#CreativeFriday – Introduction to 3D and 3D Printing with Photoshop CC

Adobe Photoshop CC is a well-known, best in class solution for designers and artists in their 2D work.  Photoshop touches every element of the creative process, and is used world over for everything from photograph retouching, image compositing, finishing 3D models created in traditional 3D software applications, as well as digital art work and web site design. Photoshop CC includes a 3D component, which can be used for importing 3D models, creating 3D models from a variety of 2D tools, and since January 2014 includes ability to make watertight 3D printable object and print.

3D capabilities were introduced in Photoshop in CS3, and in CS6 the Photoshop 3D engine was enhanced to include more robust technology foundation to address modern expectations, as well as a more intuitive way for Photoshop professionals to work in 3D.

When Adobe released Creative Cloud, a market shift in the 3D printing world was starting to happen. Desktop 3D printing began to explode and initiatives like Rep Rap and companies like Makerbot were growing in popularity – they had found a way to bring this technology to the desktop of the creative or the home user. At the same time, service bureaus like Shapeways, Sculpteo and others were growing with requests from creative professionals, but experiencing a large number of models that needed additional work to allow them to be printed, or in the extreme case, were not printable and had to be sent back to the designer.

Over the last few years, there have been amazing advancements in innovation, both in the hardware and in materials used in 3D printing. However, the software tools that enable 3D printing had not advanced in the same way and, in particular, weren’t meeting the expectations of a new breed of customer, namely the creative professional. Advancements in the 3D printing industry are moving at a rapid pace, and as the creative professional becomes fully engaged at the start of the process; the demand for full colour 3D printing is growing. The industry already has some full colour capable printers i.e. the ZCORP full colour sandstone printer, the MCOR paper based printer, and more recently the Connex 3 full colour plastic printer from Stratasys. Still, ensuring amazing colour results on these printers can be difficult.

Adobe had seen this type of issue before. Prior to 1982, printing anything other than text on paper was a challenging and expensive task – specialist companies were needed to print graphics and artwork. In 1982 Adobe released PostScript, which revolutionised the printing industry and allowed anyone to print visually rich documents reliably to a wide range of devices and technologies whilst maintaining the high quality and performance.

In 1993 Adobe Systems released the Portable Document Format (PDF), which is now an open standard for electronic document exchange maintained by the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO). The beauty of the PDF format is that when a document is converted to PDF, they look just like they would if printed. But unlike printed documents, PDF files can contain clickable links and buttons, form fields, video, and audio — as well as logic to help automate routine business processes. When you share a PDF file, virtually anyone can read it using free Adobe Reader® software or the Adobe Reader mobile app.

As of January 2014, the 3D printing challenge was the same as the paper printing problem back in 1982, especially for the creative professional. So much is possible, but achieving high-quality results requires specialised knowledge and time to get a 3D designs in a state that they are ready to print. In January 2014 Adobe released Photoshop CC with a built-in 3D printing engine, with the objective to make 3D printing as easy as printing in 2D, trying to replicate CTRL+P for 3D print. Also, with an industry that is innovating as fast as the 3D printing industry is, having an application delivery model like the Creative Cloud, to bring new technology, features and software updates to the subscriber is a requirement to keep pace with the activity and advancements in the industry. This approach to software delivery enables the creative professionals around the world to keep up with and exceeds their client and customer demands, as well as bringing their designs to life.

The primary objective for including 3D Printing in Photoshop and enabling a CTRL+P for 3D print, is to make the model preparation easy and provide an automated approach to model repair. Just to highlight a few of the elements that need to be validated with a 3D model before it can be printed: –


  • There maybe no open holes in the mesh
  • The walls that have been created must be thick enough for the printer / material combination
  • There can be no floating polygons
  • There can be no inverted normals
  • In many 3D printers, such as desktop FDM-based devices like the MakerBot, supports might need to be created to support the model during the build phase.
  • Models can only have one mesh
  • Models need to be of a maximum size, depending on the printer.
  • Model must be watertight
  • + Others

All of this needs to be worked out before a successful print can be made. Unless these criteria have been met, it may take numerous attempts to achieve in a fully printable model.


The Photoshop platform has a unique way of solving complex problems with an intuitive interface, powerful and elegant controls and a philosophy for simplying the creative process. The 3D printing engine inside Photoshop has been created to support printer profiles (similar to the way that 2D printer drivers), which describe the specific printer and material attributes. Once a model is loaded into Photoshop CC, it can then be processed and fixed with the Photoshop 3D printing pipeline and an output file created. Each printer and material combination may have a specific file type that is needed for a print. I.e. some printers need just an STL file, whilst colour printers might require a VRML or a WRL file. Photoshop CC is able to create the exact file type that the printer requires to correctly build the model and hold any additional information (like colour and textures).

One of the main reasons that Photoshop is used the world over, is the full colour engine in combination with the powerful 2D imaging and editing tools and brushes. These powerful 2D tools can be used directly on your 3D models or on the unwrapped mesh to paint, repair textures and make your models look even more amazing. Photoshop CC comes with full colour profiles for the ZCorp and MCOR printers, as well as the full colour printers available with the Sculpteo and Shapeways service.

At the London leg of the 3D Printshow, Adobe showcased some experimental technology that its scientists are working on in the lab. This experimental project has the ability to enable the artists to paint in continuous full colour using the brushes as well as the other tools, including colour gradients and output to the Stratasys Connex 3.

The 3D Printing industry is moving and innovating extremely quickly, especially in the areas of hardware and materials. With the emergence and growing requirements of full colour, as well as a growing and accessible range of content for personalization, Photoshop CC is one of the best tools to load your models, paint and personalise them using the familiar Photoshop user experience and make them looking even more amazing.

The video accompanying this article shows how a model can be imported into Photoshop CC, then printed to a local desktop printer, output as a standard STL file, but also print to a Shapeways or Sculpteo service.


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