Among the least understood, most underutilized features in Adobe Illustrator are the 3D effects. Introduced in Illustrator CS, 3D effects are not tools for drawing in 3D (use Google SketchUp for that); instead, they're a way to apply 3D effects to 2D drawings.
This distinction will become clearer as I introduce you to 3D effects and mapping techniques—and then lead you on a quest to wrap a map of the earth around a 3D effect.
To make sure that you get your money's worth from this article (I know, it was free for you, but time is money and all that), I'll cram two separate tutorials into one: a) applying extrusion and beveling to type, and b) the headline act—mapping a vector image of the earth onto a rotatable sphere.
3D Effects: The Concept
Before we dive into generating 3D effects, keep in mind that 3D effects are effects. Like all Illustrator effects, they're applied to a path, but they only affect the appearance of that path, not its actual definition. One implication of this fact: When you edit the underlying path from which a 3D object was generated, you reshape the generated 3D effect.
To visualize the concept, let's jump to what will be the focus of this article—a project in which I show you how to wrap a map of the earth around a sphere by using the Illustrator CS4 3D Revolve effect, with mapping. By the way, mapping is literally what we'll explore in this article, but it's a generic term for wrapping any artwork around a generated 3D effect. So, for example, in the project that is the focus of this article, a semicircle will be generated using 3D effects, and a map of the world will be the mapped object.
Here's another example of mapping onto a 3D effect that might help you grasp the concept: Think of text written on a balloon—the text stretches and warps as the balloon is inflated. Similarly, text mapped onto a 3D effect in Illustrator stretches and warps to fit the effect onto which it's mapped.