Figures & Projections


Projection is a protocol by which an image of a three-dimensional object is projected onto a planar surface without the aid of numerical calculation, used in technical drawing. The projection is achieved by the use of imaginary “projectors”. The projected, mental image becomes the technician’s vision of the desired, finished picture. By following the protocol the technician may produce the envisioned picture on a planar surface such as drawing paper. The protocols provide a uniform imaging procedure among people trained in technical graphics (mechanical drawing, computer aided design, etc.). There are two graphical projection categories each with its own protocol

  • parallel projection
  • perspective projection

Types of projections

Parallel Projections – In parallel projection, the lines of sight from the object to the projection plane are parallel to each other. Within parallel projection there is an ancillary category known as “pictorials”. Pictorials show an image of an object as viewed from a skew direction in order to reveal all three directions (axes) of space in one picture. Because pictorial projections innately contain this distortion, in the rote, drawing instrument for pictorials, some liberties may be taken for economy of effort and best is a simultaneous process of viewing the image give pictures.

Orthographic projections – The Orthographic projection is derived from the principles of descriptive geometry and is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object. It is a parallel projection (the lines of projection are parallel both in reality and in the projection plane). It is the projection type of choice for working drawings.

Pictorials – Within parallel projection there is a subcategory known as Pictorials. Pictorials show an image of an object as viewed from a skew direction in order to reveal all three directions (axes) of space in one picture. Parallel projection pictorial instrument drawings are often used to approximate graphical perspective projections, but there is attendant distortion in the approximation. Because pictorial projections inherently have this distortion, in the instrument drawing of pictorials, great liberties may then be taken for economy of effort and best effect. Parallel projection pictorials rely on the technique of axonometric projection (“to measure along axes”).

Axonometric Projections – Axonometric projection is a type of parallel projection used to create a pictorial drawing of an object, where the object is rotated along one or more of its axes relative to the plane of projection. There are three main types of axonometric projection: isometric, dimetric, and trimetric projection.

“Axonometric” means “to measure along axes”. Axonometric projection shows an image of an object as viewed from a skew direction in order to reveal more than one side in the same picture. Whereas the term orthographic is sometimes reserved specifically for depictions of objects where the axis or plane of the object is parallel with the projection plane, in axonometric projection the plane or axis of the object is always drawn not parallel to the projection plane.

With axonometric projections the scale of distant features is the same as for near features, so such pictures will look distorted, as it is not how our eyes or photography work. This distortion is especially evident if the object to view is mostly composed of rectangular features. Despite this limitation, axonometric projection can be useful for purposes of illustration.

Isometric Projections – In isometric pictorials (for protocols see isometric projection), the direction of viewing is such that the three axes of space appear equally foreshortened, and there is a common angle of 60° between them. As the distortion caused by foreshortening is uniform the proportionality of all sides and lengths are preserved, and the axes share a common scale. This enables measurements to be read or taken directly from the drawing.

Di metric Projections – In dimetric pictorials (for protocols see dimetric projection), the direction of viewing is such that two of the three axes of space appear equally foreshortened, of which the attendant scale and angles of presentation are determined according to the angle of viewing; the scale of the third direction (vertical) is determined separately. Approximations are common in dimetric drawings.

Trimetric Projections – In trimetric pictorials (for protocols see trimetric projection), the direction of viewing is such that all of the three axes of space appear unequally foreshortened. The scale along each of the three axes and the angles among them are determined separately as dictated by the angle of viewing. Approximations in Trimetric drawings are common.

Oblique Projections – In oblique projections the parallel projection rays are not perpendicular to the viewing plane as with orthographic projection, but strike the projection plane at an angle other than ninety degrees. In both orthographic and oblique projection, parallel lines in space appear parallel on the projected image. Because of its simplicity, oblique projection is used exclusively for pictorial purposes rather than for formal, working drawings. In an oblique pictorial drawing, the displayed angles among the axes as well as the foreshortening factors (scale) are arbitrary. The distortion created thereby is usually attenuated by aligning one plane of the imaged object to be parallel with the plane of projection thereby creating a true shape, full-size image of the chosen plane. Special types of oblique projections are:

Cavalier Projections – In cavalier projection (sometimes cavalier perspective or high view point) a point of the object is represented by three coordinates, x, y and z. On the drawing, it is represented by only two coordinates, x” and y”. On the flat drawing, two axes, x and z on the figure, are perpendicular and the length on these axes are drawn with a 1:1 scale; it is thus similar to the dimetric projections, although it is not an orthographic projection, as the third axis, here y, is drawn in diagonal, making an arbitrary angle with the x” axis, usually 30 or 45°. The length of the third axis is not scaled.

Cabinet Projections – The term cabinet projection (sometimes cabinet perspective) stems from its use in illustrations by the furniture industry. Like cavalier perspective, one face of the projected object is parallel to the viewing plane, and the third axis is projected as going off in an angle (typical 30° or 45° or arctan(2)=63.4°). Unlike cavalier projection, where the third axis keeps its length, with cabinet projection the length of the receding lines is cut in half.

Perspective Projections – Perspective projection is a linear projection where three dimensional objects are projected on a picture plane. This has the effect that distant objects appear smaller than nearer objects.

It also means that lines which are parallel in nature (that is, meet at the point at infinity) appear to intersect in the projected image, for example if railways are pictured with perspective projection, they appear to converge towards a single point, called vanishing point. Photographic lenses and the human eye work in the same way, therefore perspective projection looks most realistic. Perspective projection is usually categorized into one-point, two-point and three-point perspective, depending on the orientation of the projection plane towards the axes of the depicted object.

Graphical projection methods rely on the duality between lines and points, whereby two straight lines determine a point while two points determine a straight line. The orthogonal projection of the eye point onto the picture plane is called the principal vanishing point (P.P. in the scheme on the left, from the Italian term punto principale, coined during the renaissance).

Two relevant points of a line are

  • its intersection with the picture plane, and
  • its vanishing point, found at the intersection between the parallel line from the eye point and the picture plane.

The principal vanishing point is the vanishing point of all horizontal lines perpendicular to the picture plane. The vanishing points of all horizontal lines lie on the horizon line, obviously. If, as is often the case, the picture plane is vertical, all vertical lines are drawn vertically, and have no finite vanishing point on the picture plane. Various graphical methods can be easily envisaged for projecting geometrical scenes. For example, lines traced from the eye point at 45° to the picture plane intersect the latter along a circle whose radius is the distance of the eye point from the plane, thus tracing that circle aids the construction of all the vanishing points of 45° lines; in particular, the intersection of that circle with the horizon line consists of two distance points. They are useful for drawing chessboard floors which, in turn, serve for locating the base of objects on the scene. In the perspective of a geometric solid on the right, after choosing the principal vanishing point —which determines the horizon line— the 45° vanishing point on the left side of the drawing completes the characterization of the (equally distant) point of view. Two lines are drawn from the orthogonal projection of each vertex, one at 45° and one at 90° to the picture plane. After intersecting the ground line, those lines go toward the distance point (for 45°) or the principal point (for 90°). Their new intersection locates the projection of the map. Natural heights are measured above the ground line and then projected in the same way until they meet the vertical from the map.


Figures may be further classified and better explained when divided into following categories:

Shapes – A shape is the form of an object or its external boundary, outline, or external surface, as opposed to other properties such as color, texture, material composition. Psychologists have theorized that humans mentally break down images into simple geometric shapes called geons. Examples of geons include cones and spheres.

Types of shapes – Some simple shapes can be put into broad categories. For instance, polygons are classified according to their number of edges as triangles, quadrilaterals, pentagons, etc. Each of these is divided into smaller categories; triangles can bi-equilateral, isosceles, obtuse, acute, scalene, etc. while quadrilaterals can be rectangles, rhombi, trapezoids, squares, etc.

Other common shapes are points, lines, planes, and conic sections such as ellipses, circles, and parabolas.

Among the most common 3-dimensional shapes are poly hedra, which are shapes with flat faces; ellipsoids, which are egg-shaped or sphere-shaped objects; cylinders; and cones.

If an object falls into one of these categories exactly or even approximately, we can use it to describe the shape of the object. Thus, we say that the shape of a manhole cover is a circle, because it is approximately the same geometric object as an actual geometric circle.

Shapes in terms of geometry – There are several ways to compare the shape of two objects:

  • Congruence: Two objects arecongruent if one can be transformed into the other by a sequence of rotations, translations, and/or reflections.
  • Similarity: Two objects aresimilar if one can be transformed into the other by a uniform scaling, together with a sequence of rotations, translations, and/or reflections.
  • Isotopy: Two objects areisotopic if one can be transformed into the other by a sequence of deformations that do not tear the object or put holes in it.

Sometimes, two similar or congruent objects may be regarded as having a different shape if a reflection is required to transform one into the other. For instance, the letters “b” and “d” are a reflection of each other, and hence they are congruent and similar, but in some contexts they are not regarded as having the same shape. Sometimes, only the outline or external boundary of the object is considered to determine its shape. For instance, an hollow sphere may be considered to have the same shape as a solid sphere. Procrustes analysis is used in many sciences to determine whether or not two objects have the same shape, or to measure the difference between two shapes. In advanced mathematics, quasi-isometrics can be used as a criterion to state that two shapes are approximately the same.

Simple shapes can often be classified into basic geometric objects such as a point, a line, a curve, a plane, a plane figure (e.g. square or circle), or a solid figure (e.g. cube or sphere). However, most shapes occurring in the physical world are complex. Some, such as plant structures and coastlines, may be so arbitrary as to defy traditional mathematical description – in which case they may be analyzed by differential geometry, or as fractals.

Rigid shape definition – In geometry, two subsets of a Euclidean space have the same shape if one can be transformed to the other by a combination of translations, rotations (together also called rigid transformations), and uniform scaling. In other words, the shape of a set of points is all the geometrical information that is invariant to translations, rotations, and size changes. Having the same shape is an equivalence relation, and accordingly a precise mathematical definition of the notion of shape can be given as being an equivalence class of subsets of a Euclidean space having the same shape.

Shapes of physical objects are equal if the subsets of space these objects occupy satisfy the definition above. In particular, the shape does not depend on the size and placement in space of the object. For instance, a “d” and a “p” have the same shape, as they can be perfectly superimposed if the “d” is translated to the right by a given distance, rotated upside down and magnified by a given factor. However, a mirror image could be called a different shape. For instance, a “b” and a “p” have a different shape, at least when they are constrained to move within a two-dimensional space like the page on which they are written. Even though they have the same size, there’s no way to perfectly superimpose them by translating and rotating them along the page. Similarly, within a three-dimensional space, a right hand and a left hand have a different shape, even if they are the mirror images of each other. Shapes may change if the object is scaled non uniformly. For example, a sphere becomes an ellipsoid when scaled differently in the vertical and horizontal directions. In other words, preserving axes of symmetry (if they exist) is important for preserving shapes. Also, shape is determined by only the outer boundary of an object.

Congruence and similarity – Objects that can be transformed into each other by rigid transformations and mirroring are congruent. An object is therefore congruent to its mirror image (even if it is not symmetric), but not to a scaled version. Objects that have the same shape or one has the same shape as the other’s mirror image are called geometrically similar.

Similarity is preserved when one of the objects is uniformly scaled, while congruence is not. Thus, congruent objects are always geometrically similar, but similar objects may not be congruent, as they may have different size.

Homeomorphism – A more flexible definition of shape takes into consideration the fact that realistic shapes are often deformable, e.g. a person in different postures, a tree bending in the wind or a hand with different finger positions.

One way of modeling non-rigid movements is by homeomorphisms. Roughly speaking, a homeomorphism is a continuous stretching and bending of an object into a new shape. Thus, a square and a circle are homeomorphic to each other, but a sphere and a donut are not. An often-repeated mathematical joke is that topologists can’t tell their coffee cup from their donut, since a sufficiently pliable donut could be reshaped to the form of a coffee cup by creating a dimple and progressively enlarging it, while preserving the donut hole in a cup’s handle.

Depiction – Depiction is a form of non-verbal representation in which two-                                                                                                   dimensional images (pictures) are regarded as viable substitutes for things seen, remembered or imagined. Basically, a picture maps an object to a two-dimensional scheme or picture plane. Pictures are made with various materials and techniques, such as painting, drawing, or prints (including photography and movies) mosaics, tapestries, stained glass, and collages of unusual and disparate elements. Occasionally pictures may occur in simple inkblots, accidental stains, peculiar clouds or a glimpse of the moon, but these are special cases. Sculpture and performances are sometimes said to depict but this arises where depiction is taken to include all reference that is not linguistic or notational. The bulk of research in depiction however deals only in pictures. While sculpture and performance clearly represent or refer, they do not strictly picture their objects.

Pictures may be factual or fictional, literal or metaphorical, realistic or idealised and in various combination. Idealised depiction is also termed schematic or stylised and extends to icons, diagrams and maps. Classes or styles of picture may abstract their objects by degrees, conversely, establish degrees of the concrete (usually called, a little confusingly, figuration or figurative, since the ‘figurative’ is then often quite literal). Stylisation can lead to the fully abstract picture, where reference is only to conditions for a picture plane – a severe exercise in self-reference and ultimately a sub-set of pattern.

But just how pictures function (i.e. how they can be viably substituted for three-dimensional objects etc.) is disputed. Philosophers, art historians and critics, perceptual psychologists and other researchers in the arts and social sciences have contributed to the debate and many of the most influential contributions have been interdisciplinary.

Lettering & Scales
Building Material Symbols

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