Photoshop tutorial: Create 3D type art using Photoshop CS5

Nik Ainley talks you through the process of creating a poster using Photoshop CS5 Extended’s incredible new extrusion tool


The new 3D tools in Photoshop CS5 Extended are more advanced than ever. In this tutorial we will use the new Repoussé tool to extrude some text in a way previously only possible in a full 3D application. 

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As well as exploring the capabilities of this exciting new feature, we will explore the traditional 3D settings to get the most out of the different material and rendering options.  

By using Photoshop’s blending modes and masks we can quickly build up different effects and play with colours in a way that would be far fiddlier and more time-consuming in a 3D program. 

To bring the colours of the composition together, we will also have a quick look at using adjustment layers to give a cohesive scheme to the whole picture at once. 

Step 1


We’ll start with the text and build everything else around that. Each letter will need to be created individually, but once we have the basic method down it’s simple to repeat for the rest. 

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Create a new text layer, type the first letter (or most important letter) of your word and choose the font you want. 

Step 2


Now to turn this letter into a 3D object. Make sure your 3D palette is open, and then scroll down to the Create New 3D Object section.

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Tick the 3D Repoussé Object option and click on Create. You may be asked if you want to rasterise the layer before it goes ahead, just say yes if it does.

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Step 3


Looking at the Repoussé dialog for the first time can be pretty intimidating; there are a lot of options. We’re going to specify our own settings rather than using the handful of presets Adobe has included as standard in the top left corner. 

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We’ll work on the shape before worrying about the materials or lighting.

Step 4


First let’s add some depth. I’ve used a setting of 4.75 for the C here. Our flat letter is now a full 3D object. This is all well and good, but we haven’t really taken full advantage of the Repoussé tools. There are no advanced rendering options, so we’ll need to use a few tricks to make our letter look dynamically 3D.

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Step 5


To spice things up, increase the twist value to 560. You will see the extrusion start to corkscrew backwards now. The problem is that because it’s going straight back we can’t really see much of what’s going on.  I’ve rotated it to the side here using the transform tools in the top left to show what’s changed. The problem now is that the letter isn’t facing us.

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Step 6


To allow us to see the extrusion properly, we need to change the bend settings. Make sure the Bend option is ticked, and then try selecting different boxes on the square to the right. These represent which direction the extrusion will be bent in. A bend to the right looks good for my extrusion.

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Step 7


Now we want to change the colour of the letter itself, to make it easy to select later. Exit the Repoussé tool and select the material for the front in the 3D Materials palette. The front will be called ‘X Front Inflation Material’ (where X is your letter). Select the box next to Diffuse below and change it to a bright, contrasting colour – I’ve used red.

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Step 8


Now let’s add some more interesting lights. Select the Lights tab at the top of the 3D palette. You can now select and edit each light individually, and add new lights. I’ve used three infinite lights, two grey and one light blue. 

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Move them around to get a new distribution of shadow and highlights. You’ll need a different arrangement for each letter to get the best result.

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Step 9


To add the chequered pattern, we’ll duplicate our 3D layer and use a mask to blend between the two. After duplicating the layer, select the X Extrusion Material in the 3D palette and change it to the preset chequer pattern. 

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Select the little icon to the right of the Diffuse box, and choose Edit Properties. Play with the settings here to get the texture to look how you want.

Step 10


Add a layer mask to your texture layer and using the Gradient tool, or a big soft brush, add black to the mask to fade the texture away. Change the blending mode of the layer to Overlay and lighten the texture to make it less harsh. Now to add a bit of colour.

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Step 11


Duplicate your original layer again, and move it above the texture layer. Select Scene (at the top of the 3D palette), then scroll down and change the render settings to Normals. This colours the faces depending on which direction they are pointing, which is a nice effect. 

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Change the layer’s blending mode to Color. Use a hue and saturation adjustment to colourise the layer purple, then fade this to about 70% or so using Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + F.

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Step 12


The final step for this letter is to style the front face. Use the Quick Selection or Magic Wand tool to select it; it should be fairly easy thanks to the bright colour we gave it earlier. Expand the selection by a couple of pixels to prevent overlap, and fill it with the colour you want on a new layer at the top. Try adding some layer styles, such as an Inner Glow to make it a bit more interesting.

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Step 13


Repeat the same process for every letter of your word, arranging them around each other in an interesting composition. Use layer masks to hide parts of letters to make them appear as if they are underneath other ones. This will give a better sense of depth than if they are just stacked on top of each other.

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Step 14


Keep playing with the colours to suit your tastes. Add extra details by using copies of your 3D letter. Try adding a stripy material to a letter, and then rotating it in many different directions. Change the extrusion depth, twist and bend to get different shapes and then arrange them around your main letters. 

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I’ve moved one letter off to the bottom left here to show that these shapes are really just different versions of my ‘C’.

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Step 15


I’ve used a lot of adjustment layers at the top of my composition to bring the colour scheme together. Using gradient map adjustment layers with the blending modes set to Soft Light, Darken or Lighten is a great way to give an overall tone to an image. 

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Use low opacities – never more than 50%, unless you want to radically shift your colours. 

Use curves adjustment layers to fix any contrast or brightness issues.

Step 16


Adding extra detail to the background is a good way to stop your text seeming too isolated, or not part of the image as a whole. Variations in the background colour, grungy textures and illustrative elements will all add interest to your composition.

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Add whatever you like to complement your text, but remember that it should remain very much the star.