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Design Gift Boxes Using Illustrator's 3D Tools

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Read Time: 14 min
This post is part of a series called Christmas Illustration Content.
Quick Tip: How to Create an Ornament Illustration for a Holiday Sale
How to Create a Holiday Themed Typography Piece in Adobe Illustrator

Quickly make wrapped and unwrapped gift boxes using Illustrator's built-in 3D Extrude & Bevel effect. Learn how to make a fully editable 3D ribbon and masked 3D typography. Also, we'll be creating sparkles using Symbol Tools.

Final Image Preview

To begin with let's have a look at the image we'll be creating.

Step 1

Create our Document at 800 pixels by 600 pixels. Make sure the Units are set to pixels. Turn on Smart Guides by hitting Command + U. In our General Preferences set the Keyboard Increment to 1px.

Create a layer and give it a name of "Box Template." Then turn on Outline Mode (Command + Y), so we don't get distracted by fills and strokes.

We start with simple shapes. Draw a rectangle at 150 px by 150 px. Then select it and Duplicate it (hold Alt + Shift while dragging upwards) and set its size to 155 px by 65 px. Next, select the Pen Tool and draw the ribbon outlines following the box contours. Leave some space between the line and boxes.

Step 2

Select the ribbon outline and choose the Reflect Tool (O). Then drag the rotation center point to the bottom anchor point, as shown below. Move the cursor to lower top anchor point, and while holding Alt + Shift, move the cursor to the right or left. The ribbon path will be mirrored, duplicated, and perfectly horizontally aligned at the same time. Then Save the file.

Step 3

Now, we're going to create a second box, but this time unwrapped and uncovered. Select all elements and Alt + Shift + Drag them to the right. Remember to keep enough space between the boxes, we'll need that in the next steps. Zoom in to the right box and select the right ribbon path and delete it. Select the left ribbon path, choose the Delete Anchor Point Tool, and delete the "bow" points, as shown below.

Step 4

Use the Direct Selection Tool to modify the path, moving individual anchor points into a shape, as shown below. Duplicate and mirror the path.

Step 5

Next move the box cover path down the big box and rotate it until your result looks like the image below. The center of rotation is the bottom right endpoint on the path. Then save the file.

Step 6

The ribbons are quite sharp now, so we're going to give it a nice smooth shape by adjusting anchor points using the Convert Anchor Point Tool. Also, move the ribbon's anchor points towards the box contours, but leave some space between.

Step 7

Let's organize the elements into separate layers. Basically, each box element and each ribbon path should have its own layer. Use Cut (Command + X) and Paste in Front (Command + F) to paste elements into separate layers. Turn on Preview mode (Command + Y). Set the ribbons to solid outline (no fill) and the boxes to solid fill (no outline), and set the fill color to K=30 and outline to K=50.

Step 8

Next we'll turn 2D into 3D. Select all the objects and go to menu Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel. Set the X/Y/Z coordinate values to -10,-30, and 3 degrees. Also, set the Perspective to 50 degrees, as shown below. I highly recommend you write down all the values somewhere on the paper, since we're going to use them later. I also usually make duplicates of all the elements at this point, just a backup copy and move them somewhere off the artboard. Then save the file.

Step 9

Now, here comes the fun part of playing with colors and textures. Select "Box 1" and change its Fill color (C=85, M=50, Y=0, and K=0). Then change the "Box 1 Cover" Fill as well (C=60, M=40, Y=5, and K=0). Then change "Box 1 Ribbon 1" Outline Color (C=5, M=90, Y=75, and K=0), and use the same outline color for "Ribbon 2."

Set the fill color for "Box 2" next (C=5, M=90, Y=75, and K=0) and set the cover color thereafter (C=5, M=70, Y=90, and K=0). Then set "Box 2 Ribbons 1" and "Box 2 Ribbon 2" outline color (C=70, M=15, Y=0, and K=0). Now, you should see something similar to the image below. Don't worry about the flat look, we'll add highlights and shadows in further steps.

Step 8

Let's make some changes to the dimensions and position of the 3D models. Select "Box 1," and change the X/Y/Z values to -10, 27, and -6 degrees. Also, set the Extrude Depth to 150 degrees. Set the same values for "Box 1 Cover," "Box 2," and "Box 2 Cover 2."

Step 9

Grab the Delete Anchor Point Tool and delete all the anchor points shown below.

Step 10

Select the end anchor point and move it up till it reaches the cover box top edge.

Step 11

Select "Box 1 Ribbon 2" and move the bottom end anchor point to the right (using the Arrow Keys). Do this until it reaches right side of the box. You may want to tweak the perspective and align the geometry manually to get an even better look, so just move anchor points to required locations.

Add two more ribbon geometry by duplicating 1 & 2 and place them on individual layers "Box 1 Ribbon 3" and "Box 1 Ribbon 4." Rotate the objects around the Y axis and delete hidden anchor points to obtain a full 3D box wrapped around it with a red ribbon. Then make sure to Save.

Step 12

"Box 2" is basically made and edited the same way as "Box 1." That means setting box and box cover extrude depths to 150, duplicating ribbons to new layers, and rotating them around the Y axis. You will need to drag "Box 2 Cover," "Ribbon 2, " and "Ribbon 4" layers so they are under "Box 2 layer," as shown below.

Step 13

And again, adjusting anchor points and positioning element leads into something like on the following image.

Step 14

We need to mask the ribbon geometry under the orange cover. Draw a path and use it as a Clipping Mask to get a result like the following image. Then make sure to save your document.

Step 15

At this point, we have two gift boxes and ribbons, which are fully editable and customizable, so you can rotate them, change extrude values, perspective, move anchor points, and the results are seen in real time.

Step 16

We're going to play with lights and shades a bit. Let's say there's a point of light somewhere over the whole scene. This will help us to define highlights and shadows. First, select the "Box 1" object and double-click the 3D Extrude & Bevel layer in Appearance palette.

Make sure you have Preview turned on and click the More Options button. Follow the image below to set the values. To get a stronger contrast add more light by clicking the New Light icon. Drag those little circles over the sphere and position them so they create nice highlights and shadows.

Step 17

Apply similar settings to the light blue cover. For ribbons, set the Highlight Intensity to 90%, Highlight Size to 90%, and Blend Steps to 150 (gradients will be smoother). Notice, that I also modified anchor points using the Convert Anchor Point Tool to obtain round edges and a smoother look.

You may also try to round corners by applying the Round Corners effect from the Effect > Stylize menu. I used a 2 pixel radius for "Ribbon 2," "Ribbon 3," and "Ribbon 4." Then save the file.

Step 18

Set more lights, which will create the highlights for all remaining elements. Remember, you can always edit anchor points to smooth curves.

We're going to make the red box open. This is a bit tricky, we cannot just use the Expand Appearance command while the geometry is shaded. Illustrator renders only visible parts, so if we do this and ungroup the expanded objects, this is what we get.

Step 19

So, we make two backup copies of the red box and the orange cover. Then move them away from the artboard. One copy is a backup (in case we you decide to create more boxes with different colors and shapes). The second will be a color reference for the boxes, used on the main scene. Thus use the Expand Appearance command on one of the backup copy (expand both the red box and the orange one).

Step 20

Zoom in to the artboard, select the red box and set the Surface to Wireframe by clicking on the 3D Extrude & Bevel in the Appearance Panel, which opens up the dialogue where you can choose the settings. Do the same to the the orange box. Now, every box is made out of six planes. Expand the Appearance. Then select the red box and press Command + Shift + G six times. Do the same with the orange box.

Select top planes of the red box and set its fill to none and outline to yellow (it's only a visual clue, later we'll use this plane as a clipping mask). Then move it somewhere off the artboard. Right-click and select Release Clipping Mask. Now, select front plane, choose the Eyedropper Tool (O), and pick the red color from the front plane of the red shaded expanded box.

Step 21

Or you can just mix your own red. Notice, that rear side plane is placed over the front one. Go to Object > Arrange and choose Send Backward.

Step 22

Fill the last plane with a darker red and arrange the bottom plane to the back. Do the same to the orange box. Then save the file.

Step 23

Let's add some texture to the red box. Draw a rectangle and fill it with green. Duplicate it six times. Hold down Alt click the Add To Shape Area button in Pathfinder palette. Then duplicate the stripes pattern (we'll need a copy for side plane too). Then position the pattern object so it covers the front plane of the red box.

Step 24

Remember, when I suggested to write down all those 3D coordinates and perspective values? We'll use it now. Select the stripe pattern and apply a 3D > Rotate effect with these values -10, -30, and 3 degrees. Also, a Perspective of 50 degrees. Then Expand the Appearance.

Move the stripes to new layer, name it "Pattern." Turn the layer off by clicking the Eye Icon). Select the front plane of the red box and copy it to the clipboard Command + C. This is going to be a clipping mask. Paste it in Front (Command + F) of the pattern (make sure your active layer is Pattern).

Then Alt + Click to select both objects, right-click and choose Make Clipping Mask. Double-click to enter Isolation Mode, so we can edit the pattern colors. Expand the layer groups by clicking the arrows and click the circle icon named Compound Path. This will select the stripes geometry. Set the color to an orange to purple gradient with an Angle value of -90.

Step 25

Double-click somewhere outside the artboard to leave the Isolation mode. Then Alt + Click the "Pattern" layer and set the Transparency mode to Overlay. Click on the little arrow to expand the layers, double-click Group layer, and rename it to "Pattern 1". Select all the objects on the "Pattern" layer, Cut them, select the "Box 2" layer, and Paste them in Front. This will bring the pattern in front of the box planes, but behind the ribbon geometry.

To create a pattern on the side of the box, we use duplicated green stripes following all the steps written above, with one exception: the 3D coordinates must be modified to obtain a correct rotation and perspective. Also, set the object Transparency to Soft Light.

Step 26

Now, we'll add some shadows. This is pretty simple, create a new layer and draw some simple shapes using the Pen Tool. Then Fill them with black to white gradients and set the Transparency mode for each object separately to Multiply. I usually lock all layers except the current one to avoid adding anchor points to different paths. Draw a shadow for every single element, as shown below.

Step 27

Add a simple gradient backgrounds to give the scene depth. I used three shades of brown for the gradient. I recommend locking this layer, since we're going to work with the area.

Step 28

Next we'll fill a box with 3D typography. Create a new layer and name it "3D Text." Place some text and choose a font (I used Myriad Pro Black). Then fill it with any light color (C=30, M=0, Y=10, and K=0). Select all text you want to place in the box, apply 3D Extrude & Bevel, and hit OK. Don't bother with other settings, we'll modify them individually. Now, select each text and place them near the box hole area.

Step 29

Turn the 3D Text layer off. Select the yellow outlined plane, which should be somewhere around the artboard, place it on top of the box, and go to menu Object > Arrange > Bring to Front.

If you can't see it, check the layer's visibility. If you accidentally deleted it, just draw a new rectangle. Also, moving anchor points using Direct Selection Tool and Smart guides will help you to position and align anchor points to corners. Be sure to add some more points to the path.

Step 30

Copy the path, turn on visibility of the 3D Text layer, and paste the path to the 3D Text layer. Select all objects on this layer and make a Clipping Mask. You get something like the image below.

Step 31

Now, reveal all layers until you see two of them named "Clipping Path." Delete the second one and move the individual anchor points on the first one. You can see the result below. If you have troubles selecting points, turn off Smart guides (Command + U).

Step 32

Double-click inside the path to enter Isolation mode, so we can play with the 3D text. Move and rotate objects using 3D Extrude & Bevel effect dialog to fit it your taste. Play with the light settings, you may add more lights, as I did. This will show more contrast and depth between lights and shadows. Remember to set the Perspective value to 50. Then change colors, fonts, and save.

Step 33

Add some glow inside the box by creating a new layer above all the other layers and name it "Glow." Make a circle 100 px wide and fill it with pure white. Apply a Gaussian Blur effect with a Diameter of 50 px. Draw a Clipping Mask following the box contours. Select both objects and mask the circle with the path. Then set the object's Transparency to Soft Light and hit save.

Step 34

Create new layer, name it "Sparkles." Select the Star Tool from the Tools Palette. Click on the artboard and set the first radius to 10 px, second to 20 px, and the points to 5. Fill it with pure white. Turn on the Symbols Palette and drag the star into an empty place. When Symbol options dialog opens, set the name to "star," and Type to Graphic.

Step 35

Select the Symbol Sprayer Tool and spray the stars over the artboard.

Step 36

Select the Symbol Sizer Tool, hold down the Alt key and click over the stars to make them smaller. Use the Symbol Spinner Tool to give the stars random rotation. Go to the Symbols palette, double click the "star" symbol and fill it with a 30% yellow color. Exit Isolation mode, select objects on the "Sparkles" layer, set the Transparency mode to Overlay, and save.

Step 37

We're almost done! You can add some smooth shading to "Blue Box 1," "Blue Box 2," Orange Box 2," and "Cover 2." Just draw paths and fill them with black to white gradients and set their Transparency to Multiply.

Tip: If you plan to resize boxes, expand their appearance first. Then group the objects and modify the group at will.


We're finished! The result is below. Hope you enjoyed this tutorial on using Illustrator 3D effects, Clipping Masks, and Symbol Tools. Of course, there are a couple of other ways to achieve results like this, but using 3D tools gives you an option to freely modify and customize almost every single element in the scene. Not only once, but again, and again.

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