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I was once talking with a friend of mine who happens to be a photographer and he was telling me that one of the most important aspects of photography is not necessarily the camera or the subject, but the lighting. And in reality the same can be said about working with 3D inside of Illustrator. In fact, we're going to talk about two different settings here that control the final result of what your artwork looks like. One of them is the surface properties, meaning what materials your object is made up. Is it a very shiny or glossy or highly reflective material? Is it a matte or flat surface that doesn't reflect light so much? Things like that. And also ultimately the light that you shine on your object.
To better demonstrate these particular features, I'm going to be using this Frisbee example and I'm going to be using a Revolve setting, just because it happens to be that this shape has lots of curves and settings that really show off some of the settings that you can't really see when you use an Extrude setting. But everything that we learn here with lighting and shading that applies to the Revolve effect also applies to the Extrude effect as well. So I'm going to start by selecting this object. I'm actually going to move my artboard a little bit to the left here, so I have some room to see the dialog box. I'm going to choose Effect > 3D and then I'll choose Revolve. I'll click on the Preview button and now you can see my Frisbee right here. Now you can see over here in the bottom where it says Surface, right now it's using something called Plastic Shading.
In fact you will find four options for shading inside of an Illustrator. One called Wireframe, No Shading, Diffuse Shading and then the final one, which is being used right now called Plastic Shading. But these four settings are really just the tip of the iceberg. I'm going to come over here to this button that says More Options. I'm going to click on it to reveal the entire surface area that I can see here for controlling the shading of my 3D objects inside of Illustrator. Let's start with the basic option here called Wireframe. Wireframe basically just gives me the actual wireframe that was created to create the geometry of that 3D shape. It's pretty cool and there can be many cool graphic applications for using these wireframes. Now you can't actually change the actual stroke width of these objects, in order to do so you will need to actually apply the 3D Revolve effect and then expand it. In doing so you will get all the strokes that you could change to anything you want to, just like you can adjust regular artwork inside of an Illustrator.
However, by default Illustrator always uses the quarter point's width for this particular stroke that is using to draw these wireframes. When you choose the Wireframe option, there are no other additional options available. Let's take a look at the next one. It's called No Shading at all. Now, No Shading just simply uses just the regular plain solid fill that you have used to apply it overall to the entire object. Now it looks like nothing here, but again if I go and I click OK right now and I expand my artwork, I'll have all the geometry that I could use to shade on my own. Again, this option might be useful if I wanted to maybe bring this artwork into Flash or I want be able to apply shading using gradients or something else for that matter.
However, the two settings that you use most often are probably going to be these two right here: Diffuse Shading and Plastic Shading. If you think about this, for example, the Diffuse Shading is simply a matte object or an object that has a flat surface or I would say not a reflective surface. And then the Plastic Shading basically refers to an object that has a reflective surface. Think of plastic or glass or metal or something like that. So let's first take a look at the Plastic Shading, which happens to be the default setting inside of Illustrator. The first thing you will notice is this little box here on the left side over here which actually controls the light that you are shining on to your object. Notice that you have this sphere which represents your object. Again, think of the same thing as this cube that you have right here, but in this case it's a sphere. And you have a single light that is now shining from the upper right-hand corner of the object directly on to the object itself.
The settings for this light appears on the right side over here. For example, right now, where it says Light Intensity, it's set to 100%. But if I wanted to kind of pull back some of that light, I wanted to make it that the light was not as bright but maybe a little bit more dim than it is right now, I could change the Intensity down to maybe 50%. If you take a look over here, I hit the Tab key to accept that value. I no longer have a bright object; my object kind of got a bit darker, notice, because I don't have a bright enough light hitting that particular object. Let me change the Intensity here back to 100% to bring it back to where it was before.
Now you also have the ability to control the brightness of all surfaces uniformly or what we call the Ambient Light. For example, choosing 100% brightens up the entire object overall, but doesn't let me really see the detail of the shading. Again, I'll return the Ambient setting back to 50%. Now the Highlight Intensity over here basically determines how intense that highlight is on the shape itself. If you want to think about a light that I'm shining on the object, do I have a light that basically expands a lot? Or think about the difference between maybe a floodlight and a spotlight. A floodlight might throw the light across the entire surface of my object, but a spotlight might aim light directly in a certain area.
A high Highlight Intensity would act more like a spotlight where as a low Intensity would actually act more like floodlight. I can also control the Highlight Size, which would again control how big that highlight is or if I look at a Frisbee over here, this area that's being seen right here as the highlight. Finally, at the bottom of the list here is something called Blend Steps. This is an incredibly important setting when using 3D inside of Illustrator. Now if I take a look at the shading that's going on over here, I might think that Illustrator is using gradients to be able to create those areas, but in reality Illustrator is using blends and that's because some of the contours that you create in your objects, it's much easier and more realistic for Illustrator to use blends.
However, the way that blends work inside of Illustrator is I have a specified number of steps in those blends. I start off with one shape and then I gradually morph that into another shape to create this shading. The higher the number of steps in my blend, the smoother that my blend appears, but there is a catch. The more steps that you have in your blend, the more complex your file is. And likewise, the longer it takes to render your 3D artwork, which is really why by default Illustrator uses a value of 25 for the blend steps. But I'll tell you that in real production, 25 blend steps is simply not enough.
In fact, if you take a close look at that Frisbee that's right over here, you can see that in this area where the highlight is and in this area as well, you start to see these distinct areas or these steps where the color shifts or changes. To get a better looking 3D object, you will want to change that Blend Steps setting to something upwards of 200. And you will notice that now the color is far smoother. The downside is that it's going to take a lot longer to render this artwork and work with my 3D shapes in general. So what I generally do is I leave my Blend Steps set to 25 as I'm working. In this case here I get really zippy performance but when it comes time to actually export or print my document, what I'll do is I'll then go into the 3D effect and I'll crank that Blend Steps settings up to like 225 or more.
In that way I know that I'll always get the best possible results on output. So let's take a closer look at what the settings are of the actual light itself. Now right now the light is shining on the upper right hand part of the object but because of the rotation that I have I may want to shine the light on a different part of the object. To do so, I simply take the light itself and click and drag on it to change its position. When I release the mouse, you'll see where the lighting updates. I could hold down the Shift key as I drag this around, but again depending on the performance of your system, you may see real-time results or you may have to wait a while until it updates. Now, Illustrator does have the ability to add multiple lights to a single object.
See right now, I have a single highlight in my piece of artwork, but what I could do is I can click on this button over here to add a new light. Now I have two lights shine on my object. I can actually have one light hitting it from this side of the object and one from this side of the object. As you can see I now have a highlight on this side and a highlight on this side of the object. So I really have complete control over how I light my object. I also have the ability to click on any light and send it to the back, behind the surface. In this case if I rotate my artwork so that I can see the back of the object, I can see that I have a highlight in that particular area because I have a light shining to the back of the object. If I realize I don't want the light that I had added, I can simply click on it to select it and click on the Trash Can to delete that particular light.
Let me change this back to Off-Axis Front setting. And we'll take a look at this setting over here called Shading Color. By default, Illustrator took my regular color and simply created darker areas by adding black to that red color. However, I could choose to use a different color for shading. Instead of black, I could use any other color, I could either choose None or I could choose Custom. And when I do so I get a little box that I can click on that brings up a color picker that I could choose another color for shading. Choosing a color other than black is almost the same as you were shining a different colored light on your object. I'll click Cancel though and leave it set to black for now.
So we have explored all these settings for lighting, let's take a look over here at the Diffuse Shading option. So if you take a look over here on the right side I have Light Intensity, Ambient Light, Highlight Intensity and Highlight Size. The really only difference between the Plastic Shading and Diffuse Shading is that Diffuse Shading does not have a highlight at all, so no intensity and no size. The result is an object that appears to have a matte or flat surface as opposed to a reflective surface like the Plastic Shading does. So finally there is one setting here on the lower left-hand corner called Preserve Spot Colors. Now if you are working with an object, in this case here I chose a regular CMYK red color for the fill of my object, but say that was Pantone 185. If I wanted to preserve this artwork and I wanted to actually print it using Spot Colors and I wanted the red to print in Pantone 185, what I can do is I can check on that box. As long as my Shade Color is set to black, the black that's added to create the shading here will actually be defined as overprint inside of Illustrator.
Now I'll need to activate the overprint preview setting inside of Illustrator to see that but when I print it that will print correctly using two colors. In closing, I'll tell you that when I'm working inside of 3D inside of Illustrator, based on my experience, I spend the most time in this little surface area controlling the lighting and the settings of my surface of my object, more so than anything else in the 3D dialog box. Between the lighting settings that you use and even more importantly, the number of Blends Step that you specify, you could change a regular plain 3D object into something truly spectacular.
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