but these videos are still relevant for aircraft drawing in general.
Merv_P: Thanks a lot for the links.

It's true that I asked for help about software but that Gnomon videos are really good ::)
I've bumped this thread because I've been trying Google Sketchup for the first time in about a year. I hadn't even considered it before for drafting aircraft images, but the free version of 6 is much better than 5, and the quality of downloadable models has improved as well.

Not my own work, but I thought it was nice that the second or third decent model you get to when you type "aircraft" into the 3D Warehouse search box is an Avro Arrow... :D


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Is there any easy software which is available for converting three dimension drawings (top, side, front) into 3d pictures? Something which, with a bit of clean up perhaps will do the job?
And if so, the same software should be capable to do it just
the other way round. Take a 3-D picture, or a photo, and
get a 3-view, but with consideration of the perspective
shortening, please ! ;)
I don't know of anything that will quickly and accurately convert a 2D drawing to a 3D object. The way I do it is to take a 3 view drawing, and group each view (top, side, front) into a separate object. I then import the drawing into my 3D software, and orient the views so they create a sort of 3D drawing. From there, I create the model. Not easy to explain, but I made a "how I do it page" which you can see at

It's a bit basic but gives the general idea. Sometimes I get a drawing which includes cross sections through the fuselage, which really help. These form ribs, which can then be skinned to form a 3D object.

Making a 3D object from a photo would be extremely difficult, especially for complex shapes, and especially as you can't "see round the back" as it were. I would imagine it would take some sort of rig, with markers affixed to the object and some clever translation of multiple camera views. I've seen that sort of thing in the car industry for converting a clay model into a computer model, but it's not a consumer option, unless you've got a bazillion dollars handy.

There is a programme from Strata called Foto3D which will take a series of photos and convert them into a 3D object. This will only work for small objects though. I've not used it myself but it looks interesting.
Yes , that software could be interesting, if it can make a 3D model, it would solve
my problems with ease ....,
BUT, if I read the "tour" correctly, Foto3D can use anything from 20 to 250 photos,
which to me mean, that 20 is the minimum. And you should place the object on a
special photo mat. If you want to make a 3D picture of a model, it maybe an option,
but I doubt, that you'll need such a software, if you have a model on your desk.
And if you want to make a picture of a rare type, where informations are scarce, you
often can call yourself lucky, if you have ONE photo . So the use of this software
for our interests probably is quite restricted, I think.
Quite so. I think the upshot of all this is that there are no quick and easy solutions, especially where source material is scarce. Even when you do have plenty of good quality material, it can still be tricky as there's plenty of room for ambiguity. This is especially true for rare or little known types where drawings and photos can be contradictory.
When I model a new type, I try to mentally envisage it as a collection of components, much like building a model kit. Reverse engineering if you will. And a dose of good old trial and error! There comes a point where it all seems to gel and you get the right look and feel. There are examples of commercially available models of the same type where some just don't look quite right, and some do.
So, aemann, what would you recommend then as the easiest (if not the best necessarily) 3d software to use?
Personally I'd have to go with Strata Studio Pro. It's easy to use, works well with Adobe applications such as Illustrator and Photoshop, and is relatively easy to learn - well, as easy as any 3D app can be! But you can be producing useful stuff pretty quickly. It also has one of the best rendering systems around, is great for animations, and is affordable. And it can import and export a wide range of formats, and has a good user community. There's a free version available to try out for Mac and PC so you can get a feel for it.
I'm sure many people would disagree, but then we all have our favourites. I also like Cinema4D for modelling, and Bryce for producing backgrounds. I've tried a lot of other 3D apps and found them to have an almost vertical learning curve, where you have to plough through endless tutorials just to get the most basic things done. Of course, all the really serious stuff is monstrously expensive and outside the range of mere mortals who want something to use at home.
One of it's major benefits for me at least, is suspended renderings. You can start and stop renderings and save them, rather than having to sit and wait for it to finish. That means I can render at night and ddo other stuff during the day. Bear in mind that some renders, especially big images at print quality, can take days... so I find this one feature to be invaluable.
Is there any software where you can take a bunch of drawings (front, aft, top bottom, side) and it turns it into a 3D image?
KJ_Lesnick said:
Is there any software where you can take a bunch of drawings (front, aft, top bottom, side) and it turns it into a 3D image?

There are lots of them. Most take a bit of work to get the images to turn into a 3d model though. ;)
To make this method work, I think, you would have at least to turn all pictures you're
using into a vector format. And that may well be quite a part of the whole work !
I am a 3d artist who does these things all day long ( unfortunately,no aircraft )
And at my job we have tested every possible program that can turn pictures into 3d models.
We have tested programs that were being written by university-students, to the most expensive professional software that we could find.
But not one piece of software could make a perfect model. We always had to correct stuff.

We usually work from photos, mainly because our clients don't want to give us their cad-files.
So we have to correct perspective-errors ourself or just work with what we got.
Photoshop (and others) has some functions to correct most errors ( lensdistortions) and can even correct perspective.
And remember no tool can make a perfectly perspective-less image.
So dont waste your time on it.
More important then perfect images are proportions.
For example, how long is the wing compared to the fuselage?Or how many heads high is this aircraft? Take things you know and use them to measure other things.
Also try to block-out your models.
For example you have a picture of a 3/4 view of a plane. Make a box in 3dspace and rotate it so that it matches your camera-angle.
Then scale it to size. After that you can make now blocks to make the wings and the other stuff you see.
Keep these blocks somewhere save, and use those blocks to build a model from.
That should help you get started.

Best 3d software to get started? Try wings3d or Silo3d and if you have the cash for it , luxology's Modo.( Best modeler ever)

Thanks a lot for the info Baroba :)

Some affordable sofware for Mac amateur artists:

Lineform (vector drawing)

TurboCAD mac

Pixelmator (bitmap edition)

Corel Painter Essentials

Drawing comics?

Comic Life

Manga Studio Debut
There is a process to develop 3-D images into orthographic (sic?) images that has been around for a long time. It is, in essence, geometrically the reverse of constructing a 3-D image from a 3-view. The accuracy of the process is in large part dependent on the relative position of the three axis of the subject and the ability to discern contours of compound curves. For example, a head-on shot of a device gives almost no information in the axis perpandicular to the image plane and the countours of wing tips, etc. are not discernable. In the end you cannot create information that does not exist in the original image. As most who have ever drawn an airplane know, the shapes and contours are most often extremely complex.

If you want a really accurate drawing, success will probably be elusive. A pretty good drawing can probably be made if you combine the outputs from two or three images taken from significantly different POVs and combining this with dimensional information. If this makes you feel bad, consider that quite a few drawings I have checked that originate from manuals or other aircraft engineering sources are not accurate either, i.e., the wingspan and length given in the margins do not agree with each other when scaled off (which was correct? If the factory can't get right, who can?)

If anyone is interested, I will try to dig out an article, IIRC it was published in a 1943 or 44 issue of Air Trails.

Best regards,

Artie Bob
"If anyone is interested, I will try to dig out an article, IIRC it was published in a 1943 or 44 issue of Air Trails"

It surely would be interesting ! As you've said, one problem is discerning contours, but an
even greater problem is determining the axis itself. If these are known, you can use geo-
metrical methods, still without regards to perspective effects. Tophe has shown a good
method in his "Forked Ghosts". But most aircraft have curved contours and you have to
go to the beginning of aviation, to find aircraft with rectangular angles .
Probably the best free CAD thing anyone can find is Solid Edge. Solid Edge 2D v20 is comletely free. 3D is not, and not cheap either.
Available for download here:
Ok, the reconstruction of 3-views only from photos won’t give really accurate results.
But for the following problem, I think reasonable accuracy should be possible :
I’m just looking for a method, to get the correct proportions between A and B, if B is
given. No, simply stretching the lines, to bring B to the same length on all photos to get A,
don’t work, because A and B aren’t always on the same side of the optical axis .... BTW,
Would it work then ??
Anybody, who has a simple solution ? Or any clue, where to find further reading about this theme ?


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If you can tell me exactly, where to draw the lines, why not ! :D
There isn't really a simple solution to this problem - this is why drawings for use in model-making frequently have cross sections as well as orthogonal views. Frequently the only way is to match as closely as possible the orthogonal views (or nearest photograph) and then imply the curvature and shape from general photographic views. If you can set up a camera in the correct position and with a similar virtual lens, then you can render out what should be an identical view of the object and check.

Ultimately I would regard 3D CG as being more like sculpting, or painting than CAD - you are unlikely to get all the data you need, so ignore the fact you can model to sub-milimetric accuracy and try to make something that looks as "right" as you can.

Regarding graphics tablets - for anyone who does profiles, ShipBucket etc, I highly recommend them. I use a WaCom Graphire 4 (The silver one), (which has a larger drawing area that it says on the box), but there is a more recent WaCom in the same price range (£50-£70) that has the programmable buttons.

I would also recommend them for 3D work - it gives a very naturalistic interface. But check that your 3D package can use them! My old version of TrueSpace throws something of a hissy fit, but the new version works fine (and the ship design SW I use a work is a dream when using a Graphics Tablet).


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