3d modeling

Photoshop 3D Printing Tools Tested – 3D Modeling

Creating a 3D object can be tedious, even before trying to print it. Adobe’s latest update to its Photoshop Creative Cloud (CC) photo-editing program helps reduce frustration, offering useful modeling tools as well as built-in support for a number of 3D printers. Creative Cloud subscribers ($49.99 per month for a one-year subscription or $74.99 per month) will receive the update for free. But is this addition worth the price of admission for budding 3D modelers who don’t yet have Photoshop CC?


Installing Photoshop CC took about 15 minutes. We downloaded the entire Adobe Creative Cloud Control Panel, then opened it and installed the 2.5GB Photoshop CC program with a single click. To take full advantage of the visual effects you will apply and use in Photoshop CC, you need to ensure that your computer has updated video drivers.


As with the rest of its advanced tools, Photoshop’s 3D editing tools can be difficult for a novice user to master. It took us a while to figure out that creating a 3D model from scratch meant drawing on a new layer, then right-clicking on that layer and choosing “New 3D Extrusion from Selected Layer”. Those familiar with the Photoshop interface, however, may appreciate the seamless 3D integration.

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3D layers are in a tab in the traditional layers box in the bottom right. Within the tab is a row of buttons that allow you to adjust the view of your 3D model by meshes, materials, lights, or the entire scene. Meshes show you the shapes of your model, materials show your project based on the layers of materials used, and lights let you control the shadows and lighting of your scene. Choosing one of these views not only changes what you can see on the canvas, but also opens up different options in the Properties panel above the Layers area.

Other features, such as New 3D Layer from File, which lets you add an existing object to your canvas, and 3D Print Settings, which lets you preview your project before printing, are accessible via a 3D menu in the top toolbar.

3D creation and editing

Photoshop isn’t the best program to use for creating 3D models from scratch, but those who don’t want to learn how to use a whole new tool will appreciate that you can do it in Photoshop. Drawing tools are somewhat limited compared to free titles, such as Blender, where you get more granular drag-and-drop control over your model, or SketchUp, which lets you create a model by drawing and connecting dots . In Photoshop CC, you’ll need to create your design in 2D first, then convert that layer to 3D.

It took us a while to figure it out, but creating a 3D object from scratch was as easy as drawing an entire shape (without gaps) or merging several shapes together on a new layer and extruding that layer by clicking on it with the right button. We drew a square robot figure with the brush tool and extruded it. Within seconds, our two-dimensional robot became a thick, block-like 3D being.

You can also import existing models in 3D file formats like .OBJ, .STL, and .DAE (aka Collada) and edit them with Photoshop CC. We downloaded a Collada file of a dolphin from 3D Warehouse and opened it in Photoshop.

We applied a Coral Swirl texture to the dolphin, and the dolphin’s skin changed from a smooth gray to a grainy pink.

Integration of 3D printing

What is really important in this update from Adobe is its integration with 3D printers. Instead of having to export your project as a printer-compatible file – such as .STL, .OBJ, or .DAE (Collada) – and then open it with the printer software, you can send your file directly to a connected 3D printer or have it printed via the Shapeways.com 3D printing service. You can also export your project as an .STL file to print with another program if you wish.

Photoshop CC makes it even easier by giving you a preview of your model with your chosen material, generating removable support structures so your creation doesn’t collapse during the printing process, and automatically resizing the parts that do not meet the minimum wall thickness for the selected printer. This cuts down a lot of the headaches and heartaches that come with hours of waiting for your masterpiece to print, only to have it come out as a garbled mess.

We selected 3D Printing Settings from the 3D drop-down menu in the toolbar and were able to choose from five printers, including 3D Systems Cube, MakerBot Replicator 2, MakerBot Replicator 2X, ZCorp Full Color, and Shapeways.com. You can also download and install third-party printer profiles in Photoshop as they become available.

You can see which colors of your model are supported and get a better idea of ​​what your design will look like once it’s produced. When we changed printer profiles from MakerBot Replicator 2 to ZCorp Full Color, our canvas shell adjusted to reflect the differences in the final printed version. The water texture on our hull was reduced to a smooth ivory layer when we selected the MakerBot Replicator 2, but we saw blue and brown swirls when we selected the ZCorp.

For those who don’t have their own 3D printers, Photoshop CC also helps prepare your model for Shapeways.com. With support for 39 materials – including elastoplastic, gold-plated brass, polychrome sandstone, and stainless steel – Shapeways offers a wide variety of options for the budding 3D artist.

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We tried printing our model of a cast hexagon on a rectangle, and were told it was too big for the selected printer and we had to scale it down. We did this easily by clicking “Scale to print volume” in the 3D Print Settings panel, and the project was scaled from 16 x 14 x 16 inches to 7 x 6 x 7 inches.

When we clicked print to prepare our project for Shapeways.com, a progress bar appeared indicating that Photoshop was working to merge objects and repair meshes. About 6 minutes later, Photoshop presented a preview of our model in the material we had chosen (Alumide) and an estimate of its cost ($3,309.77).

Selecting a different material (White Detail) and shrinking the object (1 x 1 x 0.7 inches) brought the price estimate down to $15. We clicked Print again, and this time the finishing process only took 2 minutes. Then we clicked Export to save the project as an .STL file. After that, Photoshop prompted us to upload our file to Shapeways.com to complete the ordering process and took us to the Shapeways.com website when we clicked OK.

We then created a Shapeways account, uploaded the .STL file and 20 painfully long minutes later, Shapeways loaded the model and displayed details such as its dimensions, a table of materials and how much it would cost to print our model. The table also indicated whether our model met the minimum thickness required to print in each material. Shapeways quoted price to print in this material was $12.13 – cheaper than what Adobe was expecting, which was a pleasant surprise. We clicked Add to Cart to print our project in this material, then clicked Order from the drop-down menu at the top.

All things considered, Photoshop doesn’t really streamline the process for anyone looking to print to Shapeways. It would be much easier if Photoshop sent the .STL file directly to Shapeways.


Adobe realized that adding editing tools for 3D models and built-in support for 3D printers would greatly improve Photoshop. As a free update for Photoshop CC subscribers, it’s a no-brainer. However, it has a long way to go before it’s on par with the rest of the editing suite. Free programs, such as Blender and SketchUp, offer more control over your projects, and while Photoshop CC’s printer integration is handy, the Shapeways.com process needs to be better streamlined. But Adobe is off to a good start, and those familiar with its interface will find the 3D tools easy to grasp.