Create an Isometric Pixel Art Apartment Building in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

If you've been following this series of tutorials, you may already have a neighborhood block with (slightly) different houses and cars. Let's continue to grow our city, but this time vertically; we'll be making a building multiple stories high.
As usual, we'll use our character as a sort of yardstick to find a reasonable height for each floor. Dimensions don't need to be completely realistic; it's better for buildings to be slightly smaller so that characters still get to stand out on the canvas.
Place your character next to a surface line and, to be mindful of the texture we'll add later on, make many copies of this line with regular spacing in between so you have a wall of lines that stops at the desired height for one floor. As with the wooden textured house, I have left three blank pixels between each line.

making wall of lines

We've got the height for our first floor, so now let's define the length—it may be a bit more or less than the length of the house. We'll mostly base it on the rows of windows, the door, and other architectural elements we might want to add.
The windows will be a bit narrow, and the space for the door we'll leave wider and taller than the door we made for the house, because the door frame will be a bit wider.

building width based on windows  door

Here I added the main widths and maximum heights for these details in other contrasting colors. These are mere guidelines, so it doesn't really matter what colors you use, but it's better to separate them enough from the colors of elements that will be kept in the final version.
For the side I decided to add only one window to go for a more unexpected, asymmetrical look. I think it helps the end result because otherwise it's just a grid of windows, and if you've seen one you've seen them all, so it's nice to let the texture breathe on an area.

adding depth to building

Now that we have the main lines for each floor, we just copy it as many times as we want. Go for a cartoony height if you want, or just a few floors. Here I've done four floors, because that looks nice and normal for a brick and mortar type of building.

adding more floors

Let's finish our main building shape by adding the vertical edge lines and rooftop lines.

completing basic shape

Looking nice enough!
We could have created a more complex shape like L or H or T or what-have-you, but we'll be able to make this very basic shape look nice and compelling with the texture and the rest of the details we'll add. And anyway, for the type of building we're doing, this shape is quite normal.
Let's add our brick texture. We won't be going the easy way for the texture, but the result will be, in my opinion, worth it!
To work on our texture and later add it to the building, it's best to get the door and window guidelines out of the way. Select them with the Magic Wand Tool(Contiguous unchecked,) paste them in the same place but in another layer, and make that layer invisible for now.

only bare walls

Here I filled the holes left by those elements, although that's not necessary.
We'll be making a texture with "hand-picked" colored bricks to have something that looks random or, in a way, organic. Ideally it shouldn't look so repetitive so our tile shouldn't be so small… but if it's too big then making the texture will get tedious. The size I landed on allows for 12 bricks horizontally and 24 vertically.
Let's start the tile in a new layer with a bunch of "horizontal" lines. To be precise these are 25 lines with a width of 134 px.

horizontal lines for texture

Let's add some vertical lines to define some bricks' edges. They should align and alternate, one row on and one row off.

alternating vertical lines

And for the off rows we add the same lines but a few pixels off to the side. Here they are off by 3px:

alternating vertical lines

Then simply select those two first columns and repeat all across the pattern, keeping the spacing regular.

copying to have wall full of bricks

We already have a basic brick texture, but now let's work on the custom brick coloring!
Let's fill all the bricks with some random color for now; vivid but not blinding!
Shortcut to do this: fill the entire area with the Bucket Tool, with the Contiguoussetting checked off. Then with the Magic Wand Tool, with the Contiguous setting checked on, select all the color that's outside of the bricks and Delete.
Also make the dark brick edge lines a similar color to the brick one to lower contrast.

altering colors for texture development

Now start adding some other color randomly placed across the whole texture. We'll have three different brick colors, so to keep it even, if we have 12 bricks per row, there should be four bricks of each color.
So here I went through adding four green bricks per row, hoping to keep things random and sort of evenly spread, trying to avoid areas that stand out.

random colored bricks 1

Repeat the same process with a new color… for now the colors are high in contrast to help in making the pattern.

random color bricks 2

Once that is finished we can tile our pattern a few times (but keep an original tile separate) and analyse the result. The edges should match precisely.
Most likely some areas will stand out, especially the ones that were on the edges. Any areas where a particular color dominates or a pattern repeats too much causes the tiling to be more conspicuous, when what we want is seamless.

seeing tiled texture

But you can go in and move some colors around, fill some here and there (but mostly in the middle section), stand back a bit and squint, and if it looks a bit more averaged out then the pattern will be more successful.

improving texture

If you edited the pattern, you'll want to remove the extra areas you got from tiling it. You can do this by making a selection in the shape of the original pattern, moving that selection over the big pattern, copying the improved area, and deleting the rest.

redefining pattern

Here's the almost finished pattern… only missing the final colors.

almost finished

Brick can be quite a few different colors. I've chosen a slightly saturated and slightly light orange. Apply your preferred color to one of the brick colors (Contiguous checked off for the Bucket Tool.)

coloring texture

And then make a darker shade for the brick lines; this should be the darkest shade.
And then two more shades, one lighter and one darker for the remaining bricks:

coloring texture

What I have here is:
  • Brick color #1: 94% brightness
  • Brick color #2: 90% brightness
  • Brick color #3: 85% brightness
  • Lines color: 78% brightness
Copy the pattern and flip it horizontally to make the right hand side, which I typically shade darker. Colors can be updated manually (selecting and filling with the bucket tool) or simply by lowering brightness by selecting it and using the Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast slider.

making dark version

Now let's bring the textures together—but remember to keep the original tiles somewhere safe for any future use!
Tile them enough to cover the building completely and make them meet at the corner. Try to make them meet nicely; if there's a long brick on one side of the corner, we should only see its short side on the other side of the corner. Like this:

two big walls full of texture

We could also color the corner bricks to make them all match… but maybe we don't need to be that finicky!
As usual we add a highlight to all peak corners. Make a new, brighter shade and apply it to the corner, leaving the brick lines untouched (or make that lighter as well, just don't erase them with the new color).
You can make these edits to one or two bricks and then Alt-nudge or Copy/Paste on and on until you cover the whole length.

highlighting peak corner line

Now we place the texture over the building.
To make the placement easier, you can lower the opacity for the texture's layer and then place it so that the brick lines match the bunch of lines we had on the building.

placing over building

Then remove the bits of the pattern that we won't need.

removing excess

The vertical residue should be easy enough to remove with the Marquee Tool but the other areas could be trickier. If you click with the Magic Wand Tool outside of the pattern, you'll have a negative selection of the pattern's shape, and you can then move this negative selection over the residues you want to remove and simply press Delete.
Bring the layer's Opacity back to 100% and merge down with the building's layer.

merging down layers

And you're done applying the texture!
So now we sort of have a big brick-textured-brick. We have to work in the rest of the details.
Let's make our windows layer visible again.

starting work on windows

And finish defining the size for our windows. You can make a selection of the blank space around the windows with the Magic Wand Tool and move it up a bit and delete. Try many different lengths and see which you prefer… just don't apply the length change to the door.

setting windows size

After defining these sizes, take one window guideline aside to turn it into a final window.
Start by removing the placeholder colors and completing the rectangle shape.

starting one window

We'll add a small window ledge. After trying a few different versions, I ended up preferring this style, with a darker grey shade running through the middle of the ledge, but you could try a single solid color if you want.

adding detail to window

This grey actually has a bit of color saturation. For consistency, we'll be applying these colors to all concrete/cement/plaster material details we're about to add, so plain grey could possibly be too boring after so much repetition.
Now let's add depth to our windows. We should see the ledge go a bit far back into the window, and we'll need a vertical line from the topmost ledge corner to the top window edge.

adding depth to window

Now let's fill this bit of corner wall with, not just color, but brick texture. Since this bit we're adding is facing right, we need the brick shades from the darker pattern, but there's no need to have the varying brick colors for this bit; one single brick color (the middle brightness one, logically) will do. We of course need to keep the brick lines and have the corner highlight. 
Also, let's make a new darker brick shade and apply it to the borders of the ledge that will be in contact with the brick pattern.

adding texture to window

Now we add the window. We can use the same window frame color we used on the house, and we should use the same window color and same border effects for consistency.

adding window frame glass and glass effects

Finally let's add an extra detail of window frame to make the windows more interesting. And adjust the contrast of the corners where surfaces meet.

adding extra detail to window frame

One window is done but we'll need two more types of windows: the wider ones (to which I added extra vertical lines to make them less boring) and the windows that face right, where some colors needed adjustments, as that's the side I typically keep darker.

making all needed windows

Notice the ledge is darker when it's facing right, and so is the window frame. Meanwhile the bit of brick wall on that right facing window is lighter, because that surface is facing left.
Once you have all windows it's only a matter of placing them right over the guidelines.

all windows placed

Now's time to work on the door. We can simply reuse the door we made for the house.

the door from the house

But we'll change its color.

changing door color

Remember that you can easily try multiple colors with the Hue slider (Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation/Brightness…) to find a color that goes well with the rest.
Here I applied to the door frame a style that matches the window ledges; it has the same colors and the same dark line in between, making it seem as if the same materials and finishes are applied throughout the building. As though there was an architect behind it all… which there kind of was!

making door frame

Now let's push the door back a bit, giving depth to the entrance.
To do this you can select everything and then subtract the door from the selection (for example, holding down Alt while selecting the door with the Lasso Tool), and then move the whole selection over a couple of pixels to the side and one down.

adding depth to door

Of course you then have to fill in some spaces to get this result. And to finish the door off you could adjust the colors of the corners where surfaces meet. I usually don't leave those black.
Let's add a ledge to the roof. It will be quite similar to the window ledges but a bit thicker, and it can be darker because it will have a different angle.
You can start it with some parallel grey and darker grey lines.

making a ledge

As usual, make the right side darker and bring in the corner highlight.

shading the ledge

And now trim off the corners on the sides. You will have seen ledges like this in real life or reference images; they look a bit like steps, and that's why I made these corners like this.

doing the ledges corners

The top surface is now higher and a bit wider. Add the top lines to finish it off and fill with the light concrete/cement/plaster color.

creating a top surface

Now let's add some inner borders to the ledge.

inner borders for the ledge

And fill this big rectangle with our main roof color.

making tarred or graveled roof

I went with a very dark grey. Something that implies it could be a tarred or gravelled surface, which seems to be common for these kinds of buildings.
Finally I added a subtle texture to further convey the roof possibly being tarred or gravelled, or at least not perfectly smooth.

minimal texture for the roof

Now we're going to add a small base to the building, with a few steps leading up to the entrance.
Let's start with one step, outlined here, about as narrow as it can be. The extra lines inside of the step we'll later use for making a small hand rail.

starting entrance steps

The subsequent steps are just a repetition of the prior one, laid in front of it but moved two pixels down.

adding more steps

Add the usual concrete/cement/plaster colors to fill the steps.

coloring the steps

Here I already added the inside corner between the steps and the rest of the base.
And here's the base applied to the whole width of the building (with a softened color where the base meets the brick texture.)

base for the building

This will be the shape of the small hand rail. It's basically a wall, but has the complexity of conforming to the steps and having a different angle for its surface. Do this in a new layer.

small rail

Final colors applied to the rail.

small rail colored

We'll need another rail on the other side of the steps. Let's copy the first one.

small rail doubled

And make a few easy adjustments to it.

small rail finished

You can merge all these elements if you want. And to finish them, you might want to soften the bottom corner lines, where the vertical surfaces will meet the floor.

softened ground lines

We're close to finished. Let's just add a few elements to the roof.
Roofs in isometric art end up using quite a bit of canvas space, so generally I would add a terrace so that it doesn't feel so much like a waste of the illustration's space. But terraces aren't so common that every building would have one, so let's instead just add some utility elements or anything that can be found on a random rooftop.
Maybe part of an air conditioning unit…

adding roof detail

Which would just be a box...

possibly an AC unit

With some vent lines or anything to suggest it's a machine.
We can also add a few chimney exhausts.

more roof detail - chimney exhaust

To achieve the metallic look, I generally use bluish greys for the dark shades and yellowish greys for the light ones. Here I finished coloring and then duplicated the exhaust.

coloring chimney exhaust

Finally I'm adding a random element, in this case pigeons. I think it adds a fun little touch—of course, it wouldn't be such a great touch if in a larger scene every single rooftop had pigeons. So it'd be best to keep these elements "random". There are other options that could be on rooftops: stuck basketballs, a tanning girl or guy, paper planes, an eagle's nest, potted plants, etc.
Here are the pigeons' outlines.

some fun finishing touches

And here they're colored.

doves complete

And that's it. For real this time. That was the final detail!
Congratulations! You finished the apartment building and can now house just so manypixel citizens!


I hope this tutorial was useful! Feel free to ask any questions or leave a comment below.


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