How to turn a 2D object into a 3D object using Photoshop

How to use a depth map to turn a 2D object into 3D

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  • 3d object final Intro
  • 3D depth1 1. Convert and use
  • 3D depth2 2. Trim and duplicate
  • 3D depth3 3. Convert to mono
  • 3D depth4 4. Invert for depth
  • 3D depth5 5. Smooth it out
  • 3D depth6 6. Expand and select
  • 3D depth7 7. Go to 3D
  • 3D depth8 8. Copy texture
  • 3D depth9 9. Edit texture
  • 3D depth10 10. Replace the look
  • 3D depth11 11. Adjust the object
  • 3D depth12 12. Scaling on Z
  • 3D depth13 13. Inflite light
  • 3D depth14 14. Add a spot
  • 3D depth15 15. Save and render
  • 3d alternative More ideas
  • More stories
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Intro

You can often come across illustrations or photos of objects and think, that’s nice but it would be great to use it as a 3D object somehow. Well, one of the functions in Photoshop CS6 Extended can help out here. It uses a pseudo-depth map to create the 3D effect. So, some explanation of this first.

All images have areas of light and dark. Turn a copy of the image into mono and it makes this easier to see. When Photoshop creates the 3D file, it uses the light areas for height and the dark areas for depth. The best type of photo to use is one where the object itself is flat to the camera view. In this case, when converted, lighter areas will be nearer the camera, darker areas further away.

It’s possible to use images of objects that are themselves, three-dimensional because they have apparent depth, in a 2D format of course. However, for these you will need to create a customised depth map yourself. More on that later.

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Next Prev 3d object final

You can often come across illustrations or photos of objects and think, that’s nice but it would be great to use it as a 3D object somehow. Well, one of the functions in Photoshop CS6 Extended can help out here. It uses a pseudo-depth map to create the 3D effect. So, some explanation of this first.

All images have areas of light and dark. Turn a copy of the image into mono and it makes this easier to see. When Photoshop creates the 3D file, it uses the light areas for height and the dark areas for depth. The best type of photo to use is one where the object itself is flat to the camera view. In this case, when converted, lighter areas will be nearer the camera, darker areas further away.

It’s possible to use images of objects that are themselves, three-dimensional because they have apparent depth, in a 2D format of course. However, for these you will need to create a customised depth map yourself. More on that later.

 

Step 2 of 17: 1. Convert and use

What we have here is an illustration of the Union Jack flag in EPS format. So, load it in and rasterize to a bitmap in RGB format. Then save the project as a PSD file to progress.

 

Step 3 of 17: 2. Trim and duplicate

At the moment there’s a white border around the edge which isn’t required. Use the Magic Wand to select the white area then go to Edit> Clear to remove. Remove the selection by pressing Cmd-D. Duplicate this layer and call it Depth Map.

 

Step 4 of 17: 3. Convert to mono

Go to Image> Adjustments> Desaturate (Shift-Cmd-U) to convert to mono. This is quite a flat conversion but that doesn’t matter because when converting to 3D the depth is quite large and can be adjusted. What is important is deciding whether the conversion will deliver the shape you want.

 

Step 5 of 17: 4. Invert for depth

At the moment, the diagonal and thin cross areas are the ones that will be highest in 3D, with the corners being flattest. That isn’t really the best option here so instead go to Image> Adjustments> Invert (Cmd-I). You’ll also notice that there’s uneven patches in the illustration to represent ripples. These would cause problems later.

 

Step 6 of 17: 5. Smooth it out

The conversion to 3D will pick up any variation in tone, resulting in lots of jagged peaks, especially on photos, but even here. So, go to Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur and enter a value of 30 to smooth it out. Photos may need more blur, illustrations with even tones will need less.

 

Step 7 of 17: 6. Expand and select

Click on the Move tool (V) and put a tick in the Show Transform Controls tick box. Use the control handles to move the blurred image out to fill the space so that you can’t see any part of the deleted border underneath. Click on the tick to apply.

 

Step 8 of 17: 7. Go to 3D

If you aren’t already, change the workspace to 3D. Then click on the 3D palette and select the Mesh from Depth Map option. Underneath select Plane as the type. Then click on Create. The flag will now be turned into a 3D object, sitting above the 2D version on the layer underneath. 

 

Step 9 of 17: 8. Copy texture

At this point the flag has no real texture, it’s just a silvery object. So, click on the Layers palette and then on the original layer. Press Cmd-A to select all and Cmd-C to copy. Click on the Depth Map layer then click on the 3D palette again. 

 

Step 10 of 17: 9. Edit texture

There are two entries called Depth Map. The top one is the mesh, the one underneath is the Materials. Click on that. In the Properties palette that has now appeared look up to the entry for Diffuse. Next to the colour square is an icon. Click on that and select Edit Texture. Click on OK on the dialogue box that appears.

 

Step 11 of 17: 10. Replace the look

Press Cmd-V to paste in the original colour. Use the Move tool and the Transform controls to resize to fit over the greyscale image. Tick to confirm. You’ll notice this is a separate file. Click back onto the 3D Object file and it will be updated. Toggle the visibility for Layer 1 to off.

 

Step 12 of 17: 11. Adjust the object

Select the Depth Map layer and the 3D controls will appear. The left most one allows you to rotate it. Do this and you’ll see it has quite a lot of depth. To reduce it move the cursor over the object and click on it. A red/green/blue control gadget will appear. Move the cursor over the square symbol on the z-axis, which is blue. The pop up will change to Scale Along Z.

 

Step 13 of 17: 12. Scaling on Z

Click and hold the mouse then slide left and right to scale the depth of the object. Use this to reduce it to a more sensible depth. Rotate the object into the position that you want to use it in. Then click on the 3D palette so you can see all the elements in the scene.

 

Step 14 of 17: 13. Inflite light

Click on the Infinite Light to bring the controls up on screen. Grab hold of the control point and move to the up and right position so it casts a shadow to the left and down. Reduce the Intensity to about 50%, change the Color to a blue shade and increase the Softness rating to 20%.

 

Step 15 of 17: 14. Add a spot

At the bottom of the 3D palette click on Add New Light and select a new Point Light. Move this on the X and Y axis so that it sits just off the bottom left of the flag. Change the colour to a more orange flavour and drop the Intensity to about 75%. Note that with real-time updating of the shadows, the light can be very sluggish to move, even on a fast Mac. Increase the Softness for shadows to 65%.

 

Step 16 of 17: 15. Save and render

With no other adjustments to be made, click on Current View and then the move on Z-axis tool. Zoom in to fill up the screen. It’s crucial to save your work at this point because Photoshop will often crash at the next stage which is to go to 3D and select Render. The higher the resolution and the more lights used, the slower this is. Once completed, flatten all layers and save your final image.

 

Step 17 of 17: More ideas

As mentioned at the start, the easiest type of image to use is a flat, 2D photo or illustration of the content. It doesn’t really work on photos of people because the lighting on their face never corresponds to the actual depth of the face. You can create a silhouette of a person and have them as a flat, cardboard-like object, stood away from the background, and also, it’s interesting to experiment with just headshots that have uniform lighting. However, what’s most likely to happen is that you end up custom painting the depth map in greyscale yourself and then mapping the actual face onto it as a texture. For objects like cars, toasters and things that are an easy shape, the alternative is to divide it up into sections and use a gradient fill of white to black. Then blur the sections together and use a selection to constraint the entire thing. It’s interesting to experiment with but can easily go wrong!

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