Creating graphs

Every now and then you may come into the situation that you have to present some sort of statistical data to your client. Of course you may use Excel’s graph tool to easily create a bunch of charts — but let’s face it, more or less all of those predefined designs suck. So you have to look for another option.

This tutorial will show you how to create visually appealing charts using Adobe Illustrator’s graph tool. Before we start, let us take a look at the potential outcome of this tutorial. In my case the graph shows the browser usage of Bartelme Design in January 2006.

the outcome of this tutorial

select the graph toolIn a first step open Illustrator and create a new document. Afterwards select the “pie graph tool” from the “tools” palette on the left. Note that by default only the “column graph tool” is visible. In this case just click on the respective icon for some seconds to unveil the other tools.

With the pie graph tool selected click somewhere on your working area. Illustrator prompts you to define the size of the chart — 200x200px should be fine. Now Illustrator will display a grid where you can enter your data. If you want to create a legend you just have to enter the respective label into the first row of the grid. In our case though we won’t make use of the automatically generated legend, so just enter the actual data. Click the “apply” button in the upper right corner to update the graph. You may now close the grid

the data grid

By default Illustrator displays the different slices in shades of grey. But personally I prefer colored graphs — so we gonna apply some color: Select the “direct selection tool” from the tool palette on the left (Shortcut: A), click on a slice and select the desired color from the color palette. Note: If the color palette is not visible you may display it via “Window — Color” or by hitting the F6 key.

colored pie chart

If you prefer flat graphs then you’re basically finished. In our case though we wanna make use of Illustrator’s 3D effects. Select the graph and open the “Extrude and Bevel” dialog via “Effects — 3D — Extrude and Bevel“. Choose ”Isometric Top“ from the dropdown menu, set the ”Extrude Depth” to about 25pt and confirm by clicking the OK button.

extrude and bevel dialog

the outcome of this tutorialAfterwards your graph should look similar to the one on the screenshot on the left. Since you have just applied the effect rather than modified the object you may still change the graph’s data as well as the 3D settings.

Basically we are finished. Finally you may enhance your graph by adding a title, a legend or other descriptive elements respectively by adding some visual effects such as a drop shadow or something similar. Enjoy.

the outcome of this tutorial


Coole Sache, vielen Dank fürs Tutorial!


Wow, cool tut man, will note this and use it in the future :)

Josh Illichmann

haha very cool tuto. When I made my stats for my site I used photoshop.. and it was a bit longer… I didn’t thought to use illustrator… damn… ;) Thank you Wolfgang

Cyril Seillet

The new Pages 2.0 does a similar job with 3D charts. Can you keep editing the chart data in Illustrator once you’ve extruded the pie?

Paul D

Klasse Tutorial Wolfgang, mit wenig Mitteln eine professionelle Statistik erstellen. Die abschliessende Grafik ist wirklich gut gelungen. Kompliment!


You can still edit the charts after applying the 3D effect. And yes — Pages 2 does a great job in creating three dimensional charts.


A very helpful tutorial. Thanks for it.


Cool. Definitely a nicer way to create graphs than excel.


{ Wolfgana } Would you mind providing the blue background graphic that you used in your example




Would you mind going into detail on the effects you used to turn the drab, flat looking 3d pie chart into the final one?

Tom Richards

Thanx, i wrote my engineer work and i will make some graphs and this is very usefull. Maybe i use it. One more you should add to this how to make a background or a title, or add some simple samples to use. This would be better. Thanx.


Thanks, nice tutorial! I’m as well interested in further details — what about “creating graphs #2” ?

Julian Schrader

Thank you, very nice :).

Wouter Postma

Awesome tutorial! I shall have to give it a try.


Fantastisch! Hättes du das Tutorial doch nur ein wenig früher veröffentlicht! Ich hatte vor kurzem eine umfangreiche Statistik zu erstellen… Naja, für’s nächste Mal weiss ich’s! Danke.


That really is a beautiful graphic, but there are a number of perceptual problems with both 3d charts and piecharts. This page (Link has a good description under “Data Distraction”


Wow… excellent tutorial! This is surely going to give a look to my paper tomorrow… Thanks ;)


Hmm when I extrude it in 3D mode all the slices slip up >_<


Am I the only one have problems not being able to replicate the above graph/image? I followed the tutorial and am: <ol> <li>Getting a black shadow instead of a darked shade of the pie piece color.</li> <li>The tutorial doesn’t state how the nice light source effect was made. Notice the difference in lighting between the last pie graphic without a background and the final version.</li> <li>Can we get the graphic used as the background.</li> </ol> The end result looks amazing, please be more specific in the tutorial.


[Jordan] I think you need to select the entire chart (including the title name e.g. firefox, ie etc) for all the pieces to stay together.


Before doing the extrude you need select the entire chart but you also need to remove the default black stroke from the pie chart pieces or else it won’t look right.


Wow! Thanks! I actually have to create a 70-page annual report for a huge corporation, and this is just what I wanted to see. Except, Veerle beat ya to it :)


Another great tutorial for Adobe Illustrator!

Tom S. Weber

I second the motion for a more detailed tutorial. I am also having difficulty replicating the graphic show in the tutorial. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease provide more detailed steps on how to accomplish the end result image. Thanks in advance


I would also like to ask for a more detailed tutorial. The pie chart looks wonderful but I also am not able to create it based on the provided steps in this post.


Hey, the graph looks great. But you just jump from that 3-d to the really nice one with the highlights without explaning it. How did you do that? Please explain how you got the final nice one. You say “adding some visual effects such as a drop shadow or something similar” but you don’t go into details. Please explain how you made that highlight on the edge. Thank you.


Well, obviously I’ll have to publish some sort of follow-up tutorial :)


That’s all cool — How about the next step. XML Powered graphics. It’s all pretty easy using XML with Macromedia Fireworks or Adobe Illustrator. Check out the PDF here for importing XML into AI to spit out the graphics — sidestepping Excel. Link Enjoy.


[Wolfgang] You are awesome. The sooner you post the follow-up to this tutorial the better. The pie chart looks amazing — I look forward to more descriptive steps on how to create it.


I think I speak for a lot of designers when I say I often overlook Illustrator and just go at it with Photoshop for tasks like this, but I’ll definitely think Illustrator when I think graphs from here on out. Great tutorial!

Jason Beaird

Awesome tutorial, has helped me a lot! Thanks, Wolfgang!

Timo Kleemann

Really useful tutorial. I thought about it few days ago.


Wow! Die schauen super aus! danke


I feel like a kid before Christmas while I wait for the present of tutorial 2. When or when can we have it?


Very cool indeed! Adobe has another really cool tool that’s often overlooked. Adobe SVG. SVG would make this a snap! …and allow it to be online. The problem of course is the incompatibility with Firefox…However that’s been very recently fixed and will continue to be worked on, I’m sure. …though I suppose you couldn’t get the cool beveled glossy effect…. just reminds me of an application for SVG. Does anyone use SVG these days?


Nice, Thnx!

Jonno Riekwel

I’m having “wet dreams” every night antisipating for tutorial 2 (the more detailed version) on how to create these graphs.


Sehr einfach und gut tutorial, ich brachte so was jetzt, das ist meine werk : Link Danke. p.s. ich konte noch nicht mache die 3d wie deine, aber momentan fur mich passt 2d.

Avasilcai Daniel

Nice graph … but besides that: Congratulations, you seem to have a sophisticated readership — considering the fact that less than one third of your visitors uses IE :-)


Kannst du mir weiterhelfen? Weshalb sieht mein Ergebnis nach dem 3D-Filter immer so aus: Link


Great article, Wolfgang. Thanks. I hope my readers will appreciate your article, too.

Vitaly Friedman

Cool, indeed, i’ll try it out


Great work. Love it :) Thank you


Death to pie charts! Pie charts convey numbers by using angles. Unfortunately, angles are very difficult preceive accurately/precisely by the human mind. Now if accuracy and precision are not of utmost importance, then go right ahead. There are only a couple things worse than pie charts: 1) two pie charts 2) 3D pie charts!! While adding a 3rd dimension may make you chart “look cool,” it significantly deminishes its ability to convey the data.

David Lin

Hi Wolfgang, its a really useful tutorial! Thanks for your work.


Great tutorial. Thanks for the tips Wolfgang!


Great tutorial, thanks!


Danger. Please read Tufte’s “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”. Pie charts are problematic-determining relative values by areas is difficult, especially if fine distinctions between items need to be made. Adding 3d effects compounds the problem. The 3d stricture applies to most other charts as well-it’s very easy to mistake the 3d area for the value and get the relative value comparison wrong.


Nice charts and a nice tutorial. Thanks! Good site, by the way.

Sliker Hawk

Nice charts and a nice tutorial! Good site, as well. -----

Sliker Hawk

This is way cool!!


Sleek indeed and very effective if you would like to distort some data.


Amazing tutorial! Really apreciate that - thanks!


Wow, ich wusste gar nicht, dass das in Illustrator so einfach ist. Jetzt bin ich wenigstens nicht mehr auf die langweiligen Word-Charts angewiesen. Den Hintergrund und die hinzugefügten Lichteffekte finde ich auch toll. Kannst Du das auch mal erklären?

R. Neuendorf

Very cool, I've never used the graph tool in Illustrator, now I'm gonna need to fire it up to see everything it's capable of. :)


I would also like to ask for a more detailed tutorial. The pie chart looks wonderful but I also am not able to create it based on the provided steps in this post. Cheers

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