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3D Objects in Illustrator?

Yes, Illustrator will allow you to do a decent amount of 3D work, but working with 3d objects in Illustrator can be a pain if you don’t know what you’re doing. The other thing is that the controls for 3D objects in Illustrator aren’t that straight-forward. Changing the colors of your objects or text can really be a pain, but I have some tips that will make working with 3D objects in Illustrator a little easier for you.

Creating 3D Objects in Illustrator

Today, we are going to work with text. This is one of the most popular things to do with 3D is to make 3D typography. Choose a bold typeface without a lot of extra frills and serifs. Keep it simple and your type will look good and you can avoid headaches later. The typeface I chose is Mensch Bold. I made it nice and big on my canvas, and the proportions don’t really matter, because I am going to be re-positioning each letter individually later. Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 9.02.28 AM   Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 9.03.10 AM The best rule of thumb that I have for working with 3D objects in Illustrator from scratch is to always make your base object grey to start out with. Illustrator makes it easy to see highlights and shadows on your 3D objects if you use grey. In RGB, I chose 150, 150, 150 as the values, which make grey. Any time you choose the same RGB values when they are anything other than 0 or 255, the result will be a shade of grey.

3D Objects in Illustrator: Create Outlines

You can do one of two things in this next step. The first choice is to go to Objects> Expand and expand the text to make them into vector shapes. The other option it to go to Type> Create Outlines. Either one will be fine, and then you can, while all of the text is selected, go to Object> Ungroup. Now all of your letters are individual shapes. I am going to select them all and apply a global 3D setting to all of the letter shapes at the same time. Later, I will show you how to go back and edit each one individually without affecting the others. When you are ready, go to Effects> 3D> Extrude & Bevel.

3D Objects in Illustrator: 3D Options

The dialog box above will come up. Be sure to check the Preview button in the bottom left corner, otherwise you won’t be able to see what your 3d Object looks like until you click ok, which is annoying and counter productive. The cube can be dragged and rotated, which is nice. You can also input positive and negative values in the boxes next to the cube for a more precise adjustment I like working visually, and then I adjust the values to make refinements. The results are shown below.   Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 9.06.06 AM Below, you can see that I am making some adjustments to our text. I lowered the extrude depth to 30 because the depth was too thick. The letters ended up looking funny. I set the bevel to Tall Rounded, which rounds the very edges of your objects. There are other options that can produce some interesting results. You should play around with those options and see what you get.

3D Objects in Illustrator: Adjustments

I also set the perspective to -120°, which alters the vanishing point perspective of your 3D objects in illustrator. This can produce some dramatic results and really create powerful 3D imagery.      

3D Objects in Illustrator: Metal

The letters above are the results, which is fine. I like the white shine on the top bevel, because it gives the text almost a metallic quality. However, I am going to show you how to alter each letter. Click on the first single letter. Then, go to the Appearance Panel and as you can see in the image below, 3D Extrude & Bevel are displayed as a colored link. For more information on how the Appearance Panel works, see my in depth tutorial.  Simply click on the link to open up the current settings on your 3D objects in Illustrator.

Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 10.31.57 AM

The 3D Panel will open back up again and you can make adjustments. Click and drag the cube to rotate it, positioning it how you like. Note: you will have to click the preview checkbox each time to see your changes (I know, that is kind of annoying). You can also adjust each color individually for your type. Change the shading color to custom (I chose 6D6D6D), and you can adjust the shading for each letter. Being able to do this manually gives you a lot of control over the look of your 3D work.

3D Objects in Illustrator: Lighting

When you are done, you can also click the fill color on your Tools Panel and change the color there. If you go over to the Gradient Panel, you can set the original text color to be a gradient. Note that this changes the original 2D shape, not the extrusion. You can’t apply a gradient swatch to your extrusion, because that will mess with Illustrator’s lighting effects. below are our letters with the gradient applied as the base color.     Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 9.32.27 AM That is ugly, so let’s select all of our text and select a solid grey for our fill color for now. We can always go back and change the shading color and the fill color for each letter to get the look we want. Below th image shows you that you can set the Fill Color all at once for your 3D objects in Illustrator. Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 9.37.56 AM Now, we can change the position of each letter on the page by clicking and dragging. If you want one letter to be in front or behind other letters, simply go to Object> Arrange> Send to Back, Send Backward, Send Forward, or Send to Front. Arrange your letters how you want and stack them creatively. If one of your 3D objects isn’t positioned how you want, simply go to the Appearance Panel, go back into your 3D settings and rotate the cube(Remember to check the preview box) until it works well with the other letters. below is what my text looked like after repositioning each letter. Also, save before you to this, but you can select all of the letters, and while holding shift, you can proportionally scale your vector 3D letters to make them larger or smaller. Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 10.54.44 AM Next, we can add a few finishing touches on our text design. Select all of the text and click on the Fill Color. Choose the color you want for your overall text(mine is #AB4A9C). Now, we can adjust the lighting on our objects by using the 3D Panel, and you can click and drag the dot on the sphere shown in the example below to change the angle of your lighting for each letter. This allows you to change and adjust the lighting for each letter individually. I am leaving the shading at grey, but if you really want to, you can change the shading color to a dark purple. That is up to you. Light intensity determines how bright your light source is. Ambient light determines how much other light is filling the area. Highlight intensity determines how harsh the shiny areas are on your 3D objects in Illustrator. Highlight size determines how large the highlights actually are. this allows you to restrict them from being too broad. Blend steps will blend the color gradations in your 3D objects in more steps for a smoother gradient. Keep in mind that the more blend steps you have, the more memory you will be using and the higher the native file size will be. Screen shot 2013-04-25 at 11.03.32 AM Next, let’s select the Rectangle Tool and draw a rectangle that goes across the entire canvas. Go to the Gradient Panel and choose Radial. Next, click on the left swatch in the slider and go to the Color Panel and change it to what you want the bright color of your gradient to be ( I chose #FFF200). Then repeat the process for the other swatch and choose your dark color (I chose #FFC60B). With the rectangle selected, go to Object>Arrange> Send to Back. Save your file, and you are finished.

3D Objects in Illustrator: Final


The result shown above is from combing several techniques and using the ability to manipulate 3D objects in Illustrator individually or as a group. Having the ability to rotate letters individually and adjust each objects lighting has enabled us to create an interesting 3D typography.

Click Below to Download the Source File

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