posted: July 06, 2009

How to Create a 3D Logo Symbol with Adobe Illustrator

by: Robert Kerr


First off, thank you for following my tutorials and congratulations on trying your hand at learning one of the most powerful design tools on the market.

If you have not already tried my previous tutorial "How to create a Web 2.0 Logo with Adobe Illustrator" please go back and try it first. You will learn some of important techniques that can not only compliment this tutorial design, but also some of the repeated steps in this tutorial will have been more specified in the previous. Although, you should still be able to follow this tutorial as if it is your first.

One thing I should have mentioned in my previous tutorial is that if you do not have Adobe Illustrator you can download it free for a 30-day trial at Adobe's website. The purpose of these tutorials is to help you learn the basics to creating visually appealing designs with minimal effort.

Let's Begin.

Basic Shapes

Okay, open Illustrator and choose the web document option. Type in whatever name you want the document to be and continue (or open your previous design from tutorial one).

We are going to start by making a perfect circle.

a. On your main tool menu to the left, click and hold on the shapes option and select ellipse (you may need to click and hold the rectangle for the elipse option to appear, or press (L)).

b. Then draw the circle while holding shift, to your desired height. This will create a perfect circle.

c. Select the circle (if not already selected) using the black arrow tool (V) and in the top control panel you will notice a box that says "Stroke". Change the stroke weight to around 7-11.

Creating the circle

d. We probably don't want it to be black, so click the fill color box on the bottom of the main tool panel (should appear in white as a solid square). Open your main swatch menu, Windows => Swatches(or you may even just open it at the "docking station" on the right side of the page). Choose the box with the red diagonal slash through it. Can you guess what this means? You're right, no color or just transparent, so obviously it will still look white because of the white background.

e. Now click on the stroke color box at the bottom of the main tool panel (should be in black, beside fill color box). Choose whatever color you would like this to be in Swatches.

f. Select the circle again with your black arrow tool (V) and choose Object => Expand => Ok

*Important note: when you expand the object you will notice the black stroke and the "no color" symbol at the bottom of the main tools panel change places. This is because later we want to create gradients and break the circle.

Expanding the circle

g. Now we need a square, so choose the rectangle from the shapes tool (M) in the main tool panel. Remeber to click and hold to select a new shape.

h. Draw the square while holding shift to make it a perfect square. Do not change the fill or stroke colors as this square won't be around long.

i. Using the black arrow tool (V), select the square and more your cursor near the corner of the highlighted box. When you see a rounded line with two arrows on each side (rotation option) hold shift and rotate 45 degrees. You could also right click the image, and choose Transform => Rotate => Type 45 => Enter => Ok

Then place the box around the bottom center of the circle so that the corner of the box is touching the center of the circle. Re-size if needed.

*Important note: Holding down the shift key while making shapes, rotating and even re sizing is extremely useful. It will keep the shape within proper proportions while resizing and perfect 0-45-90... degree angles while rotating. If you don't use shift, the appearance may become warped and the angles may be flawed.

Place box on circle

The Joys of Pathfinder & 3D Effects

As you saw in the shapes tool, there is no half circles or triangles. Why? Because you can simple make these shapes using an exisiting shape, a line and the Pathfinder tool. This is surely one of the most important tools in adobe illustrator, if not THE most important tool.

We are going to remove a chunk of this circle, and make it 3D!

a. So let's do it, select both the circle and the square (now a diamond?) using the black arrow tool (V) , by drawing a selection box over both.

b. While they are both selected bring up the Pathfinder tool by clicking Windows(at the top of the screen)=> Pathfinder(or Shift+Ctrl+F9 on your keyboard).

c. The Pathfinder window will appear and in the "Shapes Modes" category choose minus front (second option from the left). Bam! The circle is now a horseshoe.

The circle is now a horseshoe

d. Now let's make this horse shoe look more appealing. If you haven't done so yet, now is the time to change the color before we make it 3D!

e. While still selected click Effect (from the top control panel) => 3D => Extrude & Bevel

f. A window will pop-up, it may appear intimidating at first. Let's immediately click preview, and then you will see three arrows beside a cube image. Click the entry field box near the red arrow and type in around 30-40 (whatever looks best to you) and press enter. The blue and green arrow you will want to put them to 0. When it looks like below or how you want it, just click okay.

*Important note: Once you have changed the image to 3D you can not makes changes using the same option path. You can either undo the change (Ctrl+Z) or you can go to Windows => Appearance. This will show all the graphic changes within an object or layer (I will explain layers more in a future tutorial) click the blue text next to the graphic you wish to adjust within this window.

3D Horseshoe

More Gradients More Pathfinding

Alright, so now we got our 3D symbol starting to come together but, it's still too plain looking, so let's spice it up! This next part is a little rough, and some of it will require you to play around until you get something you like, but I will give you tips and hints.

a. Select the symbol with the black arrow tool (V) and go to Object => Expand Appearance , then while still selected go to Object => Ungroup(do this twice) It is very important that you do Object => Ungroup two times. We need to make sure when we apply the gradients that it's to the right sections not to the entire design as a whole.

b. We have broken up the symbol now into many little parts, we have to put some of them back together. To do this, we will be using the Pathfinder tool again, Windows => Pathfinder(Shift+Ctrl+F9) if you window is closed.

c. This is the tricky part!

The top is where we drew our initial shape, any part added by the 3D is now in a darker shade of the original color. There are five groups (one in the center, one on each side and the two edges on each side) with one to many parts inside of them. These parts are currently separated, we need to unite them.

Do this by clicking each group (five) and then clicking Unite in the Pathfinder window in the "Shapes Mode" section. Do each one at a time. In the picture below, these groups would be every area that is the darker blue.

Shading Horseshoe

d. Now that all the parts within the five groups are united, you can start adding Gradients by going to Windows => Gradients (Ctrl+F9)

e. Select and start with the main shape (the lighter colored part) using the black arrow tool (V) and adjusting the gradient slider to your liking.

f. Afterwards, one at a time, select the five groups and use the eyedropper tool and click on the main shape you just added your gradient to, to copy that gradient scheme (very useful rather than repeating over and over). Adjust it as necessary using the Gradient angles and rotation in the Gradient window.

*Important note: I suggest that your ending point is white and your starting point is your main color selection. These should NOT be your only two color choices, you should have about four or five colors added to the gradient slider of shades getting lighter of from your main color. You can find the shades of your selected color in Windows => Color Guide (Shift+F3). It should also be found on the right of your right as a docked window.

Adjusting Gradient in Horseshoe

Now it's beginning to look like something special and fancy. Gradient knowledge is a skill and will take time with practice. This image transformation was done in a matter of minutes, and is very simple but could still even be improved upon.

As you can see, with these past few techniques you can make virtually any shape into something worthy of a logo. Afterwards, it's best to use the black arrow tool (V) and select the entire image Object => Group (Ctrl+G). Makes it nicer and neater.

Awesome Effects!

It gets even simpler than this! I showed you the manual method, but in Adobe Illustrator there are already many pre-made effects and symbols. All those cool 3D effects and such you have seen in other designs that look so difficult are actually not!

Just draw any shape of your choosing then go to Windows => Graphic Style Libraries and choose through some effects that interest you. Play around! There are tons! Here are some examples below, all I did was draw a circle and a start and applied the effects took less than one minute!

Example 3D Symbols

Now you can see a fraction of the limitless options or creativity using Adobe Illustrator, just apply the symbol you have created to your font and you got a pretty good looking overall logo that took you about half an hour! Your end result is a great looking logo, while having saved yourself possibly hundreds.

Completed Logo

I hope you found these techniques useful. Even if you are a coder, learning these basic skills can prove extremely useful in creating a nice logo for your new software or improving the designs or icons on your newly developed website.

There is still A LOT more to learn in improving this design even further and creating layers to make it more professional and easier for your clients to revise in the future.

Enjoy your freshly made logo.

Until next time, take care!

Having an eye catching logo can make a huge difference in branding, and a great way to use your logo to promote your site or company is by using promotional items with your logo.


This tutorial was contributed by: Graphic Designer, Robert Kerr
- A Canadian currently running a small design business near Beijing, China that specializes in brand identity/V.I. A ex-soldier in the Canadian military, he also has a strong technical background. Always ready to participate in and execute exciting, new and dynamic business ventures. Visit his website at


About willCode4Beer