Photoshop tutorial: 3D printing from Photoshop CS6

How to model a toy entirely in Photoshop, then print it using a 3D printer.

This tutorial shows you how to create and print a 3D model using Photoshop CS6. If you have Photoshop CC, the process is slightly different (and easier). Read our tutorial on 3D printing from Photoshop CC to learn more.

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Suddenly, everything’s going three-dimensional. 3D printers were once the exclusive preserve of high-end print shops, which would charge design agencies a fortune to produce prototypes of upcoming products. But you can now buy a 3D printer from Maplin for £700, which will enable you to print your models in your own studio. 

This lets you see how an object, such as a hip designer toy, will appear before a full run is produced. Or you could produce your own limited runs of a special edition toy, some artfully designed 3D type or whatever your imagination can conceive.

3D printing isn’t always straightforward though, as it takes a while to install, let alone master, the various programs you’ll need. But with some time and effort it can be done. 

Creating your model doesn’t necessarily mean using 3D or CAD software. You can use Photoshop CS6 Extended, plus two free cross-platform tools: 3D printing utility Cura, and model-cleanup and processing tool MeshLab

Photoshop’s 3D modelling options have been vastly improved in CS6, with more intuitive onscreen controls that give even the least techy artist the ability to produce models from flat artwork, photographs, or their imagination. 

Photoshop may be limited as a modelling program, but it’s a lot easier than learning about NURBs and subdivision surfaces. And once you master 3D in Adobe’s tool, it’s a lot easier to move on to higher-end 3D work in tools such as Cinema 4D or Maya. 

Here, we’ll see how a toy designer might use the technology to model a figure in Photoshop, and then print out a physical version of it. You’ll learn the creative and technical process – and some of the restrictions placed on your design by the 3D printing process. Steve has used an Ultimaker 2 3D printer for this tutorial, but the process is much the same on any desktop 3D printer.

He’s also provided the 3D model in the project files for reference. 

Time to complete

2 hours modelling and preparing, up to 4 hours printing


Photoshop CS6 Extended, Cura, MeshLab


Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here


Begin by making a new document in Photoshop – 2,000 pixels square is a good size – and, on a new layer, draw your design. Since it will be printed layer-by-layer from the ground up, it’s important not to have any places where the machine will be printing on thin air: we couldn’t have the arms pointing down for this reason.

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From the 3D menu, choose New 3D Extrusion from Selected Layer. The shape will instantly spring into 3D, extruded backwards to form the beginnings of a solid object. 

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You can use the Move tool in Photoshop CS6 to rotate the view: simply drag outside the object to get a different angle. Be sure you aren’t moving the object itself, since you want it to remain upright. Select the object and you’ll see the Extrusion Depth in the Properties panel. Drag this to zero, so the object has no depth.

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In the Cap section of the Properties panel, set the Inflate Angle to 90 degrees so it inflates at right angles from the sides. Then drag the Strength slider until the object looks rounded and three-dimensional.

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You can also inflate it by tapping the V key and dragging the head-up controls on the object itself.


The default behaviour is to inflate just the front side of the object. In the Properties panel, look for the Sides pop-up menu at the top, and change this to Front and Back. Now, the inflation will be mirrored. 

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The thicker the original drawing, the more inflated the object will be, which is why the body and head are thicker than the arms and legs.

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You need to make some solid feet for the figure to stand – it’s essential to have a large enough surface area that’s stuck to the base of the printing platform. As before, begin by drawing the outline of a shoe on a new layer.

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Just like before, extrude the artwork to make a new 3D object. This time, though, you don’t want to reduce the Extrusion Depth: setting it to a low figure, such as 20, will give the shoe a flat sole on which to stand. Rotate the shoe 90 degrees on the X axis, using the Co-ordinates tab in the Properties panel, so it sits flat on the ground.

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Use the Inflate controls once again to bring the shoe to life. This time, only the Front should be inflated.

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Duplicate the 3D shoe layer, then select all three layers and choose Merge 3D Layers from the 3D menu. They’ll all be placed together, and you may get an orientation that’s as unfortunate as the one pictured here. It’s all a matter of chance.

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You can select each shoe within the 3D panel or by clicking on it. Choose 3D > Snap Object to Ground Plane, and slide it sideways so it fits beneath the leg of the main figure. Repeat the process for the other shoe. Next, select Export 3D Layer from the pop-up menu in the 3D panel, and pick .obj as the file type.

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Next, convert the .obj file into a .stl file so the printer will know what to do with it. The free MeshLab program is a good choice. Open the 3D file you made, and you’ll see a couple of warnings like this one. Click OK, as they’re not important – this one’s looking for missing textures.

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You can spin the model around in MeshLab, if you like. The main purpose here, though, is to export it: choose Export Mesh and select STL as the file type.

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Before the .stl file can be printed, it needs to be sliced. Cura is a great choice to do this, but can be hard to install, especially for Mac users. There are instructions and help on the website, though. Choose Load Model to place the figure on the platform. It may appear far too large: here, we’ve scaled it to 0.05 size to fit it onto the platform.

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You next need to select all the parameters – the layer height (the height of each printing circuit), the wall thickness, the temperature of the print, and so on. 

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Much of this is trial and error, although user forums for your model of 3D printer will give you some useful advice. When all is set, choose Slice to GCode.

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The GCode file is the file that your printer can read. Files can be printed directly from the computer, or – our preferred method – by putting them on an SD card and plugging them into the printer. 

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The object prints from the ground up, layer by layer. You can see why we couldn’t have had the arms pointing down: it would have meant printing the hands with no support beneath them. If this is unavoidable, there are a couple of ways round this. You can either build supports into your model and cut/file them off afterwards (which can be time-consuming), or position exactly-sized blocks as support plinths (which can be fiddly to set up).

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So now your first prototype is complete, ready for refining, painting and/or accessorising.