Create perspective with Free Transform

Have you ever needed to create an illustration with a sense of perspective, but were frustrated using Envelope Distort tool, and didn’t have time to draw each shape by hand? Then this is the tutorial for you. We’re going to use the Free Transform tool to take a flat chessboard and give it some oomph by easily adding perspective.

Drawing a chess board

First off, we need a chess board. Click on the ‘Rectangle’ Shape tool, then click-drag on your artboard while holding down the ‘Shift’ key. This will give you a perfectly square shape:


Make sure your shape is selected by hitting ‘V’ on your keyboard to bring up your black Direct Selection arrow. Click on the square, then hit ‘Command-C Command-F’ (Control-C Control-F on a PC) to copy the shape and paste it directly in front of itself.

Duplicating shapes with the Transform Palette

Bring up your Transform palette. In this palette you’ll notice there are 9 little square shapes on the left. This is where you decide where you’re going to apply your transform effect to your object. In our case, we’re going to flip our copied square off to the side, aligning it perfectly with our first square. To do this, click on any of the little squares on the right hand side:


Now, select the top square and choose ‘Flip Horizontal’ from the drop down window in the Transform Palette. Voila, you now have 2 perfectly aligned squares.



Continue doing this until you get a tidy row of 8 squares. Alternate the fill colors of these squares between 10% black and 100% black like so:


All we need to do from here is continue copy-pasting shapes and flipping them, but this time, we’re going to flip them vertically using our Transform palette. Eventually you will want to end up with 8 vertical rows, with alternating fills. Here is our chess board now:


The Free Transform tool

Now to give this some perspective, because right now it’s looking pretty flat! Select all the shapes and group them so it’s easier to edit them. With the group selected, bring up the Free Transform tool. To do this, hit ‘E’ on your keyboard, or choose the Free Transform icon from your toolbar.

You’ll see this tool’s cursor looks similar to your Selection arrow. When you hover it over your selected shape, the cursor will look like an arrow. And when you hover it over the corners of your selection, the cursor will change into a little diagonal double ended arrow (like <–>). This is where we want to start.

We’re going to hover over the top left corner of our selection and click. Holding down your mouse button, hit ‘Command’ (‘Control’ on PC) on your keyboard. This will activate the Free Transform tool. Remember, make sure you click on the corner and hold down the mouse BEFORE hitting ‘Command’ on your keyboard! The Free Transform tool behaves very differently if you don’t! 😉

While holding down your mouse button and the ‘Command’ key, start dragging the corner around on your artboard. You’ll see there are tons of angles and fun skewed perspectives you can come up with! Here are some examples of what we’ve played with:





Tip: Whenever you transform grouped shapes, you’ll notice your bounding box (the little line around your shapes) will transform too. This is good, but can become a serious hassle if you’re trying to transform your shape over and over, because you’ll be applying transformations to objects that were already transformed once.

To remedy this, go to Object > Transform > Reset bounding box. This will re-center your bounding box around your shapes, allowing you to transform them all again without worrying whether your previous transformation will get skewed out of shape.

For our chess board we want perspective but without it being too skewed or extreme, since we’re going to be placing chess pieces on top of it. Here’s what we’ve ended up with (after we’ve rotated the board so it’s leveled):


Here’s our board in action. We’ve added a full set of chess pieces, a subtle radial gradient in the background to create a vignette, and we’ve drawn a thin edge under our board to give it some thickness.


© 2010 Jennifer Borton


11 thoughts on “Create perspective with Free Transform

  1. Cupcaketoons says:

    Hi Jennifer great tutorial! I’m curious how did you add thickness to the board, as you mentioned in your last step? Did you draw a vector path for each square? Thank you!

    • bortonia says:

      It’s been a while since I drew this, but I probably copied the front squares behind themselves and moved them down a bit, then deleted the top portion and drew vertical lines to align with the edges of the top squares. Since this edge was behind the board itself I didn’t need to worry about lining up the tops of the shapes with the board edge. Hope this helps!

  2. addi says:

    when i select free transform and press ctrl it doesnt change it in perspective,what is wrong??!

    • bortonia says:

      Can you describe in a little more detail what’s happening? Remember, you need to bring up the Free Transform tool first (‘E’ on your keyboard), then hold down Control (Mac) or Command (PC), then click on your object to edit it.

  3. […] were frustrated using Envelope Distort tool, and didn’t have time to draw each shape by hand? Then this is the tutorial for you. We’re going to use the Free Transform tool to take a flat chessboard and give it some oomph by […]

  4. […] Eas­ily Cre­ate Per­spec­tive with the Free Trans­form Tool […]

  5. […] Easily Create Perspective with the Free Transform Tool […]

  6. Madmadman01 says:

    when i select free transform and press ctrl it doesnt change it in perspective, just pivots it clockwise…what is wrong??!

    • bortonia says:

      Hi Madmadman01, I’m actually not sure what could be going wrong, can you give me a bit more detail on what you’re clicking? It’s very important that you click with your mouse button first, and *then* press Command to activate this function. Let me know what’s going on and I’ll see what I can rustle up for you 🙂

  7. Maluson says:

    Thanks for the tip!

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