Illustrator: Using Swift as a powerful 3D Illustration Tool

If you don't know what Swift is, it's relatively new software by Electric Rain that specializes in rendering 3D vector animations. For the most part, Swift3D is intended to be used in conjunction with Flash, to allow you to model and animate in 3d, and import your Swift animations into the Flash environment. It works fine for that, but I think it's even better for Illustrating in 3D. Bear with me on the lingo here. . . If you are an illustrator, and you use Illustrator, Swift3D (Currently USD $229) could be a nice investment for you to look into. A year ago this time, it was about $129, so I think the sooner you buy, the better. I'm predicting some major improvements in the next release. Swift is very versatile and supports most platforms, including Intel Macs, and they provide free updates for registered accounts.

Swift 3D logo

This tutorial requires that you have a basic knowledge of Swift3D and Adobe Illustrator.

How to Use Swift

Open Swift3D and create a simple design using some primitives. Here is what I threw together:

Swift - Illustrator Tutorial

Once you have your design in Swift, go to the “Preview and Export Editor” within Swift and make sure you export setting is set to “vector.”
Note: In Swift it only renders the left viewport, so whichever view you want to export, you have to set it up in the left viewport. Under “General” options, select Adobe Illustrator as your output format.

Preview property tools

I like the outline setting in Swift, because it gives you another object in Illustrator to manipulate. I usually set the outline width to 0.01. If you want all of the outlines to be visible, even the ones hidden behind the 3D shapes, select “Include Hidden Edges.” If your object is extremely complicated, and you find that it takes forever to render in Swift, you can always render the color without outlines, and render a second with outlines only and no fill. Then combine them once you get into Illustrator.

Setting the edge options

Select your fill options. For this tutorial, I chose “Cartoon 4 Color Fill.” Experiment with these settings, as well as shadows and highlights. Swift divides every-single color value into a shape when it's exported as an AI. So the result is a very complex conglomerate of shapes for you to manipulate. Truly amazing.

Setting the fill options

Ok. Now that we have our settings in order, render your frame (should only be 1 frame since we didn't animate anything). Here is what my frame looked like after it was rendered:

Preview and export editor

Once you have your frame rendered in Swift3d, You need to export it. This setting has to be selected before you render the image. If you've been following this tutorial, we selected “Illustrator (AI)” as our output setting. Now Export your rendered file and save it to your desktop, or a place where you can find it easily.

Render preview
Saving the file

Now we have an Illustrator file of our Swift3D rendering! Great, now open the file you saved in Illustrator and see what you have to work with. I guarantee, the results will surprise you.

3D in Illustrator

When you first open your Illustrator file, everything will be grouped together. First, you need to Right Click (Control Click) and select “Ungroup.”


Even though you “Ungrouped” everything, there will still be compound paths generated by Swift3D. This will be different for everyone depending on each render setting, so you will have to experiment with releasing compound paths, and ungrouping objects to get to the objects you want to manipulate.

Release compound path

Now that you have complete control over your Illustrator file, you can duplicate, manipulate, add strokes, change transparency, fill objects with a gradient, etc. The possibilities are endless. Here is what I threw together very quickly as an example.

3D object created with Swift