Why 3D in Photoshop?

There are a number of reasons for working with 3D shapes in Photoshop.

  • 3D printing. Files can be sent to print service bureaus which print with more exotic materials like gold-plated brass.
  • Adding a missing object to a photo.
  • Creating 3D type for use in print or screen.
  • Creating 3D art from scratch as artistic expression.

Photoshop Setup & Terminology

Create New Workspace

Switch to the 3D workspace. Add the Swatches and Colour panels. Save this as your own custom 3D Workspace. I named mine Al’s 3D



Adobe has a useful reference Visual Dictionary of 3D Terms. Here are some basics:


X Axis
is the width, left to right. Positive values are to the right of the centre. Negative numbers are to the left of the centre. A positive X axis rotation flips forward.
Z Axis
is the depth, close to far. Positive numbers are closer to you. Negative numbers are farther. A positive rotation along the Z axis is a roll, like a cartwheel.
Y Axis
is the height, down to up. Positive numbers move up and negative numbers move down, below the ground plane. A positive rotation on the Y axis is a turn, like steering a car right or left.
is a special kind of layer that houses one or more 3D objects. Every 3D layer in Photoshop is its own scene.
is the wireframe construction of a 3D object. It’s like the skeleton, or the framing of a house.
is a 2D snapshot of a 3D scene. Move your camera rather than moving the 3D object.
is the skin of the mesh. It includes its colouring, its texture and its reflectivity.
3D scenes require light to reveal the materials and textures.
Note that 3D shapes are resolution indepentant. That means that they scale like vectors. There's no need to create your shapes at a high resolution, which would only slow down your work.

Formative Activity

Your First Shapes

Before creating our first shape, we’re going to colour our background layer. Choose a colour, then use the Option-Delete keyboard shortcut to fill with the foreground colour.

Create a new document. It’s convenient to create a square document, so it’s easier to manipulate things in 3D space. Resolution is irrelevant, since 3D art is vector based.

Create a new layer. Name it Ring. Go to your 3D panel and choose Mesh from preset, then the shape you want to create from the dropdown. Let’s create a ring.


Moving Around

When working in 3D in Photoshop, you can move the camera around the scene, or you can move the object in the scene. In the former, you’re moving and the object is not. In the latter, the shape is moving and you’re not. You can also change the location of the light relative to the objec in the scene.

To move the camera around your ring, click on Current View in your Layers Panel, then drag around.


  1. Orbit the 3D camera
  2. Roll the 3D camera
  3. Pan the 3D camera
  4. Slide the 3D camera
  5. Zoom the 3D camera

To move the camera, target Current View in the 3D Panel. Click on the camera in the Properties Panel. In the Properties Panel, there’s a dropdown menu of preset camera views. You can also save new camera views in that menu.

To change the location of the light, click on Infinite Light in the 3D panel. You can now grab the control on the shape to move the light around. You can also change its properties in the Properties panel.


To resize the sphere, click on the sphere in the 3D panel. Shift-drag the sugar cube to enlarge the 3D control. Drag up on the sugar cube to scale the sphere.

To view your object without all the guide, switch to your Marquee Tool by typing m. Type v to go back to your Move Tool.

To move an object, target it in the 3D panel. Go to Coordinates in the Properties panel. There are Position, Rotation and Size fields to help you control objects. You can click the Move to Ground button in the Properties Panel to make objects sit on the ground plane.If you want objects to move together, group them first with Command-g.

As you hover your cursor over the object, sides and edges light up in yellow to indicate how you can drag the object. You don’t need to use the widget controls.


To add colour to an object, target the object’s Material in the 3D panel. Go to Diffuse in the Properties panel. Click on the swatch to select a new colour.


To control the colour of shadows, target Environment in the 3D Panel. Change the shadow colour.

To create a reflection of your object, target Environment in the 3D Panel. Change the reflection opacity.


Extruding 3D Type

This unit covers working with 3D in Photoshop, showing how to create textured type and drawing objects that can be manipulated in 3D space.

Type on a new Text layer. Go to the Type menu, then click on Extrude to 3D Text.


Move the camera to get a better view.

To edit the amount of extrusion, go to the Properties Panel. Click on the Deform tab. Hover your cursor over the type on the canvas, then drag the arrow widget. This will increase or decrease the extrusion amount.


To edit the surfaces of the type, in the 3D Panel, click on Extrude Front Inflation Material. Go Diffuse button to change the colour or other properties.


To add a bevel to the type, target the type in the 3D Panel. In the Properties Panel, go to Cap tab. There are controls in the panel to edit the bevel. To change the colour of the bevel, target the Extrude Front Bevel Material. In the Properties Panel, you can edit the bevel colour.


To edit 3D type, target its layer. Target the type in the 3D Panel. In the Properties Panel, there’s a Character Panel button. This allows you to edit the font and typesetting. To edit what is actually typed, use your Type Tool and right click on the type on the canvas, then click Edit Type. Click on Edit Source in the Properties Panel

Extruding 3D Paths

It’s possible to extrude paths like you extrude type. We’ll explore drawing in Illustrator, then creating 3D shapes from those paths.

Start in Illustrator

Draw a path in Illustrator. You can use any tools you want: shapes, pen tool, etc… Fills and strokes are irrelevant, since they’ll all be discarded once they’re transfered to Photoshop.


Copy the Illustrator path. Go to Photoshop, then create a new layer. Paste it in Photoshop


Go to the Paths panel. Double-click on the path, then name it. Delete the duplicate.


Making it 3D

Go to the 3D Panel, then click on 3D Extrusion. Change the Source to Work Path. You may get an error if the path is too complex. Keep it simple.


Once you have your object in place, remove any existing materials in the Properties Panel, so you’re starting from scratch.

To make an object look revolved rather than extruded, target it in the 3D Panel, then go to the Deform tab in the Properties Panel. Click the Bend radio button. Increase the Horizontal Angle to more than 360º.


To edit the original shape, target it in the 3D Panel. Go to the Properties Panel’s Mesh tab, then click Edit Source.

To add more paths to the object, draw new paths in Illustrator. Copy/Paste them onto a new Path layer in Photoshop. Create a new Layer. In the 3D Panel, select Work Path from the drop-down menu. Click the 3D Extrusion radio button. This makes the new layer a 3D Layer. To make it part of the first shape, target its layer, then go to the 3D menu and click on Merge 3D Layers. All that’s left is to position the second shape relative to the first one.

Create a 3D ‘Postcard’

A 3D postcard in Photoshop allows you to manipulate a 2D object in 3D space.

You may want a two-dimensional object in a three-dimensional scene. You’ll want it to take on natural lighting and reflections from the scene. This is where a 3D Postcard comes in.

To create a postcard, target the desired layer. Go to the Properties panel.


Set it as displayed above. You can also right-click on any layer, then choose Postcard from the menu. It’ll do the trick.


The result is a Photoshop 3D layer that can be manipulated in 3D space. You can give it lighting attributes. It can take on reflections of other objects in 3D space. Quite convenient…

Materials in 3D

This unit covers working with 3D in Photoshop, showing how to create textured type and drawing objects that can be manipulated in 3D space.

Materials include all attributes that are related to the surface of a 3D mesh in Photoshop. They display the colour, shininess, texture, etc… To affect a meterial, you need to turn off the materials associated to an object to find the one you want.

You can change the material colour from the Properties panel’s colour swatch. The resulting dialogue looks a bit like the regular Photoshop Colour Picker.


When you increase the Shine value, you can see light spots on your object. You can edit the light by clicking on the Environment item in the 3D panel.


The white spots in the file represent a light. Edit at will.

You can edit the properties of multiple materials by targeting them all at once in the 3D panel. This is easier to do if you filter only the Materials in the panel. Target them all, then make changes in the Properties panel. All shapes will change together.


You can make a 3D object have reflections from a photo on a separate layer. So if your 3D object is in a Photoshop canvas with a background photo, you can have the photo reflect on your object.

Getting More Materials


You can get more meshes, materials, IBLs and more from right in Photoshop. Simply go to the 3D menu, then click on Get More Content… It will take you to Adobe’s site, where you’ll find a number of download sources. Some are paid and some are free.