If Vertigo can tackle these gradient fills, and maybe add a bevel function, the next version of the plug-in will be a barnstormer. For simply making 3D extrusion possible in Illustrator, 3D PopArt 2.0 is worth checking out, and demos are downloadable from the Vertigo Web site.
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3D PopArt 2.0
While illustration packages CorelDraw and Deneba Canvas can extrude 2D shapes into 3D-effect objects, Adobe Illustrator does not. Vertigo’s 3D PopArt 2.0 is a plug-in which puts this right by adding intuitive extrusion features to Illustrator 8, 9 and 10. The software is easily installed – just drag one file into Illustrator’s Plug-ins folder – and easy to get started with. You call up 3D PopArt 2.0 as a standard Adobe-style floating palette from Illustrator’s Window menu, then use a set of slider controls to customize the appearance of the extrusion effect. The palette provides a little thumbnail of a cuboid to show the kind of effect you’ll end up with. Then just click Apply to make it happen to selected shapes on the canvas. Usefully, you can continue working on the illustration, but still return at any time to the extruded object to adjust the slider values further, or click on Reset to return to the original 2D shape. New to this upgraded version of 3D PopArt are sliders for z-axis rotation (only x and y were allowed previously), and the light source – which can now be rotated 360 degrees around the object, admittedly only in the xy plane. Another new slider can shrink the back end of the extrusion to produce a perspective effect, rather than just an isometric one. These three sliders make a huge difference to the versatility of the plug-in, meaning, for example, that you can create shooting stars and epic-looking extruded text, rather than the usual collection of squared blocks and logo plates. Having achieved a good visual result, 3D PopArt 2.0 can now save extrusion settings for re-use with other artwork. It’s a minor feature – you could just as easily write down the six slider values on a piece of paper – but is handy. It may also encourage you to experiment with the same settings on different kinds of vector object, because 3D PopArt 2.0 can apply extrusions to all manner of Illustrator artwork, including open paths, spirals, grids and lens flares. The only problem here is that special shapes like these nearly always need a fair amount of tidying up with the Direct Selection tool after applying the extrusion to remove unwanted vector artifacts. Also, be aware that the plug-in does not use gradient fills to produce gradient effects, but tiny stepped object blends instead. This is memory-intensive, and we managed to crash Illustrator on several occasions when extruding complex shapes.