How to Create a Flat Grayscale Cityscape in Adobe Illustrator


Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Ever wanted to feel like an architect and create a model of a city with fancy buildings? This tutorial is exactly for you! Learn how to make trendy flat style houses with basic shapes, Pathfinder operations and the Shape Builder Tool, change color saturation and brightness in a few clicks with the Recolor Artwork function, and make up your own color schemes. Let's get started! 
Let's start building our first house. Make sure you have the Smart Guides (View > Smart Guides) turned on. They help you to arrange and move objects more easily, with the help of the alignment guides and snapping feature.
Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and single-click with your left mouse button on the Artboard. Define the size of your rectangle by setting its Width to 45 px and Height to60 px. Fill it with light gray color (about 20% black).

create the house base from rectangle

One of the main elements of any building is a roof. Form a narrow rectangle of a lighter gray color and rotate it to 45 degrees by holding the Shift key. Double-click on theReflect Tool (R) to reveal the options window and reflect the shape over the Vertical Axis, clicking the Copy button and thus creating a second half of the roof. Move both parts closer to each other, creating a 90-degree angle between them.

form a roof

Select all the created shapes with the Selection Tool (V), hold the Alt key and click on the house base. The selection becomes thicker, indicating you're now aligning to the Key Object. Head to the Align panel and click the Horizontal Align Centerbutton.

align the roof to the house

Let's get rid of the gap between the house and the roof. Select the house base and go to Object > Path > Add Anchor Points. Select the upper middle anchor point with theDirect Selection Tool (A) and drag it straight up, holding down the Shift key, till it becomes hidden behind the roof.

edit the roof

Add a small square to the left part of the house for the chimney and Send it to Back (Shift-Control-[).

add a chimney

Add the border of the chimney and create a similar border for the foundation of our building. 

add a foundation

Let's form the entrance door of our house. Start by placing a rounded rectangle shape of a light gray color in the bottom middle part of the building. Grab the Eraser Tool (Shift-E), hold down the Alt key, click and start dragging your mouse over the bottom part of the door shape. The part covered by the white frame of the Eraser Tool will be deleted after you release the mouse button.

render the entrance door

Add the staircase by forming a narrow rectangle at the bottom of the door. Copy the rectangle and place it under the first one, making it slightly longer. Finally, add as many stairs as needed to reach the bottom of the house foundation.

add the staircase

Align the staircase and the foundation to Vertical Align Bottom in the Align panel.

align the door to the house

Let's make the stairs more three-dimensional by adding shadows. Duplicate the stairs and move the copies up a bit. Then select the lower stair and its copy and use theMinus Front function of Pathfinder to cut off the unneeded part. Fill the remaining shape with darker gray color, thus creating a shadow, and add shadows to the other stairs, using the same method.

add shadows to the stairs

Add a darker border across the center of the building for decoration.

add a decorative border

Let's move on and add windows. Select the door shape, hold both the Shift and Altkeys and drag the shape up, thus creating a copy right above the door. Create two more copies of the windows and align them with the basic house shape if needed.

form the windows 1

Add several bricks to the front of our building, making the exterior more detailed.

add bricks

Add a small round window in the top part of the house with the Ellipse Tool (L).

form the windows 2

Let's make the entrance more detailed. Select it, go to Object > Path > Offset Pathand set the Offset value to -1 px, thus adding a smaller shape inside the doorway. Extrude the shape down so that it touches the stair and fill it with darker gray color. Add a simple round door-handle.

make the door detailed

Make a rectangle and rotate it to about 45 degrees, half-covering the door. Duplicate the door, select both the door copy and the rectangle, and use the Intersect function ofPathfinder to cut the shape. Fill the newly created shape with darker gray, creating a diagonal shadow on our door.

make the door detailed 2

Let's return to the windows and use the same Offset Path technique to create window frames. Add a narrow rectangle, dividing our window into two halves. Use the Rotate Tool (R) to set the rectangle perpendicular to its initial position and click the Copybutton in the Rotate options window, thus creating a copy, so that we have two crossing stripes.

form the windows 2

Add a diagonal overtone above the window, as we did with the door, and edit two other windows, making them detailed.

form the windows 3

Add dimension to the attic window by adding a smaller, darker circle inside the first one. Duplicate the smaller circle twice (Control-C > Control-F > Control-F) and move the upper copy up and to the right. Cut off the unwanted parts with the help of the Pathfinder and fill the inner circle with dark gray to show the depth of the window opening.

form the windows 4

Place a gentle shadow under the decorative edging, making the facade more three-dimensional. Fill the shadow shape with linear gradient from white to light gray, and switch it to Multiply Blending Mode.

add shadows in multiply blending mode 1

Use the same technique to put a shadow under the roof. Copy the roof shape and move it down a bit. Delete the unneeded parts with the help of the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) by selecting both the house base and the roof shadow and clicking the pieces while holding down the Alt key.

add shadows in multiply blending mode 2

Let's move to our next building: a small grocery. Start by making a rectangle of 55 x 40 px size and attach a foundation and a staircase as we did with our previous house. Make a wide, light gray rectangle for the window and render the window frame by adding three smaller, darker rectangles, defining the glass parts. Add shadows to make the window more detailed.

render the grocery shop

Start forming a striped sunshade by placing a narrow rounded rectangle in the upper left corner of our store, and copy it by holding both the Shift and Alt keys and dragging it to the right. Press Control-D several times, adding more copies and entirely covering the upper part of the building. Make some copies darker to alternate the colors one by one. 

add the sunshade roof

Erase the upper part of the sunshade, making it flat. Put a shadow in Multiple Blending Mode under the sunshade, separating it from the facade, and add a few lighter bricks to maintain the style of our first building.

add the sunshade roof 2

Let's make another living house with a big garage in its front part. Create the house base from a 50 x 80 px rectangle, and start forming the garage door with the help of the Rectangle Tool (M) and the Offset Path function.

make the garage house

Add a narrow plank on top of the garage door and make it more three-dimensional by filling it with linear gradient from dark gray to lighter gray. Add more planks, covering the surface of the garage door.

make the garage door

Make a simple flat roof on top of our house. First of all, create a lighter gray rectangle and then select its lower right anchor point with the Direct Selection Tool (A). Press the Enter key to call out the Move options window and set the Horizontal Positionvalue to 3 px, while the Vertical value is set to 0 px. Leave all other options as default and click the OK button, thus moving the point farther to the right. Repeat the same with the left anchor point, this time setting the Horizontal value to -3 px to move the point to the left, making the bottom edge of the roof much wider.

render the roof 

Add a couple of windows in the same way as we did with our first house, but this time make the window frames square so that the houses look different.

add windows

Finally, make an additional wing in the right part of our house for the entrance. Add gentle shadows in Multiple Blending Mode in the bottom part of the house, under the roof and wherever you find it necessary. Form an inclined roof above the entrance and add a tiny square door with a staircase. Decorate the house with several groups of bricks.

add the entrance

Now let's move to a taller building with an unusual roof. Create a rectangle, this time making it a bit higher than the previous ones (50 x 85 px), and start forming the roof by placing a narrow rectangle on the top, making it shorter at the edges. Create two more rectangles, one above the other, making each next shape shorter than the previous one (the same as we did while forming the staircases). Add the foundation in the bottom of the building and separate it from the house with the help of a gentle shadow. 

create a house with fancy roof

Take the decorative edge and the rounded windows from our first house, make more copies and arrange them on the facade in any symmetrical position which you find interesting. Unite the roof elements in Pathfinder and add an outline at the edges with the help of the Offset Path.

add windows

Edit the top part of the roof by filling the created thin outline with light gray color, and finish up with the building by placing lighter gray bricks here and there.

make the roof with offset path

Let's render another living house with a tiled roof. Make a 45 x 85 px rectangle for the house base and add two narrow planks on both sides of the house, creating a side view of our future roof. Add another rectangle in the upper part of the house, and start forming the tile in the same way as we did the sunshade for our store building: put a tiny rounded rectangle in the upper left corner of the roof and move it to the right, making a copy. Press Control-D as many times as needed to cover the roof from side to side. You can swap the colors, making the building darker than the roof, or leave it as you like.

make a tiled roof 1

Duplicate the created string of tiles and drag it down, placing it partly under the first one(Control-[). Hide the unneeded parts of the tiles by erasing them with the Eraser Tool (Shift-E) or hiding them under the side planks by placing them on top (Shift-Control-]). Make some tiles darker and the others lighter to alternate the colors, making the tiled roof more fancy.

make a tiled roof 2

Add the entrance, decorative front border and a group of windows by taking them from another house and put a gentle shadow in Multiply Blending Mode under the roof.

add door and windows

Here's our living house with the tiled roof. We've added some separate bricks to the facade and formed a decorative brick border along the bottom part of the building.

tiled roof house

Let's move on to the last building of our set: the clock tower. This will be the tallest and the narrowest building, with a 25 x 100 px size. Add a foundation, emphasized by a semi-transparent shadow, and start forming the clock face by putting an even circle at the upper part of the tower with the Ellipse Tool (L) by holding the Shift key. Add a smaller circle inside the clock face and define the edging by making it darker.

form the clock tower with clock face

Put two thin stripes for the hour graduation of our clock face and align them to the vertical center of the inner circle. Keeping both stripes selected, take the Rotate Tool (R) and rotate them by 90 degrees. Click the Copy button in the Rotate options window to create two more gradations. Use the Polygon Tool and set the Sides value to 3 to form a triangle. Squash and extend the created triangle to make a clock hand.

add hour graduation to the clock face

Select the clock hand and move it by dragging it with the Rotate Tool (R). Add a longer triangle for the minute hand, moving it with the Rotate Tool (R) as well. Put a light reflection on the clock face to make it more true to life.

add clock hands

Let's add a fancy tiled roof to the tower. Combine a triangle and a string of tiles byUniting them into a single shape in the Pathfinder panel. Take the tile group from the previous house and place it under the created triangle shape. Select both the tiles group and the roof shape, click the right mouse button and Make Clipping Mask,making the unwanted parts invisible.

form the tiled roof

Here's the final view of our clock tower. We've added a small attic window on top, decorated the tower with a border and several groups of bricks, and placed a door with a staircase at the bottom of the building.

clock tower final result

We need to create some environmental details, such as trees, to enliven our cityscape. Start by forming an even circle and highlight its left part with a lighter crescent-shaped stripe. Group both objects, duplicate them and place a couple of smaller copies on the side of the basic shape, making the tree bushy. Copy the basic shape and erase its left half. Switch the remaining half to Multiply Blending Mode, making a shadow. Add a narrow tree trunk and place some more trees in front and at the back, creating a group of bushy trees.

form the bushy trees

Let's make a simple bush by drawing an ellipse and dragging its side anchor points down with the help of the Direct Selection Tool (A). Click the upper anchor point with the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) to make a sharp angle. Place a rectangle covering one half of the bush shape. Select both objects and delete the rectangle piece outside the bush by clicking it with the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) while holding theAlt key. Erase the rounded bottom part of the element with the Eraser Tool (Shift-E)and form a shrub by adding smaller elements on both sides.

form the shrub

Move on to the next tree—a cone-shaped fir. Create a triangle base and put a gentle shadow above, covering the right half of the tree. Add a narrow trunk and form a group of fir trees.

form the fir trees

Here is the full set of elements that we've created for our future composition.

a set of cityscape elements

Let's line up our houses and add the created trees and bushes among them. Use theAlign panel to align the objects by the bottom line.

built up the composition

The elements look a bit pale at this step, so we need to add some contrast, making them more vivid. Select one of the houses and click the Recolor Artwork icon in the control panel above. Click the Edit button in the pop-up options window to reveal a color wheel. Find a chain link icon in the bottom right corner and click it to Link harmony colors so that you can change all colors at once while changing any color from the group. Set the Brightness (B) slider value to 65% or less, making our house darker. Make sure you have the Recolor Art checkbox ticked to see the result in real time.

use recolor artwork tool

Edit other buildings as well, making some of them darker and others lighter, alternating the colors.

add contrast

Render a flat cloud by combining a group of even circles and a rounded rectangle, placed at the bottom of the group. Select all parts and Unite them in Pathfinder, creating a single shape.

form a cloud

We need to add a road in order to form the main street of our city. Put three dark rounded rectangles one above the other in the bottom of the buildings line and Unitethem. Add two more rounded rectangles, partially covering both sides of the middle rectangle. Use the Minus Front function of Pathfinder or the Shape Builder Tool (Shift-M) to cut out the middle shapes, creating rounded holes.

form the road 1

Add a horizontal line along the upper part of the road to create a separating strip. Head to the Stroke panel and set the Weight value to 2 px. Select the Round Cap andRound Joint and check the Dashed Line box, setting the dash to 6 px and the gap to8 px.

form the road 2

Let's render a simple car and put it on the road in order to made our city more alive. Form the base of the car with the help of rounded rectangles, and draw two even circles for the wheels. Add minor details, such as the headlights, tires, door handle, and any other parts that you find necessary for making our car more realistic.

render a car

Move on and start forming a long shadow effect to add more depth to our artwork. Create a big rectangle (I've filled it with red color just to make it more noticeable) and rotate it to 45 degrees. Combine the edges of the rectangle with the side points of the road, and Send to Back (Shift-Control-[).

create a long shadow 1

Add more diagonal rectangles beneath every part of the road and every cloud.

create a long shadow 2

Now select both the object and the rectangle and delete the unneeded piece with theShape Builder Tool (Shift-M) by pressing the Alt key.

create a long shadow 3

After you've deleted all the unwanted parts, select the rectangles and fill them with linear gradients from gray to white, switching to Multiply Blending Mode and thus turning the rectangles into semi-transparent long shadows.

shadows in Multiply Blending Mode

You can enliven your cityscape by creating a vivid color palette. Select your color group and click the New Color Group icon in the Swatches panel to create a user-defined palette from the Selected Artwork.
Select your city and go to the Recolor Artwork options window. Here you can find your palette in the Color Groups section on the right. Click it to apply new colors to your artwork and use the Randomly change color order function to find the best combination of the selected colors.

Recolor your Artwork

You can limit the number of colors used in your artwork by setting the desired value in the Colors box to achieve a nice contrasting color effect.

limit the number of color used

Otherwise, if you're happy with the initial result, just leave your cityscape in grayscale, maintaining a trendy retro style.
Great job, guys and girls, we've managed to create a trendy flat style cityscape with some additional details, which added dimension and made our artwork more alive. I hope you've learned some new simple tips and tricks for your future artworks. Stay tuned for more, and let the inspiration guide you!

Cityscape Flat Illustration final result


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