Technical Graphics for Solar Energy

Words and pictures by Adrian Cartwright

Solar panel technical graphics

Case study in part with focus on the working process between illustrator and editor for technical graphics.

Techie technical illustration:

This technical illustration or technical graphics illustration is a commissioned cover illustration for a global magazine. This blog looks at the whole illustration job. Going deeper into the work behind it, and how the client commissioned the illustration. You will also learn about the technical illustration style and how I produced the illustration using multiple software applications.

So kick back and enjoy, knowing you will understand the process of a typical illustration commission from briefing the illustration, the illustration quote, development and delivery.

About the commission:

Now back in 2017 I was approached by the Editor of an international Trade magazine looking for an artist to produce cover illustrations to compliment the publications cover stories. The Magazine targets Engineers in the solar power industry around the world.

Cover illustration was new to me at the time, but I was interested to learn more and I love an illustration challenge. So after chatting on the phone with the Editor, I realised that it was similar to an editorial illustration commission. Something normally associated to an article in a publication. There was a budget limit at the time of £400. A quote was not needed, but normally I would quote after considering the best way to produce the illustration and look at the estimated time spent to produce the illustration. But this time, it was like working backwards. Discussing what was possible within the budget, and considering different styles of illustration to fit the budget.

The publications were quarterly, so there was a possibility of multiple commissions. This led me to think about how the editor and I would work together, and a workflow process was formulated to help make the most of the limited budget.


Creating a workflow is something that I’ve done a few times with great success with commissions that involve multiple briefs.

With the Featured illustration shown here, I was asked to produce an illustration to compliment the cover story about the technical advances in Solar PV development expected in 2022. It was a round up of the year and predictions for the coming year story. So it needed to be generic but focussed on the development of Solar panels. 

By the time I did this featured illustration, I had illustrated 12 cover illustration commissions for them, and was working with the third editor. The workflow was working quite smoothly, and the editors had more faith and confidence in my judgment. The budget had grown by 50%, which helped to develop better renders to the illustrations. This confidence in my work led to other commissions in the company following a similar workflow system.

technical editorial illustration

How we did it:

The Editor often had a Cover Story in mind, and would contact me by email then phone to discuss it, giving me a general idea about the topic. I would then agree it was something we could work with, and the cover story if it was available would be shared with me. This was not always the case, and on a few occasions, we would discuss the topic in detail over the phone brainstorming ideas.

This stage was often the inspiration stage where I would then spend an hour or two developing two or more ideas sketched out on paper. Then later I would email over my concept ideas to discuss at our next meeting. Typically one idea was chosen and either the editor would send me reference they had, or I would research it myself.

I would then produce a composition of the illustrations showing where things should go, this is always a good idea, to help work out if things fit and how they interact with each other in the illustration

Concept style of the illustration was also shown. Showing a technical illustration line style which adopted some old and new styles. Blue-Print Style was received very well, and the go-ahead was given.

Close up showing details of technical graphics illustration.
Close up showing details

illustration development:

Once the Editor agreed on a concept idea, I would then sketch out a composition on paper, this would include elements we had discussed in our meeting and consideration to the style chosen. Once I had a basic composition, I normally send it over as a work in progress report. I like to keep my customers in the loop, as often it can highlight possibly issues with our original concept and sometimes encourage more input to help develop the illustration as it grows. 

Then working with SketchUp and Adobe illustrator I started the composition and creation of the background.

The “blue print style” which is in fact the opposite to the real blue prints of the last century. I think the movies often showed technical micro slides of plans that were negatives, and often referred to them saying something like “ Did you get the blue-prints? “ These were in fact a photo slide ( negative ) much like a camera film.

Back to topic

Back to topic, the illustration features a white line on a blue background. This styling gave it some colour, and moved away from simply black line technical drawings. Additions features using Adobe illustrator were included to give more complexity to the illustration. A careful approach was needed to avoid it becoming cluttered or a distraction from the main illustration of a solar panel. 

Subject in the illustration was created as a generic autonomous solar panel typically used in a solar farm using SketchUp Pro. These solar panels track the suns location and can position themselves for cleaning by rainwater as well as manual maintenance needs.

Additional views of the solar panel were illustrated in side-on views to suggest the proportions and promote technical specification.

Often the finished illustration is received well, but occasionally there’s tweaks needed. Which is all part of the illustration service I offer.

In the case of this illustration, some of the wording was updated and line weights (thickness) was altered for clarity. See image for example.

Hand over:

Delivery of the illustration is only done once the Editor is happy with the finished illustration, and I always make a point to make sure they’re 100% happy with it… there’s nothing worse than delivering an illustration and the client doesn’t say they don’t like it, or there’s something they noticed but didn’t want to say. The last thing I want, is for my customer to look at my illustration and see that error and regret pointing it out… I will always do my very best to correct it, so the customer looks at it with pride not regret.

The featured illustration didn’t have any corrections post delivery, but that’s not always the case, and it’s important to make sure that any error, or as we often call it “tweaks” is done as soon as possible. Delivered on time as always, and to a happy customer.

Featured illustration was commissioned in Nov 2021 to Adrian Cartwright Planet illustration.

You can also learn more about similar illustrations I’ve produced here.

Freelance illustrator Adrian Cartwright
<a href=httpsplanetillustrationcoukabout title=about>about<a> Adrian Cartwright