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About 3D in Illustrator

Illustrator is no Cinema 4D or Blender. It doesn’t claim to be. We’re going to learn how to create fairly simple three dimensional shapes. These may be useful to create a packaging prototype, icons for an app or the web and more.


It’s important to make the most of Illustrator’s 3D functionality while working within its limits. If you try to build something too complex, Illustrator will slow down and often crash. You’ll need to explore its limits.

To access the 3D effect, you can go Effects > 3D, then Extrude & Bevel, Revolve… or Rotate… You can also access the same effects from the little fx button at the bottom of the Appearance panel.


Since 3D is an Effect in Illustrator, it’s completely editable. Rather than going back to the menu to edit existing shapes, you need to access them from the Appearance panel.


If you attempt to re-apply a 3D effect to an existing 3D object, Illustrator will warn you that you’re about to apply an effect to an effect. Go to your Appearance panel instead.


Formative Activity

Let’s practice using 3D extruding, revolving and mapping artwork with the provided file.

Extruding Shapes

Extruding can apply to an object like a circle, which will end up a cylinder. A square will become a cube. You can draw more interesting shapes with any tool at your disposal, then extrude them.


If you create artwork like this book, make sure you group the separate paths before extruding. When they’re grouped, they extrude together. If they’re not grouped, they move separately in 3D space.

Once you’ve created a 3D object, you may want to change its rotation in space. To do so, click on the effect in the Appearance Panel.

Moving in 3D Space


When you rotate a 3D object, you have three options.

  1. You can choose from a Position preset in the drop-down menu.
  2. You can do it numberically, by entering a value in one of the three fields.
  3. You can spin the cube around. It’s easier to do by grabbing it by a coloured edge rather than the cube’s surface.

Adding Perspective

Adding perspective to a 3D object gives it a more powerfull look. Use the perspective value to make lines to vanishing points non-parallel.


As you can see in the above image, the arrows will eventually meet.

Extruding Type

Extruded type can really add punch to a design. It can also look really tacky, so go easy. With a bit of subtlety and taste, Illustrator is capable of creating pleasing type in three dimensions.


In the above example, I typed a word. I then used Type > Create Outlines. I extruded all the letters at once. I then went back into each letter’s setting to turn it to a different angle. The rest of the artwork is Greg’s Magic™.

Revolving Artwork

Revolving artwork can make objects such as a glass, a bottle or a thumb tack. It can make a ring or a donut shape. The outlines above are the original artwork that was revolved.


Create a Ring

The revolve function includes an option called Offset to create ring shapes as shown below. You can see the original revolved shape selected at the middle of the ring. The Offset option in the dialogue is what creates the radius of the ring.


If you see colour steps or banding, you can increase the number of blend steps as shown.

Rotating Artwork

Rotating 2D objects in 3D space can be very convenient for doing a perspective distortion on a shape, as shown below.


The flat thumb tack shape has a rotation on it to make it look like the cast shadow on the coloured thumb tack image.


Mapping Artwork

Illustrator can map artwork onto a surface of a 3D object. Create vector artwork only. Mapping raster art onto 3D artwork work, but it rarely looks good.

Creating Your Artwork

Create artwork to be mapped. Keep it relatively simple. Keep it all vector. You can map raster images, but they often look pixelated. In the example below, I’ve drawn a mesh pattern.


In order for the artwork to appear in the … dialogue, you need to make it a symbol first. Drag your artwork into the panel, or click the New Symbol button at the bottom of the panel.


Now that you have a symbol, you can go back into the 3D settings for your object.


Your 3D is built with a number of surfaces. You need to choose the surface to which you’re going to map your artwork. In this case, I’m on the 11th of 20 surfaces. Once you have the right surface, choose the symbol from the dropdown menu on the left.


If you need to, you can use the buttons below to scale the artwork or clear it from all surfaces. If you don’t see the mapped artwork appear on your 3D object, it’s possible you’ve mapped to the inside of an object. Try again.

You can see the mesh texture applied to the revolved shape.