Technical Illustration of a motorTechnical Illustration blog

Hello, My name is Toby Mikle and I am a freelance Technical Illustrator. You probably have some of my illustrations in your home or office as I have illustrated thousands of custom technical illustrations for large and small companies including 16 years of Memorex and Panasonic instruction manual illustrations. I continue to offer High quality vector Illustrations at a fair price and in a reasonable amount of time.

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The Interview Series: Toby Mikle working as a freelance Technical illustrator in USA

Refinery technical illustration

Technical Illustration styles

When choosing a technical illustration for your project it is always a question of what style. Some styles are better than others depending on the final use of the illustration. I have attached an image of some styles from a past project here;

           Technical Illustration styles

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What makes a Technical Illustration Great

Most Illustrators can create a technical Illustration but few can create a truly great technical Illustration. There are many things that I have learned over the past sixteen years of illustration work from other illustrators and developing my own techniques along the way.

The most important part about a technical illustration is understanding it's purpose. Who is the end user, what are they looking at the illustration for and how can you best serve them by delivering on that need. Sometimes the user is someone form a specific field or trade and they may have a different understanding of symbols and marks than that of the average person.

There are many elements in creating a great technical Illustration. Once the audience is understood, it is important to understand the ways that you can illustrate to create a technical illustration that is as useful as it is elegant. I have found that detail, focus and color are the aspects of technical illustration that are the most important.

The amount of detail that you choose to include in your technical illustration depends on the audience. Leave out any element that is not pertinent to the task at hand. Sometimes only part of an element is enough to understand what it is. Details should both orientate the viewer as to the position of the focal point as-well-as the specific information regarding the task at hand.

Focus on the specific part that you are trying to explain or show. using proper perspective can draw the viewers eye to that parts that you want them to see. Using things like opacity and varying the line widths from thin to thick will help the viewer hone in on exactly what you want them to. It was only when I started working with Honda that I found out that breaking a line before it goes behind another is a good way to show a detail without making it a foreground element.

The color choices in the illustrations make are valuable and important tools in creating a useful and great technical illustration. Black and white could be the best option whereas grey-scale or full color would be better in other cases. Using lighter colors will work good for non important or orientation aspects where bright colors used sparingly can draw the viewers attention to a specific aspect or part.

The layout of the technical illustration is important. If the technical illustration will be placed on the left or right side of the document will tell you where the focus of the reader is going to be. If the illustration is very small, many details should be left out and the illustration should be simplified. If the illustration is going to be very large, there is room for more details and things like perspective and color become very important factors.

There are many other factors in creating a great technical illustration that are specific to each project. Paying close attention to what the viewer knows and wants and delivering on that idea should always be your focus as a technical illustrator.

Tracing Technical Illustration photos

Most of my work in technical Illustration is actually tracing photos. I have been contracted to create illustrations over photos for the U.S. Department of Transportation, BP, Memorex and Honda to name a few. Why wouldn't these companies just use the photos that they gave me as reference material for their productions? Its not quite as easy as it sounds and I get asked the question all the time, why is it necessary to trace a good photo that could be used instead of an illustration as it is. I hope to answer those questions here.

While a photo might be a great piece to use in a promotional campaign or print piece, it is not always the best option. Illustrations of photos are neat and clean. You can have a group if illustrations done by the same illustrator giving your body of work a stylized and consistent feel. The colors can be altered and even elements of the pictures can be altered to fit a specific color scheme or style. Unlike photos technical vector illustrations made from photos can be scaled to any size without losing resolution as they are resolution independent.

When creating a vector technical illustration over a photo, it is a good idea to have as high a resolution image as possible to work with. It is very difficult to zoom in on and illustrate parts of a picture that are blurry. Illustrating over a low resolution photo will make the work appear sloppy and take just as much time, if not more, for the vector technical illustrator to make out fuzzy details.

There are ways to auto-trace bit-mapped images or photos, but that is a computer optical version of a pixelated image which tends to look choppy and rigid, even with high resolution files. It is always best to have someone hand draw the lines over the photos to ensure a proper smooth, sharp and clear image. There have been great improvements int he auto tracing software and it does have its place for some projects. But for a stylized great looking technical illustration, nothing beats a hand traced image.

When tracing a photo as a technical illustration, you can incorporate arrows, call-outs or instructions over and within the image. You are also free to modify the edges and elements of the illustration to blend in more with the background of the end product much more smoothly that you could with a traditional high resolution photo.

When I create technical illustrations from photos, I try to make the elements of the illustration that are most important to the scene stand out by using thinker lines and bolder colors around those elements, while letting parts of the illustration with lesser importance have thin to no stroke and lighter colors.

There is a place and a need for photos in every aspect of publishing and digital mediums but when you want a sharp clear and consistent look, nothing is better than a custom illustrated, high resolution vector technical Illustration.

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Why I chose Vector Technical Illustration

There are many types of technical Illustration. 3D, 2D, Vector, Bitmaped, CAD, and more. One time I was bidding on a technical illustration project for St. Jude and they showed me some work that a past artist had done. I held up the clear plastic sheets with very nice illustrations of blood magnified blood vessels on them and asked if it was done on the computer. They said no, that they were hand painted and airbrushed. I was immediately scared to hold such great original artwork that I carefully set it down. So yes, even hand drawn and painted art is still being used for technical illustrations.

The type of Illustration that I specialize in is 2D vector technical Illustration. I have worked in all the other mediums, but I find vector to be the best of all the other types. 3D is really nice to work with because you do have the advantage of changing lighting and angles to take as many different product shots as you want. However, 3D is very time consuming to create and render. You can scale 3D artwork to any size but the textures are bit-mapped and can become blurry if scaled larger than intended. Vector Illustration is flat and you would have to create  a new illustration for each view that you want, but it takes a fraction of the time that 3D illustration does and provides you with a file that is much easier to alter. There are some technical illustrators out there that can create photo-realistic 3D illustrations in vector by using gradient mesh and vector other tools.

With Vector Illustration you can scale to any size without loosing any details as it is resolution independent. You can quickly choose all of a certain element, color or stroke within your technical illustration in a few clicks and change them all instantly. Making revisions quick and easy.

You can also group objects within a technical illustration like for example an object in a scene. Your subject could be grouped and moved independently within your scene. You can also group within groups. If you have an illustration of a car that is on a road, you could move that whole car around as one group, then double-click it and edit the elements of the car, the wheels could be sub groups and so on.

There are many programs out there for vector illustration but the majority of technical illustrators use Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw. When saving a vector Illustration, you can save as PDF and it is still editable. However, you can also save a vector file as a bitmapped image like a jpg and embed that into a pdf that is not editable.

From hand drawn to 3D there are many formats to choose from. I think that for the time, versatility and use Vector is the best! I mean you can illustrate a technical illustration and 1,000 years form now a future technical illustrator can open and edit that file as if it were theirs, whats not to like about that!

The Future of Technical Illustration

There is no doubt that there will be a need for technical illustration well into the future. As things get more and more automated and new technologies are developed, there will be an even greater need for humans to understand how to best interact and repair these technologies.

There will be a need for technical illustrations to be used in interactive gear and even augmented reality. Imagine putting on a pair of computer glasses and seeing all the parts on your living room floor highlighted with call out numbers and instructions on how to assemble your new desk. That is if a robot isn't there to do that for you.

In any case there with definitely bee a need for technical illustrations and technical illustrators well into the future.


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