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Creating Revolved 3D Objects in Illustrator CS6

Check out our Illustrator: 3D: Create 3D Objects course!

If you’ve ever worked with clay on a wheel or wood on a lathe, you’ll be familiar with the symmetric shapes these tools produce. Vases, doorknobs, tablets and candlesticks are all easy to produce. How do you manage and control this feature? Read on. For much more information on this technique and all else 3D, refer to Illustrator CS6 105.


Create a profile shape

The first step in creating a revolved 3D object is to draw its profile. If you have a handy vase you can look at, this is the profile of the object’s right side. A chess pawn would look something like this.

Pawn

Here’s a pawn with its profile.


The best way to make a clean shape is to use the Pen Tool, clicking and dragging to create a few smooth points.

Once you have the shape, consider if you want the object to be filled or not. The stroke color for your path will become the “skin” of the 3D shape, and the fill color will become the “fill” of the 3D shape. For a vase with an open top, you could define both. For a simpler object, you could set the stroke to None and leave only the fill visible. For speed, keep the path relatively simple, at least for now.

A vase with an inner and outer color

And a vase with an inner and outer color.


Apply the 3D Revolve effect

Select the path, then choose Effects > 3D > Revolve. The window that pops up has many, many options, and there are yet more hidden at the bottom of the dialog. Press More Options to expose all the lighting details.

It’s likely, however, that you haven’t seen any details yet. Click Preview, in the bottom left corner, to see the 3D object. Depending on the complexity of your path, this initial render could take a little while.

3D Revolve Options

The dialog that makes it all happen.


Rotate the shape

Orientation is probably the most important thing you can change here. Drag the cube there to freely rotate, drag an edge to rotate around the X or Y axis, or drag the circle around the cube to rotate around the Z axis.

Dragging one edge at a time for greater control

Dragging one edge at a time for greater control.


Each change you make will cause a redraw, and if it’s taking too long, uncheck the Preview button in the bottom left corner so you can adjust freely without rendering.


Change the lighting

We’ll stick with the Plastic Shading here. If the existing lighting is too harsh or simply not to your taste, you can use this section to add additional lights, reposition lights around or behind the object, increase or decrease the ambient lighting, change the strength of the highlights, and change the color of the shading. (The default black will probably be appropriate for most scenarios.)

A few lights have been added and repositioned

A few lights have been added and repositioned.


Change the smoothness

The Blend Steps option controls how smooth the gradient shading is, and you might want to reduce this to a lower value (say, 4) for a more cartoon-style look, or increase it (maybe to 100) for more realism.

Explore some settings, change a few things around, and press OK.

Low-fi vs hi-fi smoothness settings

Low-fi vs hi-fi smoothness settings on a pill.


Adjust the shape

As with any effect, the original path is still editable, so you can edit it and see the new 3D object quite quickly. It will have to re-render, but you don’t need to visit the Appearance panel to re-open the Revolve dialog unless you want to change settings there.

Broken pawn

This one’s broken.


One common issue is that the 3D shape is broken, with insides escaping to the outside where they shouldn’t. This is especially likely on a complex shape with sharp angles and both a fill and a stroke. You can try to fix it by:

  • simplifying the shape
  • moving a point or two on the shape
  • removing the stroke

However you create your shape, Revolving is a great technique for producing original artwork. It’s not hard, it’s fun, and adds interest to your artwork that’s hard to find if you stay in 2D. Good luck!

Check out our Illustrator: 3D: Create 3D Objects course!

Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.

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