We all think of Photoshop as being a tool purely for image manipulation. But the 3D side of the application has been growing steadily – and now, with the latest version, it’s capable of outputting STL files directly. This is surely a step in the right direction. The 3D features of Photoshop used to be reserved for those who bought the Extended (read: more expensive) edition, but now that all Adobe creative software has moved to the Creative Cloud, this means that everyone with Photoshop has access to all the 3D features.
I created this printed Apple logo for the cover of MacUser magazine, to accompany a feature I’d written about, er, 3D printing. Getting hold of company logos isn’t that hard – one of the best places to look is logotypes.ru, which includes EPS (Adobe Illustrator) versions of nearly all the world’s greatest brands.
1. Place the logo
Import the logo into Photoshop, using File > Place. It will appear on its own layer. Use the Window > Workspace > 3D to switch to the 3D tools, which will replace the standard panels with the 3D panel and the Properties panel. In the 3D panel, set Selected Layer as the Source, make sure the 3D Extrusion radio button is checked, then press the Create button:
2. The 3D object
In an instant, the logo will be turned into a 3D object. As it’s viewed from the front, you won’t be able to see the 3D effect that clearly – but you will be able to see its shadow:
3. Change the view
With the Move tool active (shortcut: V) click anywhere away from the object, and drag. You’ll rotate the object around in 3D space, and now you can see how it has been extruded:
4. Change the extrusion
That Apple logo has extruded far more than we wanted – so let’s make it thinner. Click on the object with the Move tool, and a bounding box will appear to show it’s selected. Press V on your keyboard to bring up the Head-Up Controls. In the middle is the Extrude control: drag up and down on this to change the depth of the object. You can also set the Extrusion Depth numerically in the Properties panel, if you like:
5. Rotate the logo
When you create the logo it will appear standing up. But it can’t print that way; you need to rotate it so it’s lying flat on the print bed. To do this, make sure the object is selected (you’ll see its bounding box), then switch to the Coordinates pane of the Properties panel – it’s the last button on the right at the top of the panel.
The panel shows the position for each of the X, Y and Z axes, then the angle of rotation for each axis, and then the scale. Change the rotation figure for the X axis to 90°, and the logo will turn to lie parallel on the surface. It’s also worth pressing the Move to Ground button so that it sits flat on the ground:
6. Export the file
Once you’ve got the logo to the thickness you want it, you can export it for slicing. Before you do so, though, take the time to do one final check of the Coordinates pane of the Properties panel, just to make sure the object is lying flat on the ground. It can easily move if you nudge it accidentally, and if it isn’t flat it’s going to cause printing problems later.
To start the export process, click in the top right corner of the 3D panel, and the pop-up menu will appear. Right at the bottom, click Export 3D Layer to open the export dialog window.
If you’re using Photoshop CC, you’ll find that it’s now able to export STL files directly. If you’re using Photoshop CS6, or an earlier version, then you’ll have to export the file in OBJ format and trust your slicing program to do the conversion for you.
7. The printed file
Here’s the printed object. It looks fine when seen from a slight angle – but for the magazine cover, it had to be shot head-on. And from that straight angle, it was impossible to see it as a 3D object. Simple extrusion might work for many logos in many instances, but it wouldn’t do in this case.
8. A different approach
Rather than simply extruding the logo, we can choose to inflate it instead – a process which makes the wider parts deeper than the narrow parts, as we’ll see. First, reduce the Extrusion Depth to zero, either by dragging the slider or by dragging the Head-Up Display control:
9. Inflate the logo
Click on the object one more with the Move tool, and press V to bring up the Head-Up Controls. Now press V again, to bring up the second set of controls. On the right here is the Inflation control: drag up on the orange button to inflate the object. It’s just like pumping it full of air. To the right of this control is the Inflation Angle control: drag this up to the top, so that the logo inflates with a 90° edge, rather than the default 45° edge:
All that remains is to export the object, as before, then slice it and print it. The result of this operation is seen at the top of this page.