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3D Effects in Illustrator CS

Part 1: Extrusion & Bevel basics By Dave Nagel
We've taken a brief look at the 3D capabilities in Adobe Illustrator CS, and now it's time to go deeper and explore some of the new application's creative possibilities. So this week we're launching a new series exploring all of the details of Illustrator's new 3D tools. We kick off the series today with a look at extrusion and bevel techniques, including surface mapping and other options available for fine-tuning the look of your 3D object, including a preliminary overview of the basics of 3D in Illustrator CS.

If you're a 2D designer, more likely than not you're entirely unfamiliar with most aspects of 3D design. Maybe back in the '80s or '90s you tried out a few 3D programs, back when this stuff seemed exciting and new, but were turned off (as I was) by the unnecessary complexity of almost every program on the market. But that doesn't matter because Adobe, as a developer of 2D graphics software, has kept you in mind with its implementation of 3D, making things simple and straightforward and without all of the excess clutter that might make you (and me) wonder why any sane person would get into 3D in the first place.

Nevertheless, there might be some difficulties for those of you just starting out with Illustrator's 3D effects. So let's address those first. For this exercise, we'll create a simple extruded object and familiarize ourselves with Illustrator's 3D parameters along the way.

Basic extrusions and bevels
For the purpose of familiarization, we'll start off fairly simply so that you can acquaint yourself with the workings of the Extrude & Bevel effect. So first we'll create a picture frame, and then we'll add a picture to its center.

To begin, draw a rectangle on your canvas. Give it a stroke of 20 pt. (or more) with a light stroke color, such as "Cuban Lime." Make sure it has a fill of "None."

Now choose Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. Click the Preview checkbox so that you can observe the changes you make. Instantly you have what could pass for a simple picture box.

Now, within the effect's dialog, try rotating the object around by dragging the cube up at the top of the dialog. This allows for free rotation of your object. (Of course you can also enter your X, Y and Z rotation numerically, and you can also constrain your rotation to a single direction by holding down the Shift key.)

To create more of a frame look for our object, we're going to tighten up the extrusion depth. So in the next section down, change the Extrude Depth setting to 10 pt.

We're not going to change the "Cap" setting, but rather we'll leave it turned on (solid) for this particular object. But we are going to change the bevel. From the pull-down list of available bevels, select the one called "Rolling," and set the bevel's height to 2 pt.

This gives us something resembling a picture frame.

One important point about bevels in Illustrator CS: If you apply a bevel to an object that has a stroke, in general you should make the bevel height no more than 40 percent the width of the stroke. (Example: with a stroke of 10 pt., the bevel height should be no more than 4 pt.) Otherwise your bevel may intersect with itself, causing geometric side effects that you might not want showing up in your artwork.

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