I have made a vector graphic in Illustrator and would like to know if it is possible to add a depth to it and convert it into an STL file suitable for 3D printing purposes?
Not in Illustrator alone, but any 3D program worth its salt can do that. What you want to do is:
- Export your graphic from Illustrator as .svg
- Import the .svg graphic into your 3D program
- Extrude your graphic to desired height
- Export that as .stl
Personally, I use Rhino3D, but it has a bit of a steep learning curve and is pretty pricey. Use whatever .stl capable 3D software you are familiar with. If you never used any, try something like the free and newbie-friendly tinkercad. I managed to make a quick extrusion of my logo in less than a minute.
When you upload the .svg to tinkercad, it will automatically add depth to your 2d graphic. You can adjust the depth by dragging different handles.
Few things to keep in mind:
For best results, make your graphic into a single shape (I am not sure how tinkercad handles multiple shapes in one extrusion, but if they are not a single solid, you might run into problems when printing).
Bear the size in mind. When importing, tinkercad will ask you how big you want your shape (in millimeters). This is the size the object will be printed. Depending on where your print, you might be able to change the scale just before printing, but better safe than sorry.
Be careful of tiny details. Depending on the printer used, there will be minimal size the detail can print. If you go below that size, the printer will just create a blob over there.
as user287001 mentioned, when 3d printing, you will lose everything but shape (so color, raster textures, etc).
Illustrator has rudimentary tools to add depth (Effects > 3D) but the user interface gives no way to output the internally generated 3D model. A top notch software hacker might find a way, but for ordinary users it's "no way". The user gets only the rendered 2D image into his current drawing.
Your best bet is to export your image into a proper 3D program. There are plenty of export formats for that.
In the export the original structure of your Ai creation is very much lost. In the 3D program you cannot adjust gradients, meshes, masks, multiple appearances, brushes etc... that make Ai THE tool of 2D vector artist. Even the smooth curves are replaced by polylines in some export formats.
If some parts need different treatment in 3D program than the others, keep them separate, because trying to separate them in 3D program easily gives totally unexpected results.
ADDENDUM: There are a couple of poular free 3D prorams that are reduced versions of their commercial counterparts. Those free programs are
- Trimble SketchUP
- Design Spark Mechanical
Both of them can easily be used to produce even quite complex STLs for 3D printing. So, they are widely used for that purpose. You should know some of their limitations before you start with them. The limitations are planned to prevent serious pro working with free versions.
At first: Free versions accept your Ai drawing only as rasterized image (JPG, TIF, PNG). This makes your vector drawing nearly useless for those programs. You can use the raster image as a reference, but you must redraw.
Secondly: Easy 3D texts (write, select font and extrude or imprint onto a surface) are disbled