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3D Charts in Adobe Illustrator CS

Adding transparency and depth to graphs By Dave Nagel
The default graph styles in Adobe Illustrator aren't exactly awe-inspiring. Come to think of it, graphs in general are pretty boring. But they can be critical for conveying information to an audience with a short attention span. So, when the marketing department hands you some data to "jazz up" for a meeting or your editor hands you a table to format for a sidebar, it's your God-given duty as a designer to get that thing into some semblance of presentability or die trying.

One popular way to do this, of course, is to generate 3D graphs to create a sense of depth in the image. We'll take this a step further in Illustrator CS by creating a 3D pie chart with transparency and highlights to make the graphic look like semi-opaque plastic. And we'll create a graphic style out of it so that it can be reused on future projects. Best of all, throughout the process, our chart will remain fully editable so that we can change the data in our chart and re-apply our 3D style at will. Note, however, that the transparency in our style, in which the back faces of the graph elements are visible, can be applied only to a pie chart. Other types of charts will have to be expanded (converted to a non-chart element) in order to apply transparency in this manner.

Here's a look at the type of effect we're going for.

Creating the chart
1. To begin, create your chart using the Pie Graph tool, which is selected from the Tools palette. When you select this tool, draw a rectangle on your canvas to represent the area where the graph will be created. When you do, the Data window will pop up. Enter your numbers, or click on the Import Data button in the Data window to import numbers from a text file.

For my example, I'm going to keep things simple and use a single row of data with just three columns.

This gives me a simple, three-wedge pie chart.

2. With the chart selected, change the outline to "None." This is a critical step because it affects the way our 3D effect will be applied to the chart. If you have an outline, the extrusion of the chart will be the color of that outline, which we don't want.

3. Next, select the Direct Selection tool (keyboard shortcut A), and use it to select the individual slices in the pie. When an individual slice is selected, you can change its color using the Color palette or the Swatches palette.

You can also use the Direct Selection tool to dislodge the wedges and rearrange them however you want. (You will be abl to fine tune this later on after the 3D effect is applied.)

You're now almost ready to create the 3D effect.

Preparing transparency
4. If you wish to use transparency in your graphic in conjunction with your 3D effect--in other words, make your graph clear so that you can see the back sides of the objects--there are two preliminary steps you must take.

The first of these, of course, is to set transparency. Again, you will be able to fine-tune this later on, but for now, select the entire object, and, in the Transparency palette, change the Opacity to 45 percent.

5. Then, critically, you must Group these objects (Command-G), even though they're already grouped together. When you do this, the individual elements will retain their 45 percent Opacity, but the Transparency will show the group itself as having a 100 percent Opacity. Weird, but that's how it works.

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Related Keywords:adobe illustrator, charts, graphs, pie chart, pie graph, 3d graph, transparency, bevel

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  • 3D Charts in Adobe Illustrator CS by DMN Editorial at Mar. 30, 2005 11:28 pm gmt (Rec'd 5)

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