3D Modeling in Adobe Illustrator

Topic: Adobe Illustrator
Difficulty: beginner
Estimated completion time: 30 minutes

In this tutorial we will learn how to model vector objects in Adobe Illustrator with the help of Revolve, Extrude & Bevel and Rotate effects. Then we will apply a symbol to 3D model and make it ready for our further work.

In my practice I often use 3D effects for icons creation. The figures below show some examples of work, where 3D modeling was the first step of the creation.

So, let’s get acquainted with 3D effects and its parameters.

Revolve Effect

This effect is designed for surface revolution creation. A wine glass is a good example of such object. With the help of the Pen Tool (P) create a shape of the half of the glass in the frontal plane.

Select the created path, and then go to the Effect > 3D > Revolve… which leads to the opening of the dialog box with the effects parameters. All 3D effects have similar features, that’s why we will take a closer look at them on the Revolve example. Tick a preview option to be able to observe the changes.

To control the position of an object in space serves the numeric fields in which the rotation angles can be entered around the axes X, Y and Z. You can also control object position by turning the cube in the dialog box.

One of the presets from the Position list can be used for exactly the same purposes.

In order to apply the effects of linear perspective to the object, control the Perspective parameter.

You also have an opportunity to cut the parts of objects. The parameter Revolve Angel is perfect for such purposes. Such function can be very handy in technical illustration creation.

It is very important in which direction of the rotation will be directed. The options Left Edge and Right Edge are specially designed for it.

You can select the material of the models surface by picking out the right preset from the Surface list.

This is of course not what 3D modeling software can offer us, but this is very important parameter for the process in Adobe Illustrator and we will get back to it a bit later.

If the 3D model is your final product, than you can configure additional settings which will be opened in the dialog box after clicking on More Options.

And now you can control the light source location, add new light sources and move selected light to back of object to create some reflections from surrounding objects.

We can control light source parameters, such as intensity and size.

To create smoother transition between colors increase the value of the Blend Steps. And here I want to warn you, too large values of this parameter increase the size of the file a lot, which lead to a slowdown of the application.

And finally, you can choose the Shading Color.

When the effect is set up, click on OK. In practice, it is often necessary to change the effect’s parameters after it has been applied. To re-open the dialog box click on the effect name in the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance) (and the 3D model should be selected of course).

Now we can make the necessary changes.

Extrude& Bevel Effect

This effect is designed for the object extrusion. Create some text with the help of the Type Tool (T) (the effect can be applied to any vector objects).

Now go to the Object > Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel….

We have the Extrude Depth parameter to control the depth of extrusion.

You can also apply some bevel and choose its shape from the preset list.

In all long years of my practice I’ve never used this parameter. Who knows, you might find it useful. All the rest of parameters of this effect are identical to the 3D Revolve parameters.

I only want to underline, if the Extrude & Bevel effect is used to the text, the text can still be edited.

Rotate Effect

This effect is designed to control plane location in which the two-dimensional object is located.

Rotate Effect has fewer parameters than two previous 3D effects, that’s why I don’t think you’ll have any difficulties with its use. I only want to note that the Rotate Effect is very convenient in placing the text in different planes. To my point of view, it is better than using Free Transform Tool for the same purpose. Besides, your text remains editable after the effect was applied.

Modeling of Complex Surfaces

To model complex surfaces it is better to represent the surface in a couple of objects.

Before the 3D effect is applied, the objects must be grouped (Cmd / Ctrl + G). And now apply the 3D Revolve Effect to the group.

And now we can select and move the objects which are in the group and also color them into different colors.

Besides, you can edit the points of the objects to which the 3D effect is applied even when they are not included to the group.

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  1. Harish Mar 17, 12:39 pm

    That is the most brilliant Illustrator Tutorial. Would definitely try this.

  2. pepperstreet Mar 19, 10:50 am

    Aah, memories ;-) In its first release, i build colorful easter-eggs with texture-maps. The performance was bad, but had a lot of fun. Anyone remembers the product “Adobe Dimensions 1.0” ?

    • Michael Apr 1, 8:06 pm

      I Loved Dimensions (and several of the other KPT effects). If only illustrator had taken all of its tools instead of cherrypicking. I used to frequently build an entire city on one plane which could then be rotated/distorted/lighted as one group. I have yet to figure out a comparable way to do that with these illustrator tools.

      • pepperstreet Nov 6, 12:04 pm

        For more complex illustrations and multiple perspectives, I would suggest to use a specialized app like Cinema4D (and 3rd-party plugins). That gives unlimited possibilities.

      • pepperstreet Nov 6, 12:12 pm

        Also loved “SketchUp 3D” and its unique style. About time to have a look at it (again) ;)

  3. Tahseen Mar 20, 2:00 am

    Thanks for Sharing this illustrator tutorials. Very inspirational!

  4. Arnold Mar 20, 11:06 pm

    Great intro to Illustrator’s 3D tools. Would love to see more detailed and advanced tutorials on how the illustrations of the mailbox, jet fighter, and passenger plane were created.

  5. Bob Cloud Dec 5, 7:25 pm

    Hoe do you remove the effect?

  6. Bernadus Raven Nov 5, 8:09 pm

    can you give me some tutorial about some building modeling, thank you :)

  7. Tim Oct 25, 9:30 pm

    Problem: Can’t control Global Light anywhere on multiple objects at the same time. There’s also no way to only extrude, only use perspective, and isolate a bit more and save out a templated ‘Appearance’ for updates later down the line. It’s exciting this is even a possibility in Illustrator! I am just craving some additional control to make my Architecture diagrams really hit the mark!

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