Design, Tips & Info

Design Series: How to create 3D objects in Illustrator

Welcome back to another edition of the Design Series where I cover techniques in Adobe that you can apply to your design projects. In this post, I will be going over the 3D Illustrator effects. You will find this in the Effects menu under 3D. You will find 3 effects: Extrude & Bevel, Revolve and Rotate. This effect takes a 2D object and creates a 3D version of it. From there you can apply a number shadings, and map art to your object. In this tutorial, we will go over each effect and the options you can use.

Note: Working with 3D is memory intensive so having a good graphics card and virtual memory is expected when working with 3D objects in any Graphic editing software.

With that said let’s get right to it.In order t

Note: Keyboard Shortcuts in (x)

Step 1: Set the stage

In order to begin, we will need an object and a subject. The subject, however, is optional which is used to map art to the object. Create your object by grabbing your Shape tool(M rectangle) (L ellipse) and create your object. For this tutorial lets create an Ellipse, 672px x 672px is a good starting point.

Next, we will grab a design to map onto our 3D object. This can allow for numerous applications for your design project. For instance, you can place a world map onto a sphere or place a label onto a bottle. To be able to utilize a subject for 3D mapping you will need to turn your subject into a symbol. I will be using a candy stripe for the symbol. If your Symbols options are not already pinned to your panel Go to Window > Symbol. Drag and drop the subject into the Symbol panel and options will appear. There are no special settings you need at this time so just select OK.


Step 2: Choose your 3D effect

Let’s go over each 3D effect to get a clear idea of their functions.

Extrude & Bevel

The Extrude effect adds depth to an object by extending the objects z-axis. A Bevel is creating some type of slope at the edge of the object whether you are adding or cutting from it. An example is below:


With this option, you are revolving a 2D object on its y-axis to create a 3D object. Creating your object to reflect which 3D object you are looking to create matters here. Revolving a half circle to creates a sphere and revolving a complete circle would create a donut. An example is below:


Rotating an object means to simply rotate the object in 3D. If you need to simply rotate a 2D object then use this option. An example is below:


Now that you are familiar with the different effects lets go over the options you have when creating your effect.

Step 3: How to use the different 3D effects

In this step, we will go over each effect and the options within the effects menu options. There are options that will be pretty much the same. Position, Map Art, and Lighting Settings are the same so I will go over these now.


At the top of the menu, you can Rotate the 3D object on its different axis and change the perspective.

You have the following options:

  • Choose a preset position from the Position menu.
  • To manually rotate the object drag a track cube face. The blue face is the objects front side. The object’s top and bottom faces are light gray, the sides are medium gray, and the back face is dark gray.
  • You can also enter values between –180 and 180 in the text boxes.
  • Adjust the perspective by entering a value between 0 and 160. A smaller angle is similar to a telephoto camera lens; a larger lens angle is similar to a wide-angle camera lens.


Map Art

Select Map Art in the menu and you will be taken to Map Art dialogue box. You can now map 2D artwork that’s stored in the Symbols panel to your 3D object.

First, you will need to select the Surface you want to map your art on. The amount of surfaces depends on the object you created. When a surface is selected in the dialog box, the selected surface is outlined in red in the document window.

Next, select the Symbol you want to use in the drop-down. Scale your art as you see fit. Check the preview box to see how your artwork fits onto the object. To shade and apply the object’s lighting to the mapped artwork, select Shade Artwork. Select Invisible Geometry to show only the artwork map, not the geometry of a 3D object.


These options apply numerous shading effects to the surface of your 3D object.


Lets you choose options for the shading surfaces:

  • Wireframe

Outlines the contours of the object’s geometry and makes each surface transparent.

  • No Shading

Adds no new surface properties to the object. The 3D object has the same color as the original 2D object.

  • Diffuse Shading

Makes the object reflect light in a soft, diffuse pattern.

  • Plastic Shading

Makes the object reflect light as if it were made of a shiny, high-gloss material.

note: Depending on what option you choose, different lighting options are available. If the object only uses the 3D Rotate effect, the only Surface choices available are Diffuse Shading or No Shading.

Light Intensity

Controls the light intensity between 0% and 100%.

Controls the global lighting, which changes the brightness of all the object’s surfaces uniformly. Enter a value between 0% and 100%.

Highlight Intensity

Controls how much the object reflects light, with values ranging from 0% to 100%. Lower values produce a matte surface, and higher values create a shinier-looking surface.

Highlight Size

Controls the size of the highlight from large (100%) to small (0%).

Blend Steps

Controls how smoothly the shading appears across the object’s surfaces. Enter a value between 1 and 256. Higher numbers produce smoother shades and more paths than lower numbers.

Draw Hidden Faces

Displays the object’s hidden backfaces. The back faces are visible if the object is transparent, or if the object is expanded and then pulled apart.

note: If your object has transparency and you want the hidden backfaces to display through the transparent front faces, apply the Object > Group command to the object before you apply the 3D effect.

Preserve Spot Color (Extrude & Bevel, Revolve, and Rotate)

Lets you preserve spot colors in the object. Spot colors can’t be preserved if you chose Custom for the Shading Color option.

Lighting options

These options define the light used on your object surface.

  • Light(Sphere) 

Defines where the light is. Drag the light to where you want it on the sphere.

  • Move Light Back button

Moves the selected light behind the object.

  • Move Light Front button

Moves the selected light in front of the object.

  • New Light button

Adds a light. By default, new lights appear in the front center of the sphere.

  • Delete Light button

Deletes the selected light.

  • Light Intensity

Changes the selected light’s intensity between 0% and 100%.

  • Shading Color

Controls the object’s shading color, depending on the command you choose:

  • None

Adds no color to the shading.

  • Custom

Lets you choose a custom color. If you choose this option, click the Shade Color box to select a color in the Color Picker. Spot colors are changed to process colors.

  • Black Overprint

Avoids process colors if you’re using a spot color workflow. The object is shaded by overprinting shades of black on top of the object’s fill color. To view the shading, choose View >Overprint Preview.

  • Preserve Spot Color

Lets you preserve spot colors in the object. Spot colors can’t be preserved if you chose Custom for the Shading Color option


Extrude & Bevel

With the ellipse created from Step 1 go to Effects > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. The Extrude options will appear. To preview your changes select the Preview box in the bottom left corner.

To apply a greater Extrude go to Extrude Depth and you can either enter a value or select the down arrow to use the slider. The Cap option specifies if the object appears solid or hollow. To add a Bevel select the drop-down and choose the desired type of edge. You can also choose the Height of your Bevel. The two smaller boxes are the Bevel Extent In and Out options. Use these to Add the bevel to the object’s shape or Carve the bevel out of the shape.


Go to Effects > 3D > Revolve to pull up the options for this effect. The Angle will set the number of degrees to revolve the path. Cap specifies whether the objects appear solid or hollow. Select the distance between the revolve axis and path using the Offset option. From is used in combination with the Offset option and sets the axis around which the object revolves. Select Left Edge or Right Edge.



Go to Effects > 3D > Rotate to rotate the 2D object. Here you will only have the Position and Surface shading options to use.

Step 4: Edit after Finishing

After you are satisfied with your creation hit the OK button and that’s all there is to it! One thing to remember is if you Mapped Art onto an object the art is mapped to the size you saved for the creation. Be careful in changing the size of your 3D object with Mapped Art as you can distort the subject. If you need to make a change to your finished object go to the Appearance panel and view the effect on your object. Double-click the line item to edit your settings.

Now you have created your 3D object!

Have you created a 3D object in Illustrator? What kind of projects do you use for this effect?