Illustrator Tutorial - Create a 3D Food Can

If you are using a version of Illustrator earlier than CS2, it's worth the upgrade to a later version for the 3D capabilities alone.

Here, we are going to make a 3D 'tin can'.  As ever when using the 3D Tools, a bit of preparatory work is needed.  Firstly, get hold of a 'label' for your can.  Scan one, use Google Images, create one yoursef or save this one to your computer (right-click the image below and choose Save Image As...):

Finished Can
Heinz Label

Now, in Illustrator, put this label onto a new artboard (FILE...New)  The size of this new file is not imprortant - you can easily re-size the vector artwork.  Now go to FILE...Place and browse to where you saved the image of the label to.

Make sure your Symbols palette is visible (WINDOW...Symbols) and drag the image of the label onto this palette:

Drag new symbol

The Symbols Options dialogue box will appear.  Name your new symbols here.

New Symbol Dialog

Now in Illustrator, create an image like the one to the right.  The largest circle is 230 px diameter.  Create this ring first and copy and paste it and resize it for the other rings. (Use the Align palette to space them centrally).

Using a variety of tools - Ellipse Tool Circle Tool, Pen Tool etc. create the 'ring pull'.  When you've done that, group all the items and drag them onto the Symbols palette as before to create a new symbol.  Call this new symbol 'Can Top'.

Once you have created these new symbols, they can safely be deleted from the artboard.

Can Top

Now create a circle 250 px diameter and fill with a medium/light grey. This shape will not become a symbol - it's the basis for our tin can.

Tip: Select the Ellipse Tol and double-click on your canvas. You will get the dialogue box below where you can set the exact size of your ellipses. If you do not see the units as pixels, change this in EDIT...Preferences...Units...General.

Ellipse Tool Dialog Box

Basic Circle

Select this circle you've just made and go to EFFECT...3D...Extrude & Bevel.

Extrusion is the simpler of the 3D options Illustrator offers. It basically stretches the selected 2D object (or group of objects) along one axis. To begin with we’ll concentrate on just three of the options as highlighted in the image below.

  • Rotation: can be specified by entering values or by dragging the cube manually with the mouse cursor.
  • Perspective: again, can be entered with the keyboard or dragged with the mouse to get the value you want.
  • Extrude Depth: determines how far along the axis your original shape will be stretched.

Fill in the values below to get the same effect as the can in this example.

Extrude & Bevel
When using Extrude & Bevel, drag the dialogue box to one side so you can see the effects on your object.  Also, make sure Preview is ticked. Be aware that if you have Preview selected, alterations you make to the values will need more time to take effect as Illustrator renders the object after each change. If you have entered the above values correctly, click on the Map Art button in the above dialogue box.
Can Map Art
Again, make sure that the dialogue box is moved so you can see the results. Unlike the 'Bottle' tutorial which is far more complex, this one is simple as there are only three surfaces to choose from.  More on Map Art here.
Map Art allows you to cover your object’s surfaces with symbols from the Symbols palette. Search through the object’s surfaces using the arrows (as highlighted) until you reach the Side of the Can. You’ll see the surfaces on your object being highlighted with a red wireframe to show you exactly what surface you’re about to cover.
Can Map Art

As you scroll through the three available surfaces, you will see the bottom of the can (don't select any symbol for this), the top of the can (scroll down the symbols until you see the 'Can Top' symbol and select that one.  Finally you will see the sides of the can highlighted with the red wireframe.  Scroll down until you see the heinzlabel symbol you created earlier.

This will Map our label around the can. Click on Scale to Fit forcing the image to match the dimensions of our object. Then select Shade Artwork (which results in even slower rendering) for that 3D feel.
It’s also likely that Illustrator will have rendered your symbol upside down which it often does when dealing with cylinders. Should this be the case, just rotate the image within the Map Art dialogue by dragging one of the corners.

The next step isn’t vital, but introduces you to further options available with Illustrator’s 3D tools.

Click on More Options to expand the Options dialogue. You’ll be presented with options for altering the lighting on your object; light intensities, light positions, number of light sources, etc. In this case, drag the only current light source further to the right of the object (see image below). In doing this, you’ll create a greater lighting contrast on the object. Click OK.

Can Lighting


Should you wish to edit the 3D options of your object (perhaps revolve it to see the reverse), click on the 'circle' contained within your artwork and open the Appearance window (WINDOW...Appearance). Then click on the 3D Extrude & Bevel attribute in the list. You’ll be taken back to the 3D Extrude & Bevel Options dialogue.

See how to make a 3D drinks can in Photoshop here.

Appearance Palette
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