so I'm trying to create this image, but in 3D. Does anyone know how to go about doing this? I'd like the object to be shown vertically at a 45 degree angle, ideally.

enter image description here

  • 1
    There is no 3D in illustrator so you will be doing that all manually in 2D
    – joojaa
    Mar 18, 2020 at 15:15
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    There is extremely limited 3D in Illustrator, of which I can imagine joojaa simply sweeping it under the rug :). It is so limited, that this seemingly simple task is nigh impossible in the software. My advice wouls be to use an actual 3D app like Blender.
    – Vincent
    Mar 18, 2020 at 15:17
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    @Vincent no ints not extremely limitted. Its just no 3D. It manilulates the object so that that one object has a 3d look. But for all intents and purposes it never had any 3d since it can not interact with any other object. Until you can move elmenst in 3D and intersect with other elements its not 3D
    – joojaa
    Mar 18, 2020 at 16:05
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    Does this answer your question? Drinking Straw stripe pattern Illustrator
    – Billy Kerr
    Mar 18, 2020 at 16:24
  • @joojaa fair point. I wouldn't have noticed the difference!
    – Vincent
    Mar 18, 2020 at 16:47

2 Answers 2


I would agree with both Jooja and Vincent that the "3D Tools" in Illustrator scarcely deserve that nomenclature, and any decent 3D DCC (Digital Content Creation) is a far better bet for this task. Illustrator's "3D" tools are a fake, plain and simple.

That said, it's not impossible - merely annoying, clunky and cludgey, and vastly inaccurate.

That said - using the same circle profile, and 3D extrude for the straight lengths, 3D revolve for the elbows will get you this far reasonably quickly. enter image description here

Don't ask for a lot more than that, becaue Illustrator's "3D" tools can't deliver more than this really.

If you've a lot more illustrations like this to develop, look into any decent 3D DCC (Digital Content Creation) tool:

Because once you have a toolset like one of these in your quiver, it make a lot more possible, from technical diagrams and construction documents to upbeat company branding mascots...

Cinema 4D

In my case, my DCC tool-of-choice is Modo - and though in fact there are literally dozens of way I could approach modeling a pipe like this, here are two super-quick ways - one using procedural meshes and MeshFusion, and one doing the simple, old-fashioned direct modeling - which in Modo is pretty darn easy and fast too.

The advantage to the procedural appraoch is ongoing flexibility - you define a curve, and the procedural sweeps the chosen profile along that curve - both remain live-editable after the geometry is derived, which is pretty helpful.

The advantage to the direct modeling approach is sheer simplicity: you create a circle of polys (I cheat and use the cylinder primitive for that) and then extrude - or in my case polygon bevel. You rotate your view to be orthogonal to the object, and then rotate a row of polys, and then extrude those; rinse and repeat to make your elbows. Duplicate / mirror to get the obverse portions of the dog-legged bends - then duplicate / mirror the whole assembly to get the other end - select the ending edges on each separated end and bridge those - hey presto!

First the procedural approach ends up with this: enter image description here

And then the direct modeling with this: enter image description here

Oh - of course one thing I like about the direct modeling approach is then you can select a couple of polys and hit "L" for loop and it selects all the connected polys forming a loop, and you can then expand that selection with the outer square bracket, scale those with a local origin, and hey presto - you have PVC-style pipe connectors between the straights and the elbows - easy-peasy!

enter image description here

And then of course getting a nice render out with PBR materials and nice lighting is always a solid plus in my book.

enter image description here

Or you might even want 3D engineering tools - similar to what @user287001 shows in their excellent answer - these are a couple of alternative to Design Spark Mechanical - each has their area of core strength:

Hope that helps.


Drawing it in 2D is a solution, but one must have learned basic drawing skills to get it right with no reference. If it must be done in Illustrator or other 2D vector drawing program you can make a reference in a 3D program and draw a simple enough copy.

Of course it would be ideal if the rendered 3D model could be imported to Illustrator and completed to a proper vector drawing with minimal effort.

Illustrator's own 3D effects are a poor help because a shape even this simple must be made in pieces which are virtually impossible to make to fit and have consistent lights & shadows.

Pro level 3D design and engineering programs are complex if you haven't already learned one. But there exists also entry level programs which are easy to use and can substantially help getting the Illustrator drawing done.

Creating the 3D model is done in CAD programs generally like this: 1) Draw a sketch of the pipe axis 2) Round sharp corners and draw the pipe cross-section profile:

enter image description here

Rotate the profile perpendicular with the axis, pull the profile along the axis to get solid 3D piece:

enter image description here

enter image description here

The result is shown as wireframe and the axis curve isn't removed nor hidden already. This can be generally exported and opened in illustrator as vector (as vector PDF in this case).

Changing rendering mode to "shaded" gives this:

enter image description here

Here pro level programs make a difference. Entry level programs have only solid colors and fixed light, there's no photorealistic materials nor light environment.

But this result and also pro quality renderings can be exported only as bitmap images. It can be used in Illustrator as is or as color overlay of the wireframe version if one can accept bitmap elements.

Or it can be used as drawing model for gradient mesh shading. Often much simplified glosses can do the trick and drawing them with a reference is easy. The shaded image suggests to insert black and white like this to otherwise grey fill color:

enter image description here

These shadings are quite coarse. They are drawn manually over the shaded image. But it's unnecessary. As well one could separate the areas with Illustrator's tracing or Photoshop's Artistic > Cutout filter and the result would be better.

One advantage of a 3D program is the possibility to get different views with zero effort. In 2D every view must be started from the beginning

enter image description here

The used 3D CAD program = DesignSpark Mechanical. It's a simplified but free version of SpaceClaim.

Here's another case which a little resembles your problem. It's very difficult in Illustrator only, but quite easy with 3D CAD help:

How to draw a winding on a toroid of a circular cross section?


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