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Create Beautiful 3D Graphs and Charts in Illustrator

I love graphs. There is something gorgeous in aesthetically pleasing, visual representation of data. In this tutorial I’ll show you how to put some style into graphs generated in Adobe Illustrator.

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Step 1: The Column Graph

Not a lot of people are aware of the fact that Illustrator has a tool for generating graphs. While being very useful, the graphs it generates are not really visually interesting…

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But let me first introduce you to the basics of this tool. You’ll find it on the tools panel just below the symbol tools. Click and hold the left mouse button over it, and it will reveal the list of all graphs it can create for you.

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As you can seethere is a pretty big list of graphs you can generate. In this tutorial I’ll talk about three most popular types: column graph, pie graph and line graph.

So now, please select the Column Graph Tool and draw your first graph.

Step 1.1

After drawing the graph you’ll be greeted with a window that resembles a spreadsheet. Well in fact, it is a spreadsheet Just input some numbers in a horizontal fashion and click OK.

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Step 1.2

We’ve got our first graph on the screen, now it’s time to give it some style. I’ll show you how to draw a shape which we’ll later use as a graphic style for the columns.

Close the spreadsheet and hide the layer with the graph, you won’t need it right now. Create a new layer, draw a square on it and fill it with a gradient (#DBF9FF to #00BCE0, angle: -137).

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Copy the square, and double click on the shear tool (you’ll find it under the pencil and rotate tool) to shear the object 55 degrees horizontally.

Position it like in the picture below. Then draw a straight line as indicated in the picture. Select both, the sheared square and the line, go to Pathfinder and use the Divide option.

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Delete the unnecessary part of the rectangle, play with the gradient settings (I just changed the angle) and you’ll be left with that:

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To create the third wall, you need to draw a newrectangle, turn on the Smart Guides option (ctrl/cmd+U), copy the top wall of the cube and align it with the bottom of the front wall.

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Then using the Smart Guides snapping feature, position each corner of the rectangle as indicated below.

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You should get something like in the picture below. Delete the lower part of the cube, we won’t need it any more, and give the new wall a dark blue gradient (Irecommend using the Edit Colors option in the Color Guide panel for this).

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To fake the cubestransparency we need to copy the front side and align it like in the picture below.

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Now give the rectangle a pure white to dark blue gradient (#FFFFFF to #00B0D8, angle:0). Go to the Transparency panel, turn on the Multiply mode and lower the rectangles opacity to 20%.

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In this step we’ll give some contrast to the cubes edges by drawing white strokes over them. So grab the pen tool and draw 1 pt thick strokes over the edges and adjust their opacity like in the picture below.

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Now we’ll add a shine on the corner of the cube. To do so, take the Star Tool and draw a 4 pointed star. You can change the number of points by pressing up or down on your keyboard while you are holding the left mouse button. Position the star like in the picture and give it 80% opacity,

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To add final touches to the star, draw two triangles with the Star Tool. Do it like in a previous step, just reduce the number of points to 3 by pressing the down arrow.

Position the triangles like in the picture. Select the bottomcentre points of each rectangle and delete them. Then put the triangles closer to one another. Select two rightmost points of each triangle, right click and select Join, do the same for two leftmost points. Then scale the joined triangles to get a thin pointy shape.

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Duplicate the pointy shape. Give both shapes white color and position them like below.

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Step 1.3

Style for the columns is ready. Now we need to take care of the most important part. Applying and configuring the graph design in Illustrator. There are four ways in which you can apply the style to a bar graph. Vertically scaled, uniformly scaled, repeating and sliding.

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Now you’re probably wondering why didn’t I show the newly created style with the vertical scaling option? Let me show you.

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Looks pretty bad… When dealing with more complicated column designs it’s always better to use the sliding option because it enables you to specify which part of design you want to scale and which you want to leave unscaled.

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As you can see it looks good. Now let me show you, how you can prepare a design to be scaled this way.

Step 1.4

Lets get back to the cube we created a few steps earlier. To make our design scale properly using the sliding option we need todraw two things.

1. A rectangle which will indicate the boundaries of our design

2. straight line to define which part of the design will be stretched.

Draw the rectangle and the line just like you see them below:

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Now group everything (ctrl/cmd+G). Go to the layers panel and put the boundary rectangle at the very bottom of the group (this is very important!), the rectangle shouldn’t have any fill or stroke, so turn them off.

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Select the black line with the Direct Selection Tool. Go to View>Guides>Make Guides or press ctrl/cmd+5. We need to convert this line into a guide or else it won’t work. This is the only way to show the Illustrator where to stretch the design.

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Now uncheck View>Guides>Lock Guides. It’s just for convenience, if the guides have been locked you wouldn’t be able to move the guide we just created.

Step 1.5

Select the group, go to Object>Graph>Design and click "New Design". Your design is now ready to be applied to the graph . You can also rename it by clicking the "Rename Design" button.

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Delete the cube from the page area, make the graph we created earlier visible again and select it. Then go to Object>Graph>Column, select your design from the list, and choose Sliding from the drop down menu. Click OK.

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Your graph should look similar to this. If your columns seem to be too wide, change the Column Width parameter in Object>Graph>Type.

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Creating graph designs may be a complicated task. If you can’t do it, justdownload the source files. You’ll find a ready made column design outside of the artboard in "bar_final.ai".

In this last step I added a few touches. I made some lines invisible, and changed the font. I also added the orizontal lines by using the Tick Marks option in Object>Graph>Type>Value Axis.

The graph is ready, and what is the most important, it’s editable, you can change column values or add newvalues to the spreadsheet and it will work just fine.

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It’s worth noting that design we created will also work withdifferent types of graphs:Stacked Column Graph,Bar Graph and Stacked Bar Graph.

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Step 2 The Pie Graph

In this step we’ll try to get some nice glossy reflections on the pie graph.We’ll be using advanced 3D and lighting options, so don’t worry if things will get slow on your machine.

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Take the Pie Graph tool, draw a new pie graph and input some numbers into the spreadsheet.

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The following steps will be very processor intensive. If your computer is slow, you may have to wait a few minutes before the 3D effect renders. If it doesn’t, click "Stop", exit the "3D Extrude & Bevel" option and try again.

You can also decrease the "Blend Steps" parameter in the light settings. This parameter directly affects the quality and speed of rendering (the lower the faster but with less quality).

Step 2.1

Give the graph some colours, then go to Effects>3D>Extrude and Bevel and input values from the picture below.

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To create nice reflections on our graph we need to round its edges by using the Rounded Bevel option from the Bevel drop down menu. Adjust the bevel to 4 pt height and make it Extent in. It is also essential to select the Plastic Shading, this is the option responsible for rendering lighting reflections.

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Now you can notice nice little reflections on the edges of the graph, but this is just the beginning, we’ll make it look much better.

Click the "More Options" button to expand the window and make the light configuration visible. Now add two more lights. Position all three lights and give them all the same parameters like in the picture.

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Do you notice thegorgeous big reflection on the side of our graph? It looks great, but it needs one more adjustment. If you zoom into the reflection you’ll see strangeartefacts in the color blending.

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Actually it’s quite easy to fix, just go back to the Extrude and Bevel options (you have to do this by double clicking on this effect in the Appearance Panel after you select the graph) andincrease the Blend Steps parameter to 100. You mayincrease this parameter even more, but it has a great impact on the rendering time. If your computer is slow I advise you to keep the blend steps as low as possible.

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Step 2.2 (Optional)

The graph looks good andis 100% editable, you may change the numbers in the spreadsheet and it will update. This step is optional because if you want to style the graph a little more you will have to redo Step 2.2 each time you update the spreadsheet.

Duplicate the pie graph and go to its Extrude andBevel options. Change the Surface Shading to Wireframe and click OK.

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Expand the wireframe (Object>Expand Appearance) and delete every line except the top edges of the object. You should be left with something that looks like that:

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You may have to ungroup the shapes a few times (ctrl/cmd+shift+G) because Illustator tends to group objects several times after they are expanded.

Then after your shapes are ungrouped, group them, to make sure they are all in one group.

Select the shapes, give them a white, 1 pt stroke with 50% opacity.

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Duplicate the whole group. Make it 100% opacity, no stoke, white fill.

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Take the rectangle tool and draw a new rectangle. Rotate and scale it like in the picture below. Fill it with white to black gradient.

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Select the rectangle and the white filled group. Go to the Transparency Panel and from the drop down menu, click "Make Opacity Mask".

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The graph is now ready Your outcome should resemble this:

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Step 3 The Line Graph

Select the Line Graph tool, draw a new graph and input data into the spreadsheet.

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Now we will create a marker design for the graph. Markers are those little rectangles located in places where the lines connect.

Select one of the markers, copy it and paste it.

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Use the Ellipse Tool to create a circle, give it a white stroke and a dark blue to light blue radial gradient. Then select the gradient tool and click on the place indicated in the picture to move the gradients centre.

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Select the circle and the marker that we copied and pasted earlier. Align them to their horizontal and verticalcentres. Select the marker and turn off any stroke or fill.

Now, this is very important, put the marker below the circle in the layershierarchy and group both objects (the circle and the marker).

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With both objects (circle and marker) still selected go to Object>Graph>Design. Click "New Design" button, your design is ready to be applied to the graph.

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Lets use the design we just created to style our graph. Select the graph and go to Object>Graph>Marker, select your design and click OK.

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The graph is almost ready it just needs a few more tweaks. Select it and go to Object>Graph>Type. In the Graph Options select "Draw Filled Lines" and make them 3pt thick.

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Then in Value Axis options select "Override Calculated Values" and in the Max field input a number higher than last number in your value axis. Mine is 10, so I input 12. Also select Full Width tick marks.

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Go to the Category Axis and make it draw Full Length tick marks.

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Your result should look more or less like this:

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The last step is fairly simple. I played with some colours and stroke widths.Changed gradient to green on the second lines markers (I recommend using Edit Colors option in the Colour Guide panel for this), and added arrowheads to the main axes (Effect>Add Arrowheads).

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You may also apply this style to the Scatter Graph and, to some extent, the Area Graph.

This is the end of the tutorial, as you can see Illustrator is capable of producing some nice looking graphs. I encourage you to read Illustrators help files. You will find there a lot of additional info about graph tools. And as always, try to experiment and have fun.

Download the source files

95 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point
    Steve W (5 Points) March 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Nice! Thank you for combining several types of charts instead of making us wait!

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  2. Add point Subtract point
    Stacy Adams (0 Points) February 25, 2011 at 12:34 am

    This is an amazing tutorial and has significantly increased my Illustrator skills in creating compelling and beautiful graphs/charts. Thank you so much!

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  3. Add point Subtract point

    Hi, Awesome Graph tutorial! thx!

    Any ideas?
    I followed this tutorial and ended up with amazing graphs, i’m trying to print my document tp PDF, the graphs gets pixelated and small lines appear on the border… ANY IDEAS?

    Thanks!

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  4. Add point Subtract point
    endrew (1 Point) August 30, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Hi. I am currently working on my degree thesis right now and would just like to thank you for this wonderful tutorial. Keep em coming. =D

    Thank you!

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    roneybalack (0 Points) August 8, 2010 at 3:39 am

    In this photoshop tutorial we will learn to design a clean website layout. … This photoshop tutorial show you how to design a very beautiful and shining …
    thanks.. find more best tutorials here http://newsclub1.com

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  6. Add point Subtract point
    mebreaks (1 Point) July 18, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Great one!! I like it so much.It is really good collection.

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  7. Add point Subtract point

    I have been making these illustrator graphs for over 2 years. You mentioned that, looking into the illustrator help files will help you play with different ideas. Well, I found the help files extremely lacking in helpfulness. Your tutorial is exactly what illustrator should be putting out. The tip about the marker being the exact size of the design, about it being in the bottom of the group. Super info!
    Would someone please put more info about how to bring in the data from an excel file. How exactly should the text be set up in the excel file to be read correctly by illustrator. (eg. Quotes around numbers that need to be labels, negative numbers being translated into negative numbers.)
    I really do like illustrators option to pivot the information.
    I have often been held up by the first cell in the illustrator table having a space, then illustrator thinks I have no data in the table due to the space. It is really time for some tutorials on this part of the process.

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  8. Add point Subtract point
    Constanza (0 Points) June 24, 2010 at 1:24 am

    Yei! I just didn’t want to use the excel ones as templates. It would have taken me ages!! (and probably the results wouldn’t have been very accurate).
    Thanks a lot! They are really nice!

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  9. Add point Subtract point
    Lethal Marketing (0 Points) June 22, 2010 at 8:49 am

    These charts look amazing, especially the pie chart, this will definitely come in useful!!

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  10. Add point Subtract point

    Great tut!

    Pity it seemed to attract so many accountants who are only into excel ;)

    Me on the other hand… I am going to design some nice chart icons to convey how a website can improve a businesses productivity on my new website, but worry Mr Millar I will offer 2D icons as well :))

    The pie graph is super tasty!!

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    Gebel Scarduzio (0 Points) June 19, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Download60s.com is a graphic designing website. photoshop tutorials.
    http://download60s.com

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  12. Add point Subtract point

    This will save me a lot of working hours. I always drawed charts by hand. Thank you.

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    Scott Corgan (0 Points) June 16, 2010 at 10:52 am

    That pie chart is actually quite gorgeous!

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  14. Add point Subtract point
    Herbig Raduenz (0 Points) June 12, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Download60s.com is a graphic designing website. photoshop tutorials.
    http://download60s.com

    Flag as inappropriate
  15. Add point Subtract point

    This is a GREAT tutorial. I can think of many ways to use graph. Ideally at a display of my clients ROI in my advertising, a great way to showcase my skills and the data companies crave. Bravo!

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    JobGraphs (-5 Points) June 5, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Similarly JobGraphs provides job trends in the form of just graphs

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  17. Add point Subtract point
    kanz (0 Points) June 5, 2010 at 10:49 am

    yeah, very nice, thank you, that was real fun!

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  18. Add point Subtract point
    Axelrod (0 Points) June 3, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Great tutorial. This really makes charts look more aesthetically pleasing. Thanks for introducing the idea.

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  19. Add point Subtract point
    Labgrab (0 Points) June 2, 2010 at 1:51 am

    Used this tutorial tonight to make a pie chart. Worked great, thanks. http://www.flickr.com/photos/labgrab/4662649182/

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    Tutorial Lounge (0 Points) June 1, 2010 at 7:13 am

    looks really beautiful and your tutorial fully contained with techniques. thanks

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    Marshmallow Cat (0 Points) May 31, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Love this tutorial…I work with alot of graphics (charts and graphs)…100s of them a year. It’s hard to find nice tutorials in this are. This tutorial is great…the examples are fantastic and inspiring…has given me some new ideas!

    Thanks so much

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  22. Add point Subtract point
    Theo (0 Points) May 31, 2010 at 7:37 am

    Nice work, usefull tut, will come in handy thanks for sharing it !

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  23. Add point Subtract point
    inspirationfeed (0 Points) May 30, 2010 at 11:28 am

    These look awesome, thank you for the psd!

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  24. Add point Subtract point
    Rohit (0 Points) May 28, 2010 at 1:42 am

    Nice Tutorials,
    I am visiting this site first time and I think its very useful and really good collection thanks.
    visit : news.ewebtutorial.com

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  25. Add point Subtract point
    Danny Dyson (0 Points) May 26, 2010 at 2:51 am

    Awesome post.. learnt quite a bit from this..

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  26. Add point Subtract point
    BebopDesigner (0 Points) May 24, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Excellent tut! Love the outcome…. thanks for sharing

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  27. Add point Subtract point
    Igor Ivankovic (0 Points) May 23, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    This will come in handy, thank you for this great share :D

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  28. Add point Subtract point
    moda (0 Points) May 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Very good tutorial, thanks for share.

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  29. Add point Subtract point
    loswl (0 Points) May 21, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Awesome tutorial, love the use of Illustrator with adding the extra reflections and 3D elements :)

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  30. Add point Subtract point

    this is great for my thesis and for my math presentations :)
    thanks.

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    Jysta (0 Points) May 20, 2010 at 4:26 am

    Great Tut – All the techniques provide you with the opportunity to make the graphs as clear or stylish as you wish. The scatter graph, before and after is a prime example of how this method works so well. Different strokes for different folks – you don’t want your audience falling asleep now do you?

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  32. Add point Subtract point
    Keith (0 Points) May 19, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    My first inclination was to think “The 2D charts are better for showing data,” but hey, pretty charts are pretty and the tutorial is good. Heck, I didn’t even notice Illustrator had a chart tool until now.

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  33. Add point Subtract point
    CSSReX (0 Points) May 19, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    There are no limits to designing yeah!!

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  34. Add point Subtract point
    gruporastris (0 Points) May 19, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Very usefull. Graphics should not be bored!
    Nice tutorial

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  35. Add point Subtract point
    John (0 Points) May 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Maybe it’s just me, but I thought even the boring charts were nice. :P

    This is really nice.. thanks for sharing!

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  36. Add point Subtract point
    Sarah William (1 Point) May 19, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Brilliant work! Good tut! Now you got me all inspired.
    Thanks for posting greatness….

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  37. Add point Subtract point
    Adriana Cortés (0 Points) May 19, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Graciasd por el tutorial está muy bueno…. =)

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  38. Add point Subtract point
    Jake Thomas (0 Points) May 19, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Fantastic tutorial! Admit though, that it could be simplified slightly – Maybe even so to allow for an automation to be setup? Now that would be neat.

    Completely disagree with @David Millar’s post – Who said graphs were meant to be boring?

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      David Millar (-2 Points) May 19, 2010 at 2:23 pm

      It’s not that charts are meant to be boring. Charts are supposed to convey information without the use of extra numbers or accompanying tables.

      In this example, I will say that the line graph at the bottom is acceptable, but the pie and bar charts don’t serve the user. The bar charts especially obfuscate the data – you can’t tell the proper amounts because the 3d bars break the frame; that is, the bottom of the box has the lines crossing at the front of the box, and the top of the box seems to have lines crossing at the back. 3 dimensional bars for bar charts are generally a big no-no for presenting good information, and I guess (although unclear) that was the main point I was trying to make.

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      inkfree (0 Points) June 15, 2010 at 5:56 am

      @David Millar: you seem to miss the fact that you have the option not to use it under certain circumstances without attacking the author.

      I for many reasons love these ideas and will incorporate some in future projects. Thanks Bartosz for sharing a brilliant idea!

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  39. Add point Subtract point
    David Millar (-2 Points) May 19, 2010 at 9:09 am

    You’re doing it wrong. The shininess and 3D of it all makes the data harder to read, which is the opposite of what a chart is supposed to do. If anything your originals are closer to how data should be visualized properly. It’s better to add a few simple colors and then design around the charts with strong typography and simple graphics.

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      Luke Eaton (0 Points) May 19, 2010 at 9:58 am

      I totally disagree! Yeah you should use simple shapes and colors if you are laying out a 200 page annual report, but if you want a chart to stand out and get peoples attention then this tut is for you. I have seen many charts and graphs that were more detailed than the ones in this tut and they work well. There are some great techniques in this tut!

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      Maybe it also depends on the kind of presentation, and how the data should compliment other media/branding guidelines.

      Both good thoughts – there are definitely times when something flashy would not be appropriate.

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      Bartosz Oczujda (1 Point) May 19, 2010 at 4:23 pm

      It just seems that you can’t please everyone. :-)

      As an author of the tutorial I’m more interested in showing new techniques to the readers than showing the “proper” way to visualize data.

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      IT depends on your client… normally this wouldnt fly in the world of pharma, but for something more laid back ,something informal , and if they gave you the time to spend on details like that , then by all means. They look great , dont get me wrong, but most of my clients would need me to focus more on data than high detailed, visualization, when it could easly be effective with a color palette. I wish i could work on more ideas like this. Lucky you if you get time like that!

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      Iggy (0 Points) May 20, 2010 at 4:20 pm

      I can see David’s point. As far as relating accurate data, the pie and bar graphs are difficult to read (bar graph especially—are we supposed to read the front edge, or back edge? <— rhetorical).

      However, if you main focus is on relationships and comparisons, not necessarily the hard numbers, then being exact doesn't matter, and being pretty can help. Also, it does show off a creative technique.

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      Jeremy Englert (-1 Points) May 21, 2010 at 7:02 pm

      David Miller said exactly what I was thinking, and also what I’ve been taught. I try to avoid 3D charts unless specifically asked to use one – and then I’m just lazy and use Excel.

      However, this is a great, detailed tutorial for anyone who may need to make a chart like this. Not everyone has the same needs/wants.

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      Brett (2 Points) May 26, 2010 at 10:33 am

      @David Millar, starting your comment by saying, “You’re doing it wrong” is really off-putting and tells me the exact type of person you are. Just because you have a know-it-all personality doesn’t mean you actually know it all.

      As for my opinion, which some of you may share, while others may not, this type of graph is perfect for displaying quick, non-detailed information. For the bar graph, I can tell immediately that A is larger than B, but smaller than C, which is larger than D.

      Mr. Millar, I agree that if you need to know exact numbers or percentages this would not be an optimal solution. However, your attitude reminds me of a little kid that just wants to argue and try to sound like the smartest one in the room.

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      I’d say that this is about infographic design : represent it a visual way. We can easily add a line and point it out of the 2nd chart to write numbers to make it more “readable”. I don’t think there’s a ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ way to do anything. A designer should just go with the option that would fit the situation.
      Your chart is beautiful, I’d love to see more.

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      Bartosz Oczujda (0 Points) May 28, 2010 at 4:55 am

      @Moo

      Thank you. It always feels nice when someone says that your work is beautiful :)

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