Turn a Boring Bar Graph into a 3D Masterpiece

Tutorial Details
• Program: Illustrator
• Difficulty: Intermediate
• Completion Time: 1 hour

Final Product What You'll Be Creating

This entry is part 12 of 16 in the Infographic Design Session
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In this tutorial, you’ll learn to plot an accurate bar graph using Adobe Illustrator’s Graph Tool. We’ll also render the graph to give it additional visual appeal. Successful completion of this tutorial requires an intermediate knowledge of Illustrators tools. Let’s get started!

Republished Tutorial

Every few weeks, we revisit some of our reader's favorite posts from throughout the history of the site. This tutorial was first published in October of 2008.

Step 1

Double click on the Column Graph Tool (J). The dialog box that opens up will give you several options that you can tailor to your liking. We have decided to keep all the options standard. If you don’t want to change any options, simply click OK.

Step 2

With the Column Graph Tool selected, click and drag on your Artboard to draw where the graph will fall. Enter the information from left to right. The units of measure on the left side will be automatically adjusted depending on what values you enter into your graph. Click the check box in the upper right corner when you are finished.

Step 3

Our final outcome will require the graph to have depth and perspective, but the numbers on the side will only have perspective. In order to accomplish this, we will need to apply the 3D setting to the numbers and the graph separately. Duplicate the graph and numbers. Keep one copy off to the side. Ungroup the graph so that you can delete the numbers from the side. You will get an alert dialog that tells you graphs cannot be edited once they are ungrouped. Click OK.

Step 4

Delete the numbers from the side and give your graph a light grey fill and remove the thin black outline.

Step 5

Select the graph and go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel… Enter the variables shown below to achieve the look I’ve detailed. Feel free to experiment with different angles and perspective to make it look like you want it to. Make note of the values you enter, as you will need to use them again in a later step.

Step 6

Go to Object > Expand Appearance.

Step 7

Go to Object > Ungroup. You may have to repeat this step several times to fully ungroup all the pieces.

Step 8

Illustrator has built-in gradients that you can choose from. This makes it very convenient to pick colors that look good without much effort. To open the gradients swatches go to Window > Swatch Libraries > Gradients > Brights. Select each segment of the graph and give it a gradient fill.

Step 9

Notice that I have chosen to give the green column a slightly darker color where it meets the yellow column. This will give the impression of the side of the green column being in shadow.

Step 10

We’ll give the columns a reflection by using the Pen Tool (P) to draw a shape with no fill that cuts through the graph.

Step 11

Select the shape you just drew as well as the face of each column that the shape cuts through. Click Divide in the Pathfinder (highlighted below.) Go to Object > Ungroup to ungroup your objects. Delete the unnecessary shapes around the edges.

Step 12

Adjust the gradient on the face of each column to replicate the reflection shown below.

Step 13

Make a drop shadow by drawing a rectangle by hand that matches the angle of the columns. Give the rectangle a blur by going to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Step 14

Place your drop shadow behind the graph. Below is what your artwork should look like right now.

Step 15

Add extra interest to the graph by giving each edge of the graph highlights. Simply use the Pen Tool (P) and make thin lines that are slightly wider in the center and taper down to a point.

Step 16

Make whimsical sparkles by drawing an ellipse using the Ellipse Tool (L), then distorting the ellipse by going to Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker & Bloat… Enter a negative number and click OK.

Step 17

Rotate the sparkles and place them in moderation throughout the illustration. Give some sparkles less Opacity by using the Transparency Palette.

Step 18

Add a haze around each sparkle by drawing a white ellipse using the Ellipse Tool (L) and giving it a blur by going to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Step 19

Retrieve the copy of the graph that was off to the side and use only the numbers now. Since the graph will be 3D and have perspective it will be imperative that we extend the lines across the columns so it’s easy to read the graph when it’s complete. Using the Pen Tool (P) draw a line across each number and give it a Dashed Line with a 10 pt Weight.

Step 20

Draw another dashed line but this time give it a Weight of 1 pt.

Step 21

We’ll make the other 4 lines that extend from the numbers 30 through 120 by selecting the two dashed lines you just drew and going to Object > Blend > Blend Options… Under the Spacing drop down menu select Specified Steps and enter 4 (where 4 is the amount of numbers on the left side of my graph that do not yet have dashed lines extending from them) and click OK. The second image below shows the result you will end up with.

Step 22

Enter the values you used to create the 3D column, with the exception of entering a number for the Extrude Depth. This number should be 0. If once you add perspective to your graph and some of the lines are not showing up (see last image in this step for an example) simply use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and select an endpoint of the line that extends from the number 0 and increase it’s weight until all the lines become visible.

Step 23

Reposition the graph over the columns using the center line highlighted below as a guide to insure the graph is perfectly positioned.

Step 24

Adjust the transparency of the lines on the graph to give it a little more visual appeal.

Step 25

Add Some type below the graph to complete the design. If you have been using your own 3D variables throughout this tutorial simply experiment with rotating the cube in the 3D Extrude & Bevel dialog until it matches the angle and perspective of the columns. You can continue to adjust the angle and perspective even after you click OK. To make adjustments once you have clicked OK, go to the Appearance Palette and double-click on the effect you want to edit.

Final Image

This is what your final graph should look like. Now, the next time you need to include a boring graph in one of your designs you’ll be able to add some extra emphasis and get people to really pay attention to those numbers!

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Tuts is Always Rock I really learned Lot of things some days i Stick with
PSD tuts all the time now i am learning illustrator i Have never Use this befor THIS tutorial really helps me Thanks PSD HOLE team ,keep up Guys
…………………………..psdrocks.

• Akumalatenshi

I like the tutor a much. It’s not waste for someone like me just to make the layout publishing become more cheerful :)

• http://tuts.cgbaran.com CgBaran Tuts

Great tutorial and useful technique

• Kris

SUCH SNOBS.

Doesn’t convey the information. Ill NEVER use this. Blah blah BLAH.

I just used this technique for a chart within a book. I didn’t use the bars as they were impractical for what I was doing. I used lines.

Does it matter? NO. The effect is there and the information is sound.

This tutorial is great! Keep up the great work!

• http://www.plugo.cz Jiri Melcak

Thanks very much.

I made my own for our application and it is very very beautiful.

• Bv

This tutorial was very helpfull for a statistical report cover i had to do. Thanx.

• deziner

I think it’s amazing and I thank you for sharing this. With 72 pages of nothing but graphs, I think this makes for a nice change.

• http://www.decart-design.com Peter

Super tutorial! I like it! Thanx, very usefull :)

• http://www.r2design.info aGS

Great results! I like a lot. Thank you for the inspiration.

• ann

perfect….

• http://hobyt.wordpress.com hobyt

great!

nice tuts, these gives my graph more cool

• Detina

Great… Thanx…

• Nicolas

I’m stuck in step 5. My 3D does not look the same at all. My one is much too “deep”. Maybe 365 pt are too much? With 55pt it looks a bit better, but the lighting isn’t the same in no case… Maybe switch on the “more options” channel?

• Kay

Maybe you need to remove the stroke from around the bars completely. That’s one issue I had. :)

• Gautam Jana

Nice Tutorial….

• http://Chachi101 Racquel

…….AWESOME!

• deroptard

why the hell can’t I ungroup my graph? I have cs3, all of the options for ‘object’ are grayed out.

nice artwrk

• Kay

I love this graph tutorial. I’m actually in the process of making one right now, But I’m completely stuck at steps 19-20. I’m using CS4 and the Blend Options portion isn’t giving me the supposed end result. I must somehow be missing a step but I have no idea how that would be the case. Help anyone?

• Liz

Instead of Object>Blend>Blend Options, go to Object>Blend> Make

• vhal

To ungroup the graph, close the data window, or the cursor will bring you insde the data mods

• Toskydao

It’s very nice, thanks

• Monava

Thanks… a lot!

• george

same problems as kay – mine is CS5 and blending does not give the same results.

• Liz

Go to Object>Blend> Make

• http://fmcpdesign.com FMcP Design

Thanks for the nice little tute. Who said ever said that corporate design had to look so dull.

• NE

Wonderful. I just used it for work and it looks great. Easy and useful and very versatile.

• Manoj

Very nice I am very much delighted that I could see very nice GR8 work done

• James-Alex Matthews

Awesome!

• Maria

In your experience, is there a way to do 3-D graphs without ungrouping the graph? I have 16 graphs to do in an annual report and the data tends to change, so I need to know if these graphs are updateable once the design is done. If not, how can I do 3D graphs that are updateable?

• http://bucketothought.com/loungekat/blog/ LoungeKat

I’m not sure about 3D, but I was able to use the direct selection tool and apply a graphic style to the graph that updated when I updated the data. I guess you can apply a 3D appearance style and it will also update. I’ll have to look into this further.

• James

Perfect!

• MAX

I ned help with the graph step 22 its always telling me i wouldnt have enough memory i run win7 with 8gb and a gtx560 with 1 gig never ever had trouble before maybee i did something wrong would be nice to get some info on this thanks in advance

• http://bucketothought.com/loungekat/blog/ LoungeKat

Hmm, you might want to check your disc options in the program options dialogue.

Thanks alot friend, i just made it for an assignment to use info graphics in newspaper. I did this for Business. :)

• AxL Leong

Big thanks pal! Very nice tut :D

• tjSTUDIO

Wish I could load an image in the comments. Thanks for the great tutorial. Slammin’ results.

• JT

This is insane. Why not just put a picture of Anne Hathaway if all you want is something pretty? Because this plot conveys no accurate information. All you’ve done is obscure the data. For instance, what is the value of the red bar? It seems it could be less than 30 or greater than 60!

• Dude

I agree with you. Took alone the graph is nice but totally useless in terms of productivity and information. The perspective is totally misleading causing the user to get lost. And if you think about a graph has to be clear and it has to communicate data, numbers, in this case it’s a failure.

• Arcendus

Remember, however, that there is a time and a place for both applications. While this may not be suited to what you require, it is suited to the needs of some others.

• nmgmarques

I love this tutorial and have used it for a couple of graphs now. But I always run into the same issue. My lines in the text portion (horizontal value lines) never end up parallel to my bar edges. They are always off by a couple of degrees and I always have to manually correct this. I think the perspective for graph / text although same vales have different results on account of one being taller than the other.

• Arcendus

Same issue here, always end up having to manually adjust the end points of the lines to get the angle correct.

• http://boiseriders.net/blogs/jrt0919 Antone Clendenon blogs

Great Stuff, do you have a twitter profile?

• Arcendus

Simple solution – knock the opacity of all the sides back to 50% while leaving the faces at 100%. Then it’s pretty clear where the values lie. In any case, yes it isn’t suited for the micro-decimal types, but this works just fine for general visualizations.