InDesign FX: Simulating 3-D shapes using the Pen tool, Pathfinder, and Convert Shape

Published by | Thursday, February 9th, 2012

In this week’s free InDesign FX video, I will show you how to use simple shapes, the Pen tool, and the Pathfinder to draw simple extrusions that transform flat-looking objects into 3-D shapes. For example, you can quickly make two ellipses and a rectangle into a cylinder.

Using InDesign to make two ellipses and a rectangle into a cylinder.

In order for your extrusions to look right it’s important to maintain proper sizing and alignment of all the objects. In the video, I show how this can be easy with the help of a somewhat obscure feature, Convert Shape.

InDesign's Convert Shape feature

For example, it’s easy to duplicate your dimensional cylinder with the Convert Shape tool. Just start by copying your original, top ellipse to make a second, lower ellipse, and then convert your lower ellipse into a rectangle that has the exact same height, width, and position using the Convert Shape tool. From there, you can stretch the rectangle to become the side of the cylinder with the Pathfinder, and since the rectangle has the exact same height, width, and position as your top ellipse, you know that it will fit together perfectly with your top ellipse to make a cylinder.

Once you get the hang of a simple cylinder, try something more ambitious. Maybe try combining two cylinders and a little bit of Basic Feather to reward yourself with a refreshing beverage.

InDesign extrusion with feather

In the video, I also demonstrate some simple Pen tool techniques that allow you to extrude more complex shapes, like this star.

InDesign Star extrusion

For members, I also have another new video this week in the Online Training Library® on how to use the Control Panel for Drawing Concentric Shapes.

Drawing Concentric Shapes with InDesign

See you here again in two weeks with another InDesign effect!

Interested in more?

• The complete InDesign FX course
• All InDesign courses on
• All courses by Mike Rankin on

Suggested courses to watch next:
• InDesign CS5 Essential Training
 InDesign Secrets
• Creating Long Documents with InDesign
Designing a Magazine Layout Hands-On Workshop

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