Given 2D vector art of a cylinder with heavy bark texture, or a cube with very strong coarse gravel texture... I would like to be able to show each in different scenes but at different times of the day. However, I would like to do this without having to completely redraw the core shapes and their textures. I am not planning on changing the viewing angles, just the time of day.


In this example, there are "chipped" areas within the rock face with texture/occlusion shadows, and there should* be a cast shadow onto the ground. I would like to show this object in different scenes, but at different times of the day... I am hoping not to have to redraw the object and chips, but I understand that the shadowing should be different...

enter image description here

I imagine layering strategies would be used for this, but I am not sure of the different approaches artists might use to accomplish this.


Using Illustrator, Inkscape, or other Vector Graphics software, what are some best practices for separating base shapes, their forms and their textures, from their respective lighting and shadow elements?

How do you decouple shape/form drawings from their respective highlights, as well as their form, cast, bounce, occlusion, and texture shadows? Could this be done using layer mode settings like lighten, darken, etc.?

Disclaimer: Please feel free to help reword question with appropriate terminologies, it would help a lot!

  • I'm afraid if this is "not about 2D shapes" and.. not about 3D software... you'll need to post some example images at the very least.
    – Scott
    Apr 28, 2023 at 8:17
  • Sounds to me like you are describing the functionality of 3D modelling software, not vector software. Maybe try using Blender which is free and open source. There's even a Blender Stack Exchange if you get stuck.
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 28, 2023 at 13:14
  • Too vague. try to make your question less general and it becomes answerable.
    – joojaa
    Apr 28, 2023 at 14:09
  • @Scott - I was trying to say that this isn't about simple "2D shapes" as in circles and squares and then using the drop-shadow feature. I removed that disclaimer because you are right that it is confusing. I also added an example as you recommended. I hope this helps clarify. Thank you for the constructive input. May 3, 2023 at 2:49

2 Answers 2


In 2D drawings all textures which have some thickness must be redrawn for different watching directions and light conditions. Only flat textures and single colors can be adapted easily - I mean to warp or otherwise distort them for the wanted watching direction and to clip them to cover the wanted surface forms. Then to paint with blending modes or masked adjustment layers (Photoshop) some light and shadows. Even that can be a substantial effort if the object is complex, for ex. a realistic living room easy chair. No automation exists for the job in 2D.

With 3D software everything is more flexible. You can for ex. find numerous floor planning and interior decoration planning tools which are based on 3D models. Get one and see, how they are organized. You drag and drop items and materials and place the lamps for the lighting. The room shape can be drawn freely. It's really simple as long as there's included the items and the materials you want. Things turn rough or totally impossible if something needed is missing.

A general 3D modelling program like Blender is up to the job also in tricky cases, but are you up to using it is not so clear. It can take an year or more prime time studies to develop one's skills to a productive level.

As a soft entry I can suggest 2 tools to try. One of them is Adobe CC Dimension. It unfortunately doesn't have 3D modelling tools. If its limited model and material library is not enough, you can purchase more or also import stuff from general 3D tools - if you have learned to use them (not anything trivial there).

Another popular easy to start 3D tool is Trimble SketchUP. The paid version is good enough even for many pro applications. Its main drawback is that scene rendering is not realistic. The result is more or less like a drawing. There's no realistic looking thick surface textures like furs and barks. For them you need something radically more complex. But as said, it can be good enough for many purposes.

SketchUP's online resources contains numerous program add-ons for increased flexibility and there are tens of thousands free and paid 3D models of various items ready to be inserted.

  • Thank you. You said, In 2D drawings all textures which have some thickness must be redrawn for different watching directions and light conditions. This is exactly what I am trying to address, but I am hoping there is a solution where I wouldn't have to redraw the base object since I am not changing the viewing angle. Thanks! May 3, 2023 at 2:54

@joojaa is accurate in his answer. I don't think I can add much more. If a 2D object is meant to be percieved with depth due to lighting.. and the lighting changes... highlights and shadows need to be redrawn.

A rudimentary example of the layer structure I'll use.....

enter image description here

Sometimes I'll split the shadows and highlight to separate layers as well. It depends upon the artwork.

Another option is to utilize Sublayers if the application supports it. Here, I'm using Adobe Illustrator and have each object on its own layer, then sub layer for lighting:

enter image description here

It is important to name layers/sublayers appropriately to make layer navigation less of a nightmare.

Overall for any file I work on I do my best to logically split areas into separate layers. By maintaining a well organized layer structure it inevitably makes future editing much less intensive.

I don't think it's possible to "get around" having to redraw highlights and shadows in 2D artwork.

  • Yes, I wrote this understanding that the lighting and shadows would have to be redrawn, I just didn't want to have to redraw the base shapes and textures again and again. Thanks! This is a strategy that I was hoping for! Having separate layers for different lighting angles does seem to make sense, (like a layer each for morning, evening, afternoon). Thanks! May 4, 2023 at 1:17

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