3D type tutorial: Create 3D type using Photoshop CS6

Craig Minchington looks at how to design elegant 3D type using the new tools in Photoshop CS6.

In this tutorial, 3D artist and illustrator Craig Minchington demonstrates how to create elegant 3D type without using a CG suite such as Cinema 4D or Maya. Instead, he’ll use the 3D tools in the Extended version of Photoshop CS6.

Craig notes that although previous versions of Photoshop included 3D tools, these were awkward and lacking in their capabilities. “3D users in previous versions must shudder at the thought of the word ‘Repoussé’,” he explains.

However, Adobe has really stepped up its game with CS6’s new 3D tools, which add many features, a clear workflow and improved usability. These new features allow you to really experiment with an object’s material and have full control of a scene’s lighting using spotlights, point lights and Craig’s personal favourite, image?based lighting (IBL).

IBL is an advanced 3D technique, where lighting from a real-world scene is captured and saved as an image. This is then projected between the camera and elements in your scene to make it appear that your scene has the same lighting. It’s an efficient way to produce lighting effects that not only render quickly, but look realistic too.

Follow along as Craig shows you how to generate 3D text and apply realistic materials and lighting, finally adding some adjustment layers to bring the piece together.

Time to complete 

3 hours


Photoshop CS6 Extended


Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here


Open Photoshop and create a new A4 portrait RGB document. Before you begin creating your 3D elements, give yourself a base to work on – I’ve used a watercolour texture from bit.ly/S18Fwc. A background texture or colour will help emphasise your text and lift it off the page.


It’s now time to bring in your text. You can either use a font from your library, or better still bring in your own vector paths created in Illustrator as a Smart Object. I’ve found that paths which are too complex cause a lot of problems, so bear this in mind when creating your shapes.

I’ve been supplied with some beautiful type by illustrator Tim Miness. (These can be found in this tutorial’s project files). If you want to use this, Place it (File > Place) it above the background texture.

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With your type layer selected, click 3D > New 3D Extrusion from Selected Layer. Once clicked, you’ll be prompted to switch to the 3D workspace, which has been hugely improved with enhanced workflow for a much simpler experience.


In the 3D panel, name your extruded layer ‘3D Text’. With this selected, go to the Properties panel and select the Deform tab button. The default Extrusion Depth is huge, so adjust this down to suit your text. 

Next, click the Cap tab. I added a 5% Bevel, keeping the other values the same. Adding caps will give your text an edge to catch light and cast shadows.


Now, lets get the composition of your piece right. Select the Move tool (V) and click on your text. This will activate the 3D mode tools, so you can rotate, roll, drag, slide and scale your text. I tilted my text back to emphasise the extruded areas. 

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Another nice feature is being able to adjust your camera’s properties and use its tools. 

To play with these, first click on Current View in the 3D panel. Here I adjusted the FOV to 64mm lens and the Depth Of Field to 0.66 in the Properties panel. This helped smooth out some of the sharper edges and bevels of my text.


You have much more control over the lighting in Photoshop CS6, compared to previous versions. Select your Infinite Light and point it at your text to brighten your scene, then use its handles to raise it slightly to cast a shadow. I used a pale blue for the lights colour, because pure white was too bright and overpowering.  


Click on the ‘Add New Light To Scene’ tab at the bottom of your 3D tab a couple of times to add two new lights. Position and adjust these to make your type ‘pop’. I added another bright Infinite Light, shining from the top right, and a Spot Light directly above. They have higher intensities to catch the bevelled edges and add the shine we want.

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Now you have your piece sitting nicely and well lit, we can experiment with materials to add some texture to the scene. 

Click on your text layer in the 3D panel. The toggleable triangle next to it allows you to access the different surfaces and components that make it up, including the front, back, extruded sides, bevel, and so on.


In the Properties panel, click the Specular box to select a highlight colour for the front of your text. I colour-picked a bluish purple from my background; #3827a8. You should see this show through in your highlights. 

Next choose a darker shade for the Illumination, which affects the underlying colouring of the surface. I used a warmer red-purple (#460202) to contrast with the bluer specular colour. I then set my shine to 40%, reflection to 25% and refraction to 1.200 to give the text a glossy, shiny feel.


Apply this material style to all your type layers. You can save material settings to add to other vector layers. Click the arrow in your materials palette to open the material picker. Click ‘New Material’ in the drop-down. Name it, click OK, and your material will then be saved here.

I would then advise going through each layer’s colouring. Tweak these to suit the piece. Add brighter tones to the edge colour to bring out highlights, and shine and adjust the darker areas so that they are not completely black and have some colour showing through.

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My favourite new feature in Photoshop CS6 is the ability to add IBL (image-based lighting). 

Download the free IBLs kits from phtshp.us/ITc4tD. I used BasicIBL-05-Profile.hdr from the Basic set, which has three soft light boxes and a single downward-pointing fill light – a pretty standard lighting rig.

To use IBL, click on Environment in the 3D panel. Go to the Properties panel, then turn on IBL. Click on the folder to the right and select New Texture. Load your image.

When you load this you’ll see it being overlaid in your scene. Once you click off Environment in the Properties panel, it will disappear. 


Move the IBL around the scene just as you did earlier with the other lights. Position it so that the white soft boxes are shining brightly onto your text. This is where the reflections you added to your materials really kick in, giving a much better sense of realism to the piece. 


It’s time to render the piece out. On your text, right-click Render. Photoshop will start putting your piece through several passes.

This may take a while depending on your computer speed, but a Time Remaining status box should open in the bottom left of your screen.

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Once rendered, add a lens flare. These can be pretty cheesy, but here we’re going to use it subtly to add depth, and it will only be visible over the text, not the background.

Create a new layer and fill it with black. Go to Filter > Render > Lens Flare. Use a 50-300mm zoom set to 160% brightness, shining in from the top right of your canvas. Set the layer’s blending mode to Screen and add a 4px Gaussian Blur. 

I also adjusted the Hue/Saturation tweaking the colour to have a yellow/orange hue to warm it up a bit.


Finally, add a Levels adjustment layer. Here, I’ve moved the sliders to 40, 1.30, 223. Next add a Curves layer and tweak the channel sliders to bump up the Reds in the shadows and highlights and then pull the Greens back down in the piece, setting the layer’s blending mode to Colour.