Tips and Tricks to Automation Car Design

Tips and Tricks to Automation Car Design

Hey everyone! So, seeing as that this forum is about to get a whole lot bigger, I wanted to help out a little bit with some suggestions for designing cars. First, I’ll start with some general tips, and then I’ll make a few posts going deeper into each decade and car style.

A quick but very, very sincere thanks to @ramthecowy for helping out with all of my comments (let’s give him a round of applause); I really couldn’t have done this without him. He did a whole lot of work with me on this, so give him some credit, will ya? Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Let’s start off with some general, but crucial, tips.

Here are a few tricks to you present your cars.

Now that we’ve gotten some of the basics out of the way, we can delve into more important ideas. I will make separate posts in this this thread and then link them back up to this top post. They shall be added every once in a while from here on out.

If you happen to have any suggestions at all, then please feel free to drop a post into this thread.


Design Tips based on decade

21st Century (Pt. I)

21st Century (Pt. II)

1990s Design

Online Resources

Vintage Ad Browser for classic car ads and different classic car designs

Vision Gran Turismo project for modern sports, super, hyper car concept ideas

Modern headlight tutorials by @Mr.Computah for design help for design help for referencing specs and other real-world car designs (suggested by @findRED19) for design help (suggested by @Chickenbiscuit)


This post is offending mr. Bright yellow luxury sedan! :wink:

But honestly speaking, there is always objections to the rule and this is a great post.


Definitely sound advice with regards to exterior design. I would not be surprised if there was a similar thread about the engineering part of developing a car (body/chassis, trim components, etc.)

Adding to the Useful threads :slight_smile:

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Tutorial #1: The 21st-Century Jungle Part I: Y2K

Again, a huge shout-out to @ramthecowy for helping me with this again.

The 21st century marked a period of drastic change in the automotive industry; if you think of all the concepts of the year 2000 (Lancia Nea, Ford 24-7, Peugeot Bobslid, etc.), you’ll see yourself immersed in a glorious mixture of extremely futuristic design as well as a nice chunk of throwback style, too. We’re going to teach you how to transition your cars from the 90s up into the 2000s, and then from the blandness of the naughts into the edginess of the 10’s and beyond. For the 21st century, there’s a fairly diverse range of designs from 2000 up to now, so I’ll run through a few historical examples before getting into proportions for modern design.

Here’s some overarching themes to help you design a car in the 2000s.

Early 2000s front design

The difference between cars in the late 90s and early 2000s is very clear; after all, all automakers wanted to prove themselves in the new century.
Here’s a small comparison between a 1998 and a 2001 Nissan Skyline.

Even more premium cars, too, saw a drastic change. Take, for example, the controversial but best-selling BMW 7-Series from 1999 to 2002 or the Mercedes S-Class from 1999 to 2001. Both sported very horizontal, flat designs, and evolved into a comparatively daring design.

Pay close attention to the changes in proportions, too; many cars of the early 2000s had focused on having fascias which appeared wider for a larger perceived stance on the viewer. This means using grilles which are shorter vertically and longer horizontally and potentially using vertical instead of horizontally opposed lights (a la Cadillac CTS, Lexus ES). All of this was in an effort to make cars look more imposing for the new century.

Early 2000s rear design

Another theme that’s vital to designing early 2000s designs is using more complex shapes all around the car. Head and tail lights both have gone from simple, rounded rectangles to somewhat more complex, dynamic, and expressive forms. Let’s see how this affects the rear fascia of the cars; Mazda replaced the 626 with the Mazda6 in 2002. Their designs are rather different; observe how Mazda attempts to use more aggressive styling with upward angled tail lights and a trunk “lip” for the Mazda6. Also note the use of more complex “Altezza” lights, a design style spurred by the Toyota Altezza (Lexus IS). This is a really important concept; fashioning a detail or fixture out of a number of smaller ones is a good habit to cultivate because it allows you to use seemingly outdated or inappropriate fixtures in unconventional ways to form something that adds up to being unique. Flowing style is a big theme that many automakers played in the early 2000s with new stamping technologies; don’t be afraid to experiment a little with designs.

Here’s the same ideals applied to the 1998 BMW Z3 and 2002 BMW Z4. First notice the large increase of body creases throughout the body of the Z4; although the Bangle butt is certainly controversial, the dual-tiered design caught on pretty much immediately with the success of the Z4 and 7-series. Again, the tail lights are much more expressive; the angled tops and bottoms combined with more shapes in general help to push the Z4 into the 21st century. Another thing that’s important to see in both the BMW’s and the Mazda’s are the new proportions of the age; the early 2000s began to favor slimmer, more complex tails with more creases and curves, whilst the front fascias of cars became adorned with larger, taller headlights and bigger grilles. In addition, you can see a lot more artistic style and detail on the sides of the Z4 as compared to the Z3 with the addition of the “Z” curve and the BMW emblem embellished on the front fender.

Remember: cheap and expensive cars in the early 2000s were quite easy to distinguish. The less expensive models used a lot less, if any, chrome parts, and typically had less artful designs and were more pragmatic. Luxury and sports vehicles had more Avant-Garde designs; this is very important. Avant-Garde design was an extremely popular motif among luxury vehicles of the early 2000s, so feel free to express the feeling of luxury vehicles in the early 2000s, but keep it restrained.

The next post will be all about vehicle design from the late 2000s onward.


Wow! Very nice tuto that will help lot of people!
Personally, to design a car at any era, I always 1st look at what was made at this era in the country where it was sold.
I don’t pretend to be a designer, so I always “copy” one or more existing models (I prefer say that I takes real models as a reference :slight_smile: ) then I let my creativity change it.
But really for me, the key of a good design is to take the time to look closely at real cars of the era you are targeting.


Tutorial #2: The 21st-Century Jungle Part II: The Era of Edge

As per usual, shout-out to @ramthecowy for helping me with this again.

Let’s go over making some cars into the modern day. The late 2000s were full of homogeneous (similar) and fairly dull cars and unoriginal design. Although the early 2000s were attempting to break through, the later portion of the decade saw a recession around much of the world. For this tutorial, expect to see some more blandness that the 90s provided come back, and watch it get washed away by the absurdity known as the 2010s. Throwback style is pretty much dead at this point in time; crossovers, gloss black plastic, and big grilles all become foundations of contemporary design.

Here’s how you can design your cars in the late 2000s into the 2010s and beyond.

A few quick tips

  • There is a huge rise in the use of fixtures solely for aesthetic and non-functional purposes e.g. closed off vents, fake exhaust tips, plastic body cladding to enhance ruggedness, fake aero lips, etc. Fashion starts to triumph form in the late 2000s.

  • Modern cars also feature sleek moon/sunroofs and slimmer mirrors with integrated turn signals - again, intricate fixtures.

  • Crossovers begin to get a grip on the vehicle market, mostly in North America until the trend gained traction in Europe and Asia later in the decade. See the successes of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape/Kuga. A car-based monocoque, 4-wheel independent suspension, and a transversely mounted engine with optional AWD are all to be expected. The trend truly booms in the 2010s, with new classes and all varieties of companies producing crossovers and SUVs of all shapes and sizes (Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Lamborghini Urus, BMW X1, Mini Countryman, Nissan Kicks)

  • In modern times, as designs continue to get more complex and sophisticated, understand how each of your models fare in terms of the other to have a proper balance so a customer would be able to distinguish between a low- and high-end car. There are some guidelines; for instance, a more expensive model would obviously be physically larger and have more glass and chrome and larger grilles. Still, consistency is everything and your brand will need to evolve into its own identifiable but unique style by striking a balance between organic flow versus edgy polygonal shapes and rounded, soft shapes versus aggressive angular looks.

  • As a general comment, the design philosophy/method in modern times has taken on a new dimension, literally, as cars nowadays are sculpted rather aggressively. Fixtures are laid on in a more three-dimensional way rather than horizontal-vs-vertical and polygonal (take the lights of the LC500 as an example). Current design that pushes the boundaries thinks in layers, with elements like floating pillars e.g. BMW i8, headlights with components at different depths, complex aero funnelling routes like with the Ford GT and DB11 - and this idea has carried over to less expensive cars, for instance vents/shapes on top of larger blacked out areas is a common motif. It’s all about depth.

Late 2000’s-Present Front Design

Styling has become even more complex and “free-form” in the past decade. Let’s compare compare the front ends of a famous family car; 2008 Honda Accord with a 2018 Honda Accord.


Notice the newer models’ much more complex design and greater usage of multiple materials. Although the fascia is actually comprised of 2 separate grilles on the top and bottom, the black plastic center trim emulates a singular, tall grille. This creates an imposing style commonly found on many new cars, even in similar size classes (see the Toyota Camry, Hyundai Elantra, Audi A4, or Ford Fiesta). However, by rounding out the harder edges, Honda achieves a softer look which makes the design more approachable than sharper-design competition. With most designs pushing towards a more stereotypically upmarket style, the Accord banks on this trend with its sculpted clamshell hood and complex headlight setup. Despite the new Accord’s seemingly basic headlight shape, you’ll notice that it is actually quite complex since the chrome bar runs across the width of the car and cuts through the light fixture. Also notice how Honda is able to create brand identity with the new vehicle’s unibrow and distinctive headlight internal design. Despite the fact that not every single Honda has the exact same design as this Accord, almost all Honda’s are easily identifiable because they share the same basic design elements.

Compare the old design, and you’ll see that the older 8th-generation is devoid of most visual trickery.

Let’s begin by saying that both designs clearly have the same visual flow; all the grilles and lights are aligned with each other, and where one grille line may end, the other picks up. However, the previous Accord, for one, doesn’t have much in terms of visual flair. What you do get is a central grille with a thick chrome border and some shaped plastic bars in between. On the lower fascia rests two indentations on either side that mimic a place where you might expect vents; in this instance, there isn’t anything there to back it up.


Notice the newer models’ much more complex design and greater usage of multiple materials such as chrome and black plastic along with different proportions (a much larger grille, wider and slimmer headlights). Also notice how Honda is able to create brand identity with the new vehicle’s unibrow and distinctive headlight internal design. Despite the fact that not every single Honda has the exact same design as this Accord, almost all Honda’s are easily identifiable because they share the same basic design elements.


In Automation, the styling of almost every modern car can not be done with just 5 or 6 fixtures. Simulating the complexity requires a unique and creative combination of many fixtures; try not to make “5 fixture” cars. Whilst late 2000s vehicles was focused on a more restrained elegance that didn’t look too far into the future, the mid-late 2010s clearly has much more character to it, for better or worse. Every single angle and crease has a purpose; feel free to work out different angles

Styling has become even more complex and “free-form” in the past decade; compare the front ends of 2008 Honda Accord with a 2018 Honda Accord. Notice the newer models’ much more complex design and greater usage of multiple materials such as chrome and black plastic along with different proportions (a much larger grille, wider and slimmer headlights, general shapeliness). In Automation, the styling of almost every modern car can not be done with just 5 or 6 fixtures. Simulating the complexity requires a unique and creative combination of many fixtures; try not to make “5 fixture” cars.

Also crucial to note is the beginning of LED DRL usage. Beginning in the late 2000’s on luxury vehicles and pioneered by Audi, LED Daytime Running Lights are seen on pretty much every new car. The implementation of these DRL’s are one of the defining features of a modern car thanks to being mandatory on all new cars. Compare the headlight structure of the 2010 and 2018 Ford Escape, respectively.

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to make some modern-day headlights made by our resident @Radster. Just a reminder that this is only one way to approach headlight design; there are tons of ways that you yourself can do it.

After 2010, the front ends of vehicles have clearly become more angular and more sculpted. The lines between high and low end vehicles begin to blur. Although huge grilles are dominating the luxury car market, the same can be said about more accessible vehicles; take Nissan’s new V-Motion grille, for example.

Late 2000’s-Present Rear Design

The rear design of cars, simply, has become even more complicated than the front. Automakers are trying everything they can to stand out. Compare the 2006 Volvo S80 with the 2016 Volvo S90. Although the newer model uses less chrome, the taillight shape is much more sculpted and angular. The bumper design shows exhausts tips which are not round and more creasing to visually widen the car with long fixtures. A lot of new luxury cars rely on more body sculpting as opposed to actual chrome, so be wary of going overboard with any things of the sort unless you use it in a way in new, creative way.

Supercars, too, had faced a renaissance in design. Let’s choose another Swedish duo to compare; Koenigsegg’s CCXR and Regera were both international hits when they were released; let’s take a look at them side-by-side. The CCXR reflects some of the financial situation Koenigsegg was in; the older car uses simplified round LED taillights, likely to reduce costs since Koenigsegg was still not in a prime financial state. However, the Regera utilizes custom, flowing shapes which clearly were designed specifically for this one vehicle. Not the CCXR’s more complex shape, but much more simplified and textured construction. In contrast, the Regera has a more simple, single-shape cutout in the bumper with lots and lots of sculptured 3D elements incorporated within. The idea of having a lot of details and aerodynamic elements in a simplified shape is one that works side-by-side with having lots of complex 3D shapes on the body on modern vehicles; take, for example, the finesse of the Ferrari 812 Superfast or the wild styling of the 2018 Honda Civic Type R.


Great design guide you have been putting together here :smiley: not only good for newcomers, it’s also a great quick reference guide to use whenever one gets stuck or runs out of ideas :sweat_smile:


Tutorial #3: I’m a 90s Kid

Again, a huge shout-out to @ramthecowy for helping me with this again.

Ah, the 90’s. A truly euphoric era, and it’s cars reflect this; it brought legends such as the Dodge Viper, McLaren F1, Nissan Skyline GT-R, and many others to the hands of the people. For this, we’ll run through the design ideas of the early 90s versus that of the strangeness of the late 90s. Diversity is lacking; rest assured, your car may be a little bland, but it’s difficult to get funky for the era. Overall, just focus on being era-correct over being unique, thanks to regulations and demands of the people.

Here’s some overarching themes to help you design a car in the 1990s.

1990s front design

The difference between cars in the early 90s and late 1990s are small, but easily noticeable. Let’s look at a popular example.
Here’s a small comparison between a 1990 Citroën ZX and a 1997 Citroën Xsara.

Let’s dive right in; the Bertone-designed ZX is clearly a much boxier vehicle with very few curves adorning it’s squared body. In comparison, the Xsara has a more aerodynamic and curvier style; aerodynamic looks were something that began to be popular in the late 80s for concept cars, but were in full effect during the mid-to-late 90s (i.e. 1993 Dodge Intrepid, 1993 Toyota Supra). Notice the use of larger grilles and usage of rounded, less sharp black plastic on the Xsara. The headlights on the Xsara are clearly much rounder and more shapely, and help to transition the car well into the early 2000s. Quickly note the less defined body lines of the Xsara (rounded front end, less prominent shoulder line); cars such as these begin the “blobby” stereotype of late 90s cars.

Let’s look at the differences between some sports cars; here, we have the traditional 1989 Porsche 911 964 (not 90’s, but a very iconic 1990s car) and the opinion-splitting 1997 Porsche 911 996.

As with the Xsara, notice the much, much more rounded body with less defined features such as the wheel arches and the more flowing and smooth fixture use. The newer car has a less muddled design overall, and as such is more pleasing to the eye. Again, the new car is clearly a bit more aerodynamic, with more sculpted side mirrors, a flatter hood, and recessed door handles. There is also quite a bit less amber on the newer car, with indicators being implemented in the headlights, which themselves are more daring in design.

1990s rear design

The designs of the rears of 90s cars are often characterized by bland, wide designs; these examples are no different. Let’s see the 1993 versus 1997 Toyota Cresta.

The rear of the older Cresta can be seen to be more homogenous than the newer model, with a full-width taillight; a very popular design choice in the early 90s, used to emphasize the width of a car (particularly popular on luxury vehicles). However, the new Cresta uses taller, split, and skinnier taillights in the back. The new model is also taller in general; like some plastic surgery, a lot of new models later in the 1990s showed a taller rear with tighter, more shapely features. Think of it the same as a person getting a facelift; you nip and tuck a few places to get rid of the fat, and then you make some of the features a little more appealing. The body is, as previously stated, more aerodynamic and flowing than before, with smoother fixtures. As with the Porsches, there’s some color-theory changes; the taillights have relegated any signs of amber in favor of a simple red and white contrast. This is right before the Altezza light craze, so keep your late 90s designs subtle with the color. Don’t forget that amber cheapens the looks of cars, and early 90s cars tend to look less refined.

Now, a little bit of a different take on design; the original 1994 SN95 Mustang compared to it’s “New Edge” facelift in 1999.

Now, a bit unlike the previous cars we’ve seen, the Mustang clearly has evolved into a much more angular design. That’s because of the 21st century effect which was mentioned in our previous tutorial; with the push to keep cars relevant for the 21st century, automakers rushed to create the newest trends with their cars. In this case, Ford decided to go edgy- think again about the “plastic surgery” facelift idea with the more sorted design, even if there are more elements added. With that being said, there are some parts of the more blobby, aerodynamic ideals added to the design. The original side crease is nowhere to be found, and the rear spoiler has been reworked to be more functional. All of this combined help to define the changes of 90s cars pretty well but of course not fully, so do your own research and find what you need to construct your perfect period-correct car.


Updated the OP compiling some resources, if anyone has any more websites or resources to share that would be amazing!

The Automobile Catalog is a great resource for more than just design. I always recommend it when referencing real life designs to make believable cars.

6 Likes Is a nice archive for concept cars. You can search by year or make and there’s a good amount of pics for most cars. May not be the most useful for realistic designs, but you can get a good idea of defining styling traits by seeing more exaggerated versions of them from a few years earlier. (Also its just fun to look through :wink: )


Hey guys, it’s been a while. I’ve been seeing a pretty strong influx of people and I was hoping that this would help you guys out: I made a few free-range designs that y’all can dissect and analyze for yourselves. They’re uninspiring, boring, and unoriginal, but they should help convey some ideas.

Thanks for tuning in!

Crossover SUV - Design (31.6 KB)

Crossover SUV Photos

Premium D-Seg Sedan - Design (28.1 KB)

Premium D-Seg Sedan Photos

Sports GT - Design (32.9 KB)

Sports GT Photos

Edit: if anyone has additions to the designs they would like to contribute, feel free to see what you could do here.