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Why Use Illustrator’s 3D Tools?

Updated: Jun 8

Exploring a New Dimension: Adobe Illustrator's 3D & Material Tools

In the realm of design processes, where creativity meets technology, there's a constant evolution of tools and techniques. Adobe Illustrator, a staple in the graphic design industry, has had a dedicated place in my heart ever since I realized I had more fun with vector graphics there than AutoCAD . Yet, every so often, I find myself rediscovering its capabilities, and today was one such day.

The Genesis of an Idea

16 iterations of one logo-type was not enough, so I did another 16 with an adjacent, but different take on the visual concept. While sifting through the Illustrator files filled with logo iterations for this particular project, a spark of inspiration hit me. What if these 2D logos could leap off the page, taking on a life of their own in a 3D space? The idea was tantalizing: not only could this exercise breathe new life into the design process, but it could also open doors to innovative applications for the project's collateral and iconography. The biggest incentive: I didn't need to leave the software I was working in. It would only take a short tutorial to get going.

Diving into Illustrator's 3D Toolbox

Adobe Illustrator's 3D tools, a pretty novel feature compared to the established 2D tools, are a treasure trove waiting to be unearthed. With a few clicks, I was able to give depth and dynamism to the logos, transforming them from flat designs into tangible, three-dimensional entities.

The process was surprisingly intuitive. By simply selecting a logo and navigating to the 3D options, I could tweak the rotation, perspective, and depth. The real magic, however, lay in the material tools. These allowed me to play with lighting, shading, and texture, adding a layer of realism to the designs.

The big win here though, is that each view of a 3D object can be panned, rotated, and modified on its own. In typical 3D software, you navigate the view in an overall 3D world space. Meaning, you always need to keep a certain view to go back to in order to properly compare design iterations.

The Tools & Settings

To show some detail on the tool, I've added below the settings I used for each type of 3D transform that converted these four squares into abstract shapes. You can access the 3D and Materials window through the Window section of the menu bar.

You can click on these images to zoom in and get into the weeds. The best thing is to just open up a new file and start playing with the sliders to get acquainted with how each setting tailors to a specific result on a simple shape. When using multiple shapes, make sure to group them together before turning them into 3D.

Materials & Lighting

The Window also has two other sections, for materials and lighting. This takes the 3D asset a step further by providing the option for stylized and photorealistic results.

Beyond Aesthetics: The Practical Implications

While the visual transformation was undoubtedly captivating, the exercise's true value lay in its exploratory process of what the potential is behind a conceptual idea. The final logo I designed does not seem to be directly related to these icons, but the "AHA" moment did come about thanks to the conceptual exploration. Plus, these 3D logos could be seamlessly integrated into various aspects of the project:

1. Iconography: The depth and texture added a unique flair to icons, making them stand out while ensuring brand consistency.

2. Collateral: Whether it's business cards, brochures, or digital assets, the 3D logos added a touch of sophistication and modernity.

3. Idea Exploration: Viewing the logos in 3D offered fresh perspectives, leading to new design ideas and iterations.

Overcoming Design Romanticism

In our pursuit of design perfection, we often get ensnared in the allure of traditional methods. There's a certain romanticism attached to the "old ways" of doing things. But today's exercise was a gentle reminder that innovation doesn't negate tradition; it builds upon it. By embracing Illustrator's 3D tools, I wasn't discarding the foundational principles of design.

Final Thoughts

Adobe Illustrator, with its growing spectrum of tools, is a testament to the ever-evolving nature of design. The 3D capabilities explored were not just an exercise in aesthetics but a journey of discovery. It reinforced the idea that design tools, no matter how familiar, hold secrets waiting to be discovered. As designers, our task is to continually seek, explore, and innovate, for in this quest lies the essence of true creativity.

Little bonus to the post, the tutorial I watched to get going is from the beloved Satori Graphics channel:


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