3D Illustration of Tubes, Pipes and Balls

So my latest Blender 3D project focus is creating abstract orthographic 3D Illustrations for Web. Illustrations on web sites are very popular these days. Photographic imagery is losing steam as designers turn to brand friendly, custom illustration to relay their message.

I don’t see a lot of 3D illustration yet. More 2D stylized people holding laptops, or working together on some interconnected project. Perhaps 3D is a bit daunting. The Adobe suite does not include a 3D Illustration tool yet, at least nothing like Cinema 4D or Autodesk 3DS Max.

Of course Blender is my preferred 3D modelling tool, and it works great for creating compelling and interesting 3D illustrations.

The Importance of Shapes

Keeping shapes simple, balanced and symmetrical is key to creating a friendly 3D Illustration. I also like to use the orthographic camera view. In Blender the Perspective Camera is the default. To change to orthographic view, select the camera, either by right clicking it in your scene, or selecting it in the scene object list. Then select the orthographic view.

Simple, symmetrical shapes is the start. I do a lot of experimenting with compositions of objects. I like to arrange them in various directions and play with the lighting. I think a compelling image requires careful placement of elements and appropriate lighting. I tend to use the ‘sun’ light source. I will generally have more than one light source, to illuminate multiple angles of my objects and create highlights on edges.


3D Illustration Tubes, Pipes and Balls with Brand Colors
Tubes, Pipes and Balls – Brand Colors

The colors in an illustration can include or even be restricted to the brand palette. In the above example I branded the Tubes, Pipes and Balls image to the Tangent Technologies colors (Tangent is my web consulting company).

I really like the look of a simple mix shader with .95 weight on the diffuse shader and .05 on the glossy shader. This creates a plastic, plasticene look that I find quaint and cute. It make the shapes look a bit like toys and works well with the orthographic projection.


3D shapes must have beveled edges! This is very important for most hard surface modelling projects. Sharp edges have a computer generated look that instantly disqualifies them from the realm of realism. Even if your viewer knows that image is rendered, sharp edges just ruin a shape. Bevel those edges.

3D Illustration Cloud Databases
Cloud Databases

Concept Design

This is probably the most interesting and challenging part of 3D Illustration. Coming up with a design concept that works with your content. I created the Cloud Databases Illustration for a blog post I am working on that compares Azure Cloud Database offerings. The concept is simple, stylized clouds raining databases (Or carrying databases?). The science might not jive, but the concept is clear – databases in the clouds.

Concept design is so critical to the outcome of the final image. Sketch out ideas before committing to anything and be prepared to experiment and possibly toss out concepts. Force simplicity, it keeps failures cheap and spurs creativity.

More to come…