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Create a Can of Beans by Mapping Vectors to a 3D Object

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Illustrator has offered a range of 3D tools for some time and this tutorial aims to get you started familiarizing yourself with them. We'll be creating a can of beans, built entirely from vectors, using the Symbols palette, the Extrude tool and Illustrator's Image Mapping. Enjoy!

Final image

To begin with let's have a look at the image we'll be creating. This tutorial focuses on showing how to Map Artwork to a 3D object in Illustrator. It assumes some basic knowledge of Illustrator.

Step 1

Create a rectangle 400px high by 900px wide. Fill it with whatever design you wish (I appreciate not everyone feels the same way about baked beans as I do) and group it together.

Step 2

I've created a second group of vectors to make a simple pattern for the can top. A few rings of equal thickness and a pull-tag (or whatever they're called) with a combined height and width of 230px.

Step 3

Now we need a circle which will become the basis for our can. Set it to 250 px diameter and a shade of #D3D2D1.

Step 4

We now have our three elements; a "Bean Can" label, a "Can Top," and a circle. Next we need to make the label available for applying to a 3D surface. Open the symbols palette (Window > Symbols) and drag the label into the window.

Step 5

The label is now a symbol and can be accessed for all manner of uses. The original instance of the label can be deleted from the artboard (to keep things clean). If you ever want to play with it again, just drag a copy from the symbols window back onto the page.

Double-click on it's icon to open the Symbol Options. Give the symbol a name, such as "Bean Can." This will make it identifiable should you have a number of symbols in the list.

Step 6

Repeat the last two steps for the "Can Top" object, making it available as a symbol.

Step 7

Now it starts to get interesting! Select the circle you made earlier. Then go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. This opens up the 3D Extrude & Bevel Options dialogue.

Step 8

Extrusion is the simpler of the 3D options Illustrator offers. It basically stretches the selected 2D object (or group of objects) along one axis. To begin with we'll concentrate on just three of the options as highlighted in the image below.

  • Rotation: can be specified by entering values or by dragging the cube manually with the mouse cursor.
  • Perspective: again, can be entered with the keyboard or dragged with the mouse to get the value you want.
  • Extrude Depth: determines how far along the axis your original shape will be stretched.

Fill in the values below to get the same effect as the can in this example. Keep in mind, that if you have Preview selected, alterations you make to the values will need more time to take effect as Illustrator renders the object after each change.

Step 9

For this step it's easiest if you have Preview selected. Click on Map Art within the 3D Extrude & Bevel Options dialogue to open up another dialogue.

Map Art allows you to cover your object's surfaces with symbols from the Symbols palette. Search through the object's surfaces using the arrows (as highlighted) until you reach the Side of the Can. You'll see the surfaces on your object being highlighted to show you exactly what you're about to cover. In the case of an extruded circle, you'll have just three surfaces to choose from, which keeps this relatively simple.

Step 10

Next we need to select our "Bean Can" symbol from the drop-down, which will Map our label around the can. Click on Scale to Fit forcing the image to match the dimensions of our object. Then select Shade Artwork (which results in even slower rendering) for that 3D feel.

It's also likely that Illustrator will have rendered your symbol upside down which it often does when dealing with cylinders. Should this be the case, just rotate the image within the Map Art dialogue by dragging one of the corners.

Step 11

Repeat the previous steps to Map your "Can Top" image. Select the correct surface, choose your "Can Top" symbol from the drop-down and scale/rotate into the desired position. Once you're happy with the Mapping, click OK to return to the 3D Extrude & Bevel Options dialogue.

Step 12

This step isn't vital, but introduces you to further options available with Illustrator's 3D tools (and finishes the job off nicely).

Click on More Options to expand the Options dialogue. You'll be presented with options for altering the lighting on your object; light intensities, light positions, number of light sources, etc. In this case, drag the only current light source further to the right of the object (see image below). In doing this, you'll create a greater lighting contrast on the object. Then click OK.


Should you wish to edit the 3D options of your object (perhaps revolve it to see the reverse) open the Appearance window (Window > Appearance). Then click on the 3D Extrude & Bevel attribute in the list. You'll be taken back to the 3D Extrude & Bevel Options dialogue.


You should now be the proud owner of a fully scaleable, vector-based, 3D can of beans! Following these steps has given you a good introduction to the 3D capabilities of Illustrator, which are excellent for manipulating vectors. If you work with different 3D objects, symbols, and settings, you'll find the possibilities limitless! If you ask questions or leave comments, I'll answer them, as I'd like to improve on my teaching skills.

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