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When it comes to realistic drawing, scale is something that can become very frustrating very quickly. Using math to understand how big your shapes should be suddenly turns a relaxing art session into a complicated mess of measurements. But, with technology these days, scale drawing doesn’t have to be so difficult.
Drawing to scale is when objects and shapes are drawn in proportion to each other by reducing or enlarging them to a specific scale that’s determined by dividing the length of the real life object and the length of the paper. The scale is shown as a ratio; 10:1, for example.
Instead of doing the math of scale drawing by hand, there are some great apps that can do all of the hard work for you. Let’s dive into how scale works and the ways that these apps can help you.
How Do You Draw Something to Scale?
To draw something to scale, you need to determine how big one object is in relation to another.
For example, let’s say that my office can fit 10 desks in it. The scale would be 1 office to 10 desks or, 10:1. Now, let’s say that I want to draw a picture of my office to scale. If I know that 10 desks fit in my office and I decide that my entire piece of paper will represent the size of my office, the drawing of my desk should take up 1/10 of the size of the paper. Basically, I should be able to draw 10 equal size desks within my “office-sized” piece of paper. That’s scaling.
Simplifying everything, a ratio of 1:10 means that there is 1 office for every 10 desks.
When working with actual measurements, scaling can get more complicated. Let’s say that the actual length of my office is 20 feet and my desk is 2 feet. My paper is 1 foot. To make it easier, let’s convert everything to inches. 240 inch office, 24 inch desk, 12 inch paper.
Remember that I want the size of my office to be the size of my paper, so I divide the actual size of my office by the size of my paper: 240/12=20 inches. This gives us a ratio of 1:20, which means that every inch of my drawing represents 20 inches in real life. So, if my desk in real life is 24 inches, I want it to be a little over an inch in my drawing to make it look to scale (source).
Even though you’re probably having a great time with all of this math, if you’re a digital artist, technology has given us some easy ways to forget about the calculations and automatically draw to scale. Here are some great choices for apps that can do scale drawings.
As a note, many of these apps are geared towards architects since architects do so much work with scale. Imagine a building where the door is the size of the first floor. Feel free to get creative with them though and branch out from drawings of buildings.
1) Arrette Sketch
What I absolutely love about Arrette Sketch is that it was designed with artists and hobbyists in mind. Technically, it’s just a basic version of their more complex program, Arrette Scale, but it gets the job done for an artist who doesn’t need to use their drawing to go build an actual building. Arrette Sketch lets artists use their iPads to draw freehand, all while keeping the scale and measurements in proportion. The Arrette Sketch edition is completely free, so it’s worth experimenting with.
Arrette does have an app specifically for architects and urban planners called Arrette Scale which can be used with the iPad for $8.99. Differing from Arrette Sketch, Arrette Scale has more precise measuring and edge tools. It also lets you export your work as a PDF, which their Sketch version doesn’t do. Scale is much more geared to non-artist designers who need a functional program for understanding and crafting buildings.
ArchiSketch is another free app, with a paid upgrade, that makes it easy to draw to scale. Originally designed for architects and designers, this app can be really useful for artists as well.
What I especially love about ArchiSketch is that it lets you import the drawings you have already done. I don’t know about you, but there are times when I freehand a drawing and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why the sizing is wrong. With ArchiSketch, simply import it and use the guides and measurements to see where you went wrong.
An important perk of ArchiSketch is that they have a great collection of support videos and tutorials to help you learn the program and make the most of it. Learning new programs can have a steep learning curve, so getting some hand holding can be invaluable. They also have a response support team so you can quickly get a hold of someone via email if you get stuck.
ArchiSketch from Open Screen Ltd on Vimeo.
Concepts does have a scaling feature, but is designed to do much more. Use it to draw objects and buildings to scale, abstract art, doodles, or even just handwritten notes. The capabilities of the app are pretty amazing.
While Concepts is free, they have a Pay-As-You-Go model for brushes, object packs, and exporting in various forms. It’s likely you’ll need to pay for something at some point if you fall in love with this app and want to use it for everything it offers. That said, it’s worth it to try the free version and see if a love affair blooms.
4) Morpholio Trace
As the name implies, Morpholio Trace lets you, well, trace. This app is amazing for importing a picture or sketch of a building or object to work off of. Once your photo is imported, the “paper” in the app can be moved around like real tracing paper. All the while, you’re drawing in perspective with their vanishing points and using their grids to make sure everything is to scale. Add to it a great palette of colors and you’re on your way to a great drawing.
While Morpholio Trace is great at tracing, you can also start a drawing from scratch and use all of their measuring and scaling tools without starting with a photo reference. It’s amazing to watch how lines snap into place.
Have you ever thought about bringing your drawings to life in 3D? SketchUp is an online 3D design software that lets you build 3D creations. To be fair, this veers away from drawing, as you’ll be using your computer or laptop. That said, this is such a neat program for drawing 3D objects to scale that it was worth mentioning.
Even though you won’t be drawing by hand with SketchUp, there is a lot you can learn about scaling and perspective from 3D modeling. Playing around with this program will teach you how objects relate to each other and how you need to size them in order for them to look realistic. Working with SketchUp is not only fun, but can be a good educational tool for learning how scaling works.
Drawing to scale is something that takes a lot of practice. In the beginning, it can also take a strong stomach for math and calculations. That said, the drawing apps we’ve talked about can be a big help with throwing the math aside and enjoying the art. Let the apps do all of the tricky math work!
Using these apps can also be a great way to get familiar with scaling and perspective. A lot of art has to do with intuition and muscle memory. After using these apps for a period of time, you’ll start to build a natural sense for how objects should be sized.
As you draw, you’ll notice how and where things went wrong and better understand how to fix them. So, even if you don’t want to marry these apps and use them for the rest of your art career, they can be a big part of your learning process.
Given that most of them are free, download a few of them and give them a try. You may actually start to find that scaling is fun! At the very least, you’ll find that your drawing life is much easier. Scaling can be a really frustrating process, but these apps take all of that frustration away. If you struggle with scaling, use one of these apps as a learning opportunity.
Overtime, you’ll get more comfortable with the basic concepts and be able to use the app less and less. Or, you’ll love these apps so much and never want to give them up!
Diana has been an artist for over 26 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana’s latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.