Every time I do an instructable someone asks how I draw the illustrations that I use. It's not difficult really and this instructable will help you do the same (if you want) or at the very least, it will show you what I do and how I do it.

Writing an instructable is like telling a story, so the process of drawing up the instructions follows the same path as any other DIY making project, only when you start to draw it up you realise that you have to resolve things that don't quite work. This way the finished instructable can be a bit better.

I started drawing up my instructions because I make them into downloadable project sheets for my website dadcando and the extra bandwidth to needed to serve up high quality photos was too much. As it happens, drawing picture of each step is a lot more work, but then the end result is very nice.

You'll need:

  • some drawing skill (but not much really)
  • a vector drawing package (I'll explain more later)
  • probably a digital camera or phone camera
  • a decent idea fir an instructable

Step 1: Design your Instructable

Designing your instructable is a different process from designing or building the thing that is the subject of the instructable. In most cases a nice DIY project evolves and therefore if you write an instructable about it the process could be a bit rambling. The best projects and therefore the best instructables are the ones where the person making it has a good idea what they want to achieve at the outset and has some sort of plan, or has done it before.

You can get round this by taking loads of photos and then using the best to describe a clear story later, perhaps leaving out some of the parts that showed trial and error. Nevertheless, if you learned valuable lessons by making the errors, then it is best to make a note of these and pass on that learning, so that the person following your instructable can avoid falling into the same trap.

For me, I want to describe a way of doing the project that will give the person doing it the best chance of repeating what I did. For this not only do I need a project design (even if it is very rough or just in my head) but I really need an instructable plan. In my case I use this plan to design my project download.

The image here shows my first quick sketch of the steps I would like to show in the finished instructable, and my dadcando downloadable project sheet. For my download I would like to get this one on to one sheet, and that means I will need no more than 9 steps. I sketch out the steps I need to show and tinker with the steps a little to make sure that I have what's needed.

As it happens this project is how to make a bottle cap beetle after my 14 year old son made one, one afternoon, and asked me if I wanted to put it up on line on dadcando. So I already had the finished project. In this case I had to draw the steps from scratch, because I didn't have photos of the individual steps as he was making the model.
 I spy a typo in the title.
Ahhh, thanks for spotting that, glad you're paying attentioin, my spelling is rubbish. but now corrected.<br />
Ummm...I greatly respect you, but in the intro, where it says what you'll need, the bottom one says:<br> &quot;A decent idea fir an Instructable.&quot;<br><br>Also excellent 'ible.
&nbsp;Lol<br /> <br /> You are actually the first person to react nicely my pointing out a typo. Others call me a troll.<br />
No worries, and thanks, I appreciate you taking the trouble to tell me, ignore anyone who calls you a troll, it's just their insecurity showing through<br />
&nbsp;Thanks man!
Thanks for sharing and teaching! Your Instructable helped me a lot with my own pub's.<br><br>Cheers!
I illustrated this <a href="http://www.instructables.com/id/Wire-Organizer/">instructable</a> using this technique.&nbsp; I used inkscape.&nbsp; It took a long time at first, but I started to get the hang of it, and I was able to reuse images.&nbsp; Great instructable!<br> <br> -AI<br>
Great !!
<p> What program do you use?</p>
Freehand MX or Freehand 10, is old but I like it. See step 2
Is it free? A good alternative to Illustrator?
No it's not free. In my humble view it is much better than Illustrator, but there are other vector drawing packages that are free. Have a look at the instructable and search on Google for free open source vector drawing programmes and see what you come up with. Perhaps leave a comment on what you find to help others wanting to do the same.
This is very professional! You certainly make good Graphics.
can you use MS paint
Sure, just as long as you use the shape and text tools more than freehand drawing, it tends to be messy.
Great job! Thanks for the information. Your instructables and website are top notch! I look forward to seeing more of your work.
what program
Thats,thats,Amazing,trueley amazing. It looks so pro...very nice,its like,wow! Thumbs up
There are free vector drawing programs, like inkscape <a rel="nofollow" href="http://inkscape.org/index.php?lang=en">http://inkscape.org/index.php?lang=en</a><br/>And of course you can use google's sketchup for design illustration too <a rel="nofollow" href="http://sketchup.google.com/">http://sketchup.google.com/</a><br/>And for some paintwork there's gimp <a rel="nofollow" href="http://gimp.org">http://gimp.org</a> (alos available for windows) or paint.net <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.getpaint.net/">http://www.getpaint.net/</a> <br/>
what is GIMP?
It's a free paintprogram made by linux users but also available for windows etc., or as the site says so concisely: "GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages." As for the meaning of 'GNU': GNU - A recursive acronym: "GNU's Not Unix!". The Free Software Foundation's project to provide a freely distributable replacement for Unix. The GNU Manifesto was published in the March 1985 issue of Dr. Dobb's Journal but the GNU project started a year and a half earlier when Richard Stallman was trying to get funding to work on his freely distributable editor, Emacs.
gimp is actually a bit better than photoshop...
not if you know how to use photoshop to its full extent.
Agree. Still using photoshop 6 on my windows box. GIMP is a little funkier to use on my linux laptop. Tend to ftp back and forth between the systems. Have even used my circuit board software (pads) to make line drawings for machine shops! Whatever you use is fine, just document what you do! (still trying to get my paper work into a digital instructable)
Would add Xara Xtreme to the vector drawing list, free for linux and low cost for windows. <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.xaraxone.com/">http://www.xaraxone.com/</a><br/>
and they have some nice tips and tutorials on that link too, very user friendly, thx for posting
yes, thanks for posting these details, very useful
How do you draw the illustrations that you use?
wow thats good. i have been using google sketchup but working in 3d can be a pain at times
can you use google sketchup
wow, i still think i can't do that...<br/><br/>YOU = AMAZING<br/>
An excellent Instructable! Thanks! Is there something that will take a hand-drawn sketch, and vectorize it in a way that could then be "fixed"? I think I'm dreaming, as it would take some serious artificial intelligence to determine that for example a crooked "+" is really two overlapped lines, and allow them to be separately aligned, etc... Thanks!
I don't think you are completely dreaming. there are some advanced OCR scanning programs that can deal with diagrams as well as text. I'm not sure about their output, but as with any auto tracing program you tend to get out something, but it's never quite what you want and then you have to go back into the image and manipulate all the lines, which can take as long if not longer than doing it from scratch. The best way is to get good at the pen and tablet and draw the stuff straight on to the computer, or draw it out with pencil first and then trace over it. Most vector drawing packages will convert free drawing to vector line bezier curves with handles that you can bend about.
Thank you for the reply - it turns out Inkscape with its tracing is enough to get me going - I'm enjoying toying with it... I seem to recall some programs that can "clean up" a sketch - but those are probably related to tablet computers, etc, i.e you draw "sort of a box" and it says "AHA, a box! and corrects it.
i´m afraid of bugs... very (very) good ´table!
lol. this is funny.
Nice work! Two things: 1) Drawings look fantastic and all, but an Instructable riddled with typos is still annoying and distracting. 2) Documenting failures and mistakes that get left out of a "clean" Instructable are often just as useful. I would suggest putting a "step" at the end that is just an archive of mistakes and explanations that led to the final design. In the spirit of DIY, these "lessons learned" have the possibility to be translated to many other projects.
Ok, firstly thanks. Thanks for reading the instructable and giving such good feedback. I completely agree, the instructable was finished very late at night / early morning, which when combined with a nightcap (shall we say) and a slight propensity to be a rubbish speller, resulted in a truly substandard text. I have (or hope I have) now corrected the typos. I have also clarified my comment about not putting in your mistakes. I agree with you that some of the errors one makes when doing DIY are valuable lessons. My comment was really about how one should get rid of irrelevant dead ends that just serve to confuse the reader. Anyway, I hope the new copy is acceptable, and very glad you like the drawings.
You can also just draw them on a peice of paper with a thickish pen and then scan them onto the computer if you have one.
yes that was how it was done before computers, perfect line weight it tough, perfect ellipses are difficult, although you can do it with ellipse guides. Actually the computer is quicker because you can also re use shapes which is more difficult on paper, but you do get a freer look with paper. Mind you I know some awesome matte painters who get a very lose look with a computer and a tablet...
Having a Tablet PC is one of the best things that ever happened to my illustration. It's really fantastic to be able to draw right on my screen. Tracing outlines from photos has never been easier.
I wish I had practiced a bit more with the tablet. I just zoom right in and trace using the straight line click and click routine, seems to work for me... mostly, but I'm going to have to get right with that tablet one day.
What kind of tablet? There are tablets built into monitors (as in convertible notebooks and tablet pcs, and there's also a swanky Wacom standalone) and there are tablets that work off what's basically a mouse pad. I could never get the hang of the disembodied pencil feeling. But touching the display makes sense. Your pencil sketches are beautiful. I think that once you get past the configuration and calibration, you will have a lot of success with it. Although no amount of calibration has made the Fine Point tablets usable for me...I think that the technology just isn't as good as Wacom's. Also, it really irks me that Fine Point pens need to be charged every hour and a half to three hours. On the other hand, Fine Point seems to have tanked, so you might be able to pick up one of those for incredibly cheap.
Where is a download for Macromedia Freehand on Vista.
you gotta buy it :)
Try googling "buy macromedia freehand". Amazon.com might have it too.
I would say that your best bet is Adobe Illustrator. It can do all the same things, it's just that I like Freehand, because that was what I learned on. I have a sneaky feeling that there won't be a version of Freehand for Vista because Macromedia was bought out by Adobe and they stopped supporting and developing Freehand in favour of their Illustrator product. You want illustrator CS3, but if you do manage to lay your hands on a cheap old proper version of Freehand 8 or above (it went 8, 9, 10, MX) then you may be able to get Illustrator CS3 as an upgrade, which is about a 1/5th of the price of the full version I think.

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Bio: Eldest of five, son of two doctors, 10 years in Graphic Design and marketing, then retrained as a Biomedical Materials Engineer, don't ask me ... More »
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