Creating graphs, Part 2

In the first part of the tutorial I showed you how to create three dimensional charts using Adobe Illustrator CS2. In the second part we will focus on how to visually enhance those charts.

Now that we’ve learned how to create basic charts using Illustrator’s 3D functionality we will enhance them by applying some reflections and subtle gradients. After creating your chart it will probably look similar to the one show in the screenshot on the left.

In a first step select the chart and duplicate it by pressing Cmd+C and Cmd+F. This will create a copy of the selected object and paste it in front of the initial object. In order to better distinguish between the two objects move the new one a few pixel to the top. Personally I prefer to use the arrow keys (Shift+Up) since it’s easier to move the object back to its initial position afterwards.

Now that we have duplicated the graph we need to expand the graph. This is necessary because it’s not possible to edit smart objects such as graphs etc. So select the object and choose “Object — Expand…” from the main menu. The result should look similar to the screenshot on the left.

Now we ungroup the object using the shortcut Cmd+Shift+G twice. After that we can modify each part of the graph. In a next step select all slices via Shift+Click and make sure that the pathfinder palette is being displayed. If that’s not the case you can display it via the “Window” menu or by pressing Shift+F8.

Now with the slices selected first click the “Add to shape area” button (1) and afterwards the “Expand” button (2). We have just combined the different slices to one ellipse.

Now fill the shape with white color, duplicate it and move it up two or three pixels. Now with both shapes selected first click the “Subtract from shape area” button and afterwards the “Expand” button in the pathfinder palette.

In a next step we apply an opacity mask to the new shape. So make sure that the shape is still selected and choose “Make opacity mask” from the transparency palette. Now switch to the mask mode by clicking the black rectangle in the transparency palette and draw a white rectangle as shown in the screenshot.

Select the gradient tool from the tools palette on the left and fill the rectangle with a radial gradient (white to black). The result should look similar to the screenshot on the elft. You may now exit the mask mode by clicking the white rectangle in the transparency palette.

You have just created the main reflection for our chart. Next we will create the subtle reflection on the lower left part of the chart. Select the lower part of the graph, right click and select “Release Clipping Mask” from the context menu. Then click “Add to shape area” and afterwards the “Expand” button in the pathfinder palette. Now you have a single shape we can fill with white color.

In a next step apply an opacity mask on the newly created shape, draw a rectangle and fill it with a linear gradient so that the result looks similar to the screenshot below.

Now move both shapes down to their initial position. Then select the lower shape, head over to the trasparency palette, change its layer style to “overlay” and its opacity to about 40%.

Basically you’re finished. Now it’s up to you whether you additionally apply a dropshadow, some further reflections, gradients etc. Enjoy.


Very nice writeup … i’m sure this could find alot of good uses in both my and alot of other people’s daily business. Nice graphs always make good impressions!

Chris R.

Very nice graphs! Thank you


ah :) nice

Wouter Postma

good tutorial.


Very useful. Thanks!


Nice one, thanx for it :)


Really good. Thank you.


Oh, you and your goddamn skills! Why do you always have to be so good at everything! ARR! Damn you, damn the broccoli and damn the Wright-brothers! Seriously, great writeup; thanks for letting us take part in your great wisdom and knowledge!

Jørgen Arnor Gårdsø Lom

Hint. To skipping clicking Expand button after merging, sub or other combining methohds. You can press Option + click the combining icon (Mac) or ALT+click in Windows.


Super Tutorial, Wolfgang. Jedoch ist der Quellcode nicht so astrein, wie von dir gewöhnt: <p><img src="/material/graphs/graph_10.png" alt=""/></p> Bilder in Absätzen und ohne Alternativ-Angabe?

Martin Labuschin

Wie gewohnt ein interessantes Tutorial zur Erstellung von Statistiken.Kompliment!


das ist schon, wieder..ich werde probieren. danke

Avasilcai Daniel

Very nice tutorial, how about showing some bar graph examples?

Colin Cameron

A very useful writeup, thanks for your continual tips.

Andy Peatling

Nice! Thanks for part two! :)


Great tutor. I look forward for next one. THX Regards Marcin

Marcin Andrzejewski

wow… lovely, your last on in this series really heped me with my college presetations… and this one’s really great ;) Thnx for sharing ;)


It would be a welcome addition seeing the finished example end result as a downloadable *.svg (and/or perhaps *.ai) file too.

Johan Sundström

haha you’re sidenotes is similar to my sidenotes ;) those graphs are so cool… i’ll try it out sometime ;)


useful tutorial on the highlights. thanks!


Very nice — thanks!

Julian Schrader

Good tutorial, but a complicated way of doing it. You can do all that using the Extrude & Bevel Effect. Add a bevel to the graph and fiddle with the lighting effects and you will get the same result in about half the time.


Tendre que desempolvar el ilustrator..


Awesome graph tutorial… thanks a million.


very nice… usefull and quick… :)


Hallo Wolfgang, vielen Dank für die Fortsetzung deines Tutorials. Sehr Interessant und sehr zu gebrauchen!


Very nice Wolfgang, I will probably try to make my own method soon, for the end of semester papers ;-)

Fernando Lucas

Very nice. Thank you very much. -----


I would like to wish you much luck. And a lot of money. Thank you.

Wandy Wu

Wow, back in the early 1990s I had to do all that stuff manually, since Illustrator was still pretty basic back then. But in the Illustrator 1.0 days, there was no gradient tool... which meant that creating gradients involved manually making each shaded component shape by hand. But, back then I had clients willing to pay me the $65/hour I requested of them, since people had more of an appreciation for skills than they do these days. Yeah, you young whippersnappers have it easy these days. -he who stacks pork

Leopold Porkstacker

Really enjoyed the tutorial. Nice work. Thanks.


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