For many designers, using 3D authoring tools can be difficult to handle. It wasn’t until a few years ago that 3D tools were available in Illustrator. This tutorial will cover how to create 3D text without using the the 3D tool. Here is a demo of what our end project will look like.

3D text without using the 3D Tool

Step 1

Setup your document and pick a good thick weight font for your text. We used Arial Bold. Go ahead and pick three complimentary colors to help define the shading values of the 3D object you will be creating. It is always a good choice to start with one color and pick a lighter version and a darker version of that color.

3D Text Step 1

Step 2

Next, we will need to setup a reference point where our bevel will start and end. We will then fill in the empty gaps, essentially linking the two together. Select your type and go to Object < Expand to turn it into a shape and go to Effect < Distort & Transform < Transform. Change the Horizontal and Vertical Values in the Move section and make 1 Copy and select OK. You should now see two text shapes. Again you must Expand the object to break them from the effect and then Ungroup (Ctrl+Shift+G / Cmd+Shift+G) to separate the two shapes.

3D Text Step 2

Step 3

You should now have a foreground shape and a background shape. Change the color of the foreground shape to something different so you can distinguish between the two. You will now use the Pen Tool (P) to draw the shapes necessary to define the extruding 3D effect. To make it easier to have the lines meet up, you can turn on Smart Guides (Ctrl+U / Cmd + U) to help you accurately draw the perspective.

3D Text Step 3

Step 4

Continue tracing the outlines of your text until it is completely filled out. Your work should look similar to the image below.

3D Text Step 4

Step 5

If you have any rounded characters like S, O, R, or P, you may notice that it may be difficult to get perfect rounded corners. Let’s look at how we did the “S” in Atoms more closely. We see that there are three beveled sides to the letter “S”. It is easier to first separate these parts and then place them back. This will allow us more control over each shape. Take the “S” (along with the bottom “S”) and Copy/Paste it. Select the new copy and use the Pathfinder Panel to Subtract the top “S” from the bottom “S” leaving you three shapes to work with. Place those new shapes back to continue create the beveled shapes.

3D text Step 5

Step 6

Another thing you may have noticed is that on the letter “0″, the curves do not match up and are not smooth. Simply use the Convert Anchor Point (Ctrl+V / Cmd+V) and Direct Select Tool (A) to move the anchor point and adjust the curve.

3D text Step 6

Step 7

When you have completed outlining the Bevel, we will add a shadow to give the font more depth. Select the top most shape (aka our original text) and go to the appearance panel. Here you can select the FX button and go to Stylize < Drop Shadow to add a drop shadow.

3D text Step 7

Wrapping It Up

Using this technique can be used as a great alternative to creating 3D type. Many people may find it bothersome and take to long to render 3D type and will find this as a more suitable solution. This can also be a good solution when transferring your vectors to Photoshop as sometimes Photoshop does not render 3D vectors that well.