# 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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• Jim Cabus

lol ! Vectortutus ! :-) But yet again, another great Tutorial !

• Eduardo

Very nice design, but not to readable. we must take care about the accessibility, but i love it!

• http://www.imagehdr.com/ Spinal

Yeha ! It looks very professional but too much gloss I think !
Thnx for sharing :).

• http://vectips.com Rype

I really like this tut! I don’t use the Graph Tool that much, I just learned something!

• http://interaktion.info Niklas

Well done, nice tutorial, I will however never use this. A look at the graphs tells me that the value of the yellow gar looks to be 2x the red when it in fact should be >3x the value. This is a prime example why 3D graphs are impractical för data in two dimensions.

• Marek

VECTORTUTUS? Final image..

• http://manuelressel.com Manuel

Yes, a bit less gloss and it looks great. Nice tutorial.

• http://www.zitrusfrisch.de Daniel

VectorTutus, I see… ;-) Very nice tutorial though.

The techniques are nice, however I won’t recommend doing this to a “boring” graph just to make it look visually appealing. This amounts to “chartjunk” as described by Tufte, and it does not add any communicative value. Actually it makes the graph more difficult to read. I am all for visual explanation, but I believe that the 2D graph is superior.

• http://ndezigns.com Nate

Dang, this is really hot. Looks very clean, professional, and just down right amazing. Thanks!

• Pressure

tutus??

• http://www.djosus.com David Andres Perez Valderrama

why does it says “VECTORTUTUS”???

• http://www.anotherblog.co.uk/ Andrew Pryde

I would have to agree with Umesh it is visually appealing but serves no constructive purpose in terms of conveying the information required.

Andrew

• http://coolvectors.com Vector Graphics

hey you can use these effects anywhere, not with graphics, so please stop with criticism. Thank you Jonathan!

• mave

I like the effect, but agree that informationally it does nothing to help highlight or communicate anything. Still, I’m sure many people will enjoy using the techniques for other purposes.

BTW – There is a typo in your graphic. It says “Vectortutus” instead of “Vectortuts”. :^)

• http://behance.net/alexbeltechi Alex Beltechi

the “vectortutus” typo is pretty funny :P

pretty cool.

• http://aiburn.com Sean Hodge

Woops. I missed that typo. We’ll have it corrected as soon as possible. Thx.

• http://aiburn.com Sean Hodge

@Umesh – Thanks for bringing up this relevant topic. Here are a few of my opinions on it:

Graphic information design principles and other business needs will collide. This technique is appropriate more for illustrations, as it doesn’t help clarify the data. It should be used with care and consideration of the intended use. It does, however, add communicative value though, not to the data itself, but rather emotive value. It’s visually exciting.

This emotive value should be weighed against the need to read the data quickly, clearly, and concisely. There are times that the data is simple and the branding and impact of the graphic are more important overall for the intended use, as in an illustration.

I don’t believe Tufte has written about the weight of branding and emotive value versus graphic information design principles. He approaches graphic information design as an isolated discipline in his books. I do recommend everyone read his books to learn how to present data with clarity. It’s often up to you to make a judgement call in your work though. There are times that this technique would be unnecessary “chartjunk” and there are appropriate uses for this technique as well. Thx.

• Jonathan

You guys didn’t hear? They’re changing the name to “Vectortutus” j/k

Anyhow, I just thought the tut was different so I went with it. Can’t fault me for trying right?

Thank you Vector Graphics, I appreciate the support. And thank you to everyone else.

Sean, what can I say, ‘you da man’!

• http://QVectors.com QVectors

Ok everyone noticed the typo and forgot how cool the end result is :D i wouldn’t use it as a real graph though.. maybe for an icon yes.

• Runa

Sorry, but the angles aren’t correct. The 150 ist neither lyring nor standing.

• http://www.instantshift.com Roshan

Nice tutorial, I will probably never try this on my website for atleast showing stats.

I think graph represents data and it should be simpler to understand and visualize. In 3D is more confusing about values and comparisons but its a great tutorial to know how to make things 3D shiny in illustrator. :)

Sorry to disagree but its an equally quality post and I appreciate your efforts. thank you.

Roshan
Freelance Developer
http://www.instantshift.com

• http://behance.net/alexbeltechi Alex Beltechi

Don’t worry about the typo, Jonathan. I’m probably doomed to do the same thing sometime soon in a tut…

Overall, I think it serves the purpose you pointed out in the title. It makes it interesting, indeed. And in that direction, it sure does look great. Personally, I would have made a more subtle angle, but I’m sure everyone has their own preference, which applies to just about every tutorial. That’s why it’s a tut: you apply what you like.

Good work!

• http://www.behance.net/rabbit_hoang rabbit.hoang

nice effect. I’m also doing like this for my project. thanks for this tutor.

• svEe

this tut helped me create a cityscape scene… which didnt quite turn out the way i wanted it to, but still i try! :P

• http://www.ilovelegion.com Spartacus

Why is it so hard to look past the example used in a tutorial to the possibilities of using this in other ways?

Everyone’s bitchin’ about how you can’t read the graph and how much easier it is to read in 2d but why shouldn’t something dull be brought to live and made to stand out – it’s hardly creating a picaso of the original and it’s not the most hardcore of graphs in the first place!

Maybe some readers stumbling across this will learn to use the 3d tools in illustrator and learn something which is what the tutes are about.

• andi

lose the ghastly bling shines and we have a nice graph

• http://www.designendrukwerk.nl Lil-T

Vectortutus ?

Nice

• r4ge

very nice!

• http://mokshasolutions.com Moksha

nice i tried it and made a icon of it, still look good,
thanks

• Jonathan

• http://www.studiografiko.com Grafiko

It is a nice tutorial. I may use those techniques for other applications.

There are some issues with the angles and presenting information like that can create confusion in the interpretation of the data.

• sc

i think its great for simple graphs, especially to emphasize information along the y-axis. might be unreadable for more complex data. but then new kinds of mashed up data is being created all the time that might become best read in 3D

• Raw

Frst of, nice tut! :)
Second… like some of you mentioned, what’s from stopping someone from learning from this tutorial, it’s not necessarily important how readable the graph is. I could place this kind of graphic element in an add (printed and going out via regular mail) to point out changes in a market or whatever and not have a need for the actual graph content to be “exact”.

I agree that this would be strange to use at a, lets say board meeting, but it’s still very usable.

Thank you for taking the time to put this tutorial together.

@Sean: I agree with you on using judgment and knowing when to use different techniques. I appreciate the technique taught in the tutorial, and I believe the value is in applying it to relevant projects (icons being a good example as mentioned by some). However, I believe that what you wrote in the comment should have been written at the start of the tutorial. My fear is that inexperienced designers will look at the tutorial and believe that it is ok to apply this technique to traditional graphs, and God forbid, try to apply the technique to more complicated graphs just to make them look nicer or “make them more interesting.” If the idea is to educate, maybe a word or two at the start of the tutorial would suffice. Keep up the good work.

• MuscArto

super mega cool tutorial

thanks for posting thos one

:)

• Alex

You fail to mention how to accomplish pen pressure strokes for the highlights.

Do I need a tablet?

How the hell do you do that in Illustrator?

• Jonathan

Alex, I didn’t use a tablet to draw this. I made the highlights as described in Step 16. You can’t do any pressure-sensitive stuff without a tablet and pen.

• scott

I tried to use this on a more detailed graph and that was not a good idea. Has to be simple. Still really nice though. Thanks.

Wow guys, way to be a-holes about the practicality of this application…. I was wondering IF this was actually created in Illustrator at first, as this looks like it was produced in something entirely different. If you’re having trouble understanding this, it’s your problem, not the author’s. There’s nothing unclear about this.

• http://austincurtis.blogspot.com austin

woohoo! thank a lot! this saved my butt

• Leshell

Awesome tutorial! It helped with the creation of a graph for a research poster and brought it to life! Thanks.

• misterbremer

I was trying to do the bar graph and CS2 doesn’t seem to want to let me ungroup the graph. Is this not available until CS3?