Easy 3-D in Illustrator

Successful graphic design grabs your attention and conveys a message -- and nothing grabs attention like 3-D graphics that seem to pop off the page. But most 3-D programs are expensive and difficult to learn. That's where the new 3-D and artwork-mapping features in Adobe Illustrator CS (   ; February 2004) come in. They're powerful, but they don't require a master's degree in mathematics.

I'll show you how simple it is to transform basic shapes into realistic 3-D graphics. Just keep in mind that rendering 3-D graphics requires a lot of computer power, and complex shapes can take a while to process. For the speediest results, you'll want a G5 processor and as much RAM as your Mac will hold.

Start with a Symbol

The first step is to create the 2-D artwork you'll map onto a 3-D surface. Create your artwork at actual size so it's easier to position on the 3-D object. Or download prepared artwork from find.macworld.com/0024, and follow along as I walk through the creation of a 3-D spray-paint can (see "You Can Make a Can").

Next, define the 2-D artwork as a symbol by selecting it and choosing New Symbol from the Symbols palette's drop-down menu. You can also drag the selected artwork into the Symbols palette. A symbol is like a master art item. You can place multiple copies of a symbol (which are called instances) in a document, and whenever you update the original symbol, all the instances update automatically. When you map artwork to several different sides of an object, create a separate symbol for each side.

Make It Real

Illustrator CS has two kinds of 3-D effects that support artwork mapping: Extrude and Revolve. 3D Extrude extends an object into space, giving the appearance of depth. It's perfect for creating boxes and 3-D type, and it lets you specify a beveled edge for the object. 3D Revolve rotates an object around an axis, so it's useful for creating round objects such as bottles, spheres, vases, and our spray-paint can.

Begin by drawing a vector object, using any of Illustrator's drawing tools. To create the can, make four shapes -- one for the cap, one for the body, and two for the rims -- each with a different fill color. Because 3D Revolve rounds out the objects, you draw just half of the final shape's profile with a stroke of None applied. (Illustrator draws strokes as additional sides, which makes 3-D shapes more complex and especially confusing for mapping art.) Then group the objects -- a necessary step when applying a single 3-D effect to multiple objects.

Now select the grouped object and choose Effect: 3D: Revolve. In the resulting 3D Revolve Options dialog box, click on Preview, and then position the dialog box so you can see the object on the art board change as you edit it. To adjust the rotation, or view, of your art, use the mouse to rotate the cube in the dialog box, or experiment with the pre-set views in the Position pop-up menu. If you're unhappy with your object's rotation, press the option key to turn the Cancel button into a Reset button. Click on it, and you'll start over from scratch.

It's easy to change your mind about any 3-D effect in Illustrator. That's because they're live effects, which change the appearance of objects without altering the original shape. For example, after you add a 3-D effect to text, you can still edit the text at any time, even after you save the document. Once you apply a live effect, you can see that effect in Illustrator's Appearance palette. Double-clicking on the effect's description brings up its dialog box, so you can edit that effect.

Light and Shade The right lighting and shading make your objects look more realistic. Click on the More Options button in the 3D Revolve Options dialog box to specify these settings. In the Surface section, click on the New Light icon to add multiple lights, which can help make an object's reflections look more realistic. Press the shift key while dragging on a light to see real-time results.

Illustrator uses blends to create the shading effects on 3-D objects. If you're going to print your 3-D object on a high-resolution device, such as an imagesetter for offset printing, crank up the number of Blend Steps for shading before you send it off to the print shop. Too few Blend Steps can result in visible banding. But because render speed slows as the number of Blend Steps climbs, use a low number, like 25, until you're ready for print, when you can increase the setting to something like 200.

Pick a Side, Any Side

While you're still in the 3D Revolve Options dialog box, click on the Map Art button. Again, click on the Preview button and position the dialog box so that you can see the art on your screen. Revolving adds multiple sides to an object, so choose the side on which you'll map your art. Click on the arrows at the top of the dialog box to step through each of the sides. Illustrator also displays a red outline on the object itself on the art board, helping you identify which side you're choosing. Shaded areas on the sides displayed in the dialog box indicate areas hidden from view. Once you've chosen a side, select your symbol from the Symbol pop-up menu and position the art. You can repeat these steps to apply symbols to other sides of your object, but a single symbol can't wrap around multiple sides.

By default, Illustrator doesn't shade mapped artwork, so to get the most-realistic results, choose the Shade Artwork option. Click on OK in both the Map Art and 3-D dialog boxes to see the final rendered version on your art board.

(Note that Illustrator rasterizes gradients mapped onto 3-D surfaces. In fact, the application rasterizes all images again when mapping them. The resolution setting in the Document Raster Effects Resolution dialog box determines the raster resolution. I recommend setting it to 300 dpi or higher before you begin your project.)

To change the view or rotation of your 3-D shape, select the object and double-click on the 3D Revolve (Mapped) listing in the Appearance palette. To update the mapped artwork (which you defined as a symbol), edit your artwork, highlight the old symbol in the Symbols palette, and choose Redefine Symbol from the Symbols palette's drop-down menu. The mapped symbol will update on the surface of the 3-D object automatically, and then you're finished. The only thing left for you to do is add the title "3-D designer" to your business card.

Check It Out

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Jakob Fischer is PizzaDude ( www.pizzadude.dk ), a Danish type designer who moonlights as a kindergarten teacher. His newest creation is the goofy Mutaints, a typeface and 52 related dingbat characters. You can buy it from MyFonts.com for $25 -- which I consider a small price for something that makes me smile so widely. -- terri stone

Farm Out Your Tech Support

When creative professionals have software questions, we usually turn to colleagues, books, magazines, the Web, and software companies’ tech support. Those methods are fine, but now there’s a new resource.

Pay Support Farm ( www.supportfarm.com ) charges $2 per minute, and you can talk to any one of a group of people working in the visual-effects industries. Their expertise covers more than 25 programs, including Adobe Photoshop, Apple Final Cut Pro, Boris FX, and Red Giant Software Magic Bullet.

The Web site has much more information, including a complete list of supported programs and the bio of every troubleshooter.—terri stone

You Can Make a Can All you need is a 2-D logo, a group of several objects, and the 3-D effects in Illustrator CS.
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