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Industrial Design Product Rendering: Step by Step Tutorial

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Filip Chaeder is very good at designing products. He’s also very good at explaining his process. We previously featured him on the SketchBook blog with 10 Tips for Product Design Sketching, but we asked him back for a detailed step-by-step process for making a product render. There are some excellent tips in here that anyone who is learning the ins and outs of product design will find very useful — especially with regards to using perspective guides, lighting, and shading. 

chaeder design banner

In this tutorial I will go through my sketch process from the ideation phase all the way to the final presentation render. You will get some insight into how I work around ideas, see how I compose my concept sketches, including how much time I usually spend on them. I will then go on to make a final presentation render of the chosen concept through a step-by-step guide. Usually a design process like this is backed up by research, but in the case of this tutorial we’ll go straight into the ideation phase.

You don’t want to spend several hours sketching a concept that might not go any further in the process — just enough time to make them presentable and understandable.

The product I’ve chosen to design is a smaller digital camera, but the steps in this tutorial can be applied to almost any product. You can see a quick speedpaint of this process below.

Generate

To start things off I often go for a front, side, or top view (if the product allows it). I do this because it’s an easy way to build up volume and to quickly get your ideas down on paper. Most of the time it also gives the viewer enough information to make a decision as to whether or not the idea has potential.

This initial idea phase can of course take weeks depending on the scope of the project, but we’ll settle for a single page of sketches for now. As soon as you’ve created some concepts you are satisfied with, it’s time to pick a few of them to take with you into the refinement stage. In this case, I wanted to explore three of them a bit more.

initial camera sketch mock ups
I made the hatching by using a texture with straight lines. It does give the sketch a slightly artificial feeling, but if you are okay with that I highly recommend this method for the speed alone. The symmetry tool is of course a big help when drawing products like this.

Refine

Moving the concepts into three dimensions is one of the most important stages of the process. It’s here that you define and refine the concepts, showcase the functions, and make them presentable to your client in a way that gives all the information he or she needs to pick a final concept. You should try to keep the details to a minimum and focus on the parts of the design that makes the concept stick out. You don’t want to spend several hours sketching a concept that might not go any further in the process — just enough time to make them presentable and understandable.

When presenting, you should give each concept its own space (not like I’ve done below, clumping everything together). Usually, I give them one slide each or at the least space them out a bit.

design sketching step two
These were partly done using the first few steps in the final part of this tutorial. But you can make them completely freehand if you’re comfortable with it.

As you can see by the composition above, I also color-coded each concept with subtle details. This lets you discuss the concepts with colleagues or clients in a more convenient matter, where you can refer to them as “the green one” instead of “concept 3”. I find that it’s easier to remember a design connected to a color rather than to a number.

Final Render

The concept I picked as the final design was the blue one (concept two). Moving into the final stage there is still some things left to decide, the materials and colors being the main ones. Unless the brief tells you otherwise, it’s really up to you to explore what looks good on the specific product. Looking at reference pictures of similar products is a good place to start. After a little research I decided to make it in lighter colors with the back and front covered in a darker fabric.

I find that it’s easier to remember a design connected to a color rather than to a number.

The first thing I do is to choose a viewpoint. I do this by making a simple thumbnail sketch. Don’t worry about getting the perfect perspective. It’s only for your own reference to get the size and angles right.

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I then use the Three-Point Perspective Guide to paint over my thumbnail in a different layer. The lines drawn here will work as construction lines as you go deeper into the process. The center lines determine where the lens will originate. They will also work as guides for when it’s time to apply the details. I’ve highlighted where the center of the lens will be with a blue line. Notice how it intersects where the construction lines meet each other in both the front and back.

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Side note: When using the perspective tool, it’s important to realize that you can place your end points outside of the canvas. This is great when aiming for a less extreme perspective. The small square in the middle is my work area.

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When constructing the camera lens, I use the ellipse tool with its center line aligned to the construction line I had highlighted in blue in the previous step. This makes the angle of the ellipse perfectly aligned to the other geometry. I then drew the width of the ellipses to a size I was happy with. If you want go deep with the perspective you can make a cube around the entire lens and use its sides as guides for your ellipses.

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After the construction, it’s time to insert the design. I start by creating the outlines. I had to adjust the size a bit to match the original concept, but you should try to stick as close to the construction lines as possible. For instance, any straight outer line of the design should be tangent to the construction lines.

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To make it easier to start coloring, I often refine all the line work in a new layer and hide everything beneath it. (Step 4, Refine.)

Shading

To start off the shading process, I apply a ground color to each material. This makes it easier to shade since you can use the selection tool to highlight the part you want to focus on. I’ve also inserted three arrows showing you where my light sources are.

Using three types of lighting on a product design sketch
I rarely pick pure black or pure white as underlay colors. I find it easier to apply shadows and highlight when I’ve used midtones as underlays.

To make things easy, I will apply all the shading using tools that comes standard with SketchBook Pro: the Airbrush, the Selection Tool and the Eraser (both soft and hard). I usually do one material at a time and then go in and refine them afterwards. All of the steps below were done in separate layers.

I start by selecting the white area with the magic wand and then adding some light shadows using a dark airbrush to the top and bottom chamfers (1). I then add a darker shadow to the side and some highlights using a white airbrush (2). I do the same thing on the lens, placing the darkest shadows on the same side as before (3).

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For the fabric part I start by adding a hard shadow from the lens (4). I then add the texture by inserting it into a new layer (5) and use the Distort tool to make it align with my perspective (6).

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I then use the eraser to trim the texture (7) followed by placing it underneath the shadow I made in the first step (8). To make the material pop, I place highlights and shadows around the split line (9).

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I used two construction lines to help me place the holes in the fabric (10). I then placed a fabric texture on the back as well (11) and added a highlight with a sharp edge along the front from my second light source (12).

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When creating the strap I used the Felt Pen with a thick tip and just made it freehand. I used a darker color for the outside and a lighter one for the inside of the strap (14). The strap is basically the same thickness all the way around.

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I added a plastic strap holder (16) and continued to make outlines along the edges (17). I then finished the strap by placing some shadows and highlights (18).

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To start with the lens I just placed some bright colors and an inner shadow using the ellipse tool (19). I then placed highlights (20) and more shadows using the airbrush (21).

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To finish the design I started removing some outlines around the edges, mainly from where the lights hit the product. I also refined some of the lines and made general small improvements to the shading (22). I then used an oval shape and the airbrush to create a shadow. The darkest part of the shadow should be the area closest to the product’s body (23). I then refined the shadow by erasing the edges with the soft eraser. I also decided to change the color of the strap holder to black (24).

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The final result is polished and ready to be presented. You can see the full speed-draw process in the video clip at the top of this post.

Final image

After adding one or two more views of the product, I would say it’s ready to be handed off to engineering. Thank you for following this tutorial. I hope it gave you some insight into how I work.