Photoshop & Maxon Cinema 4D tutorial: Learn the best ways to create 3D type

Christopher Vinca explains how to produce realistic-looking 3D letters with accurate lighting and textures

Currently, there are two main ways to create 3D typographic illustrations with extruded letters, textures and lighting. You can use Photoshop CS6 Extended – or soon, Photoshop CC – to easily create a relatively accurate rendering that’s great if you want a non-photorealistic look for graphics, logos and the like. If, however, you want a realistic render with accurate lighting, it’s time to move over to a 3D suite such as Cinema 4D. This is the easiest to learn and use if you’re used to Adobe’s toolset.

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Here, Hawaiian illustrator Christopher Vinca takes you through two different renderings of the same type, created in Illustrator using Photoshop and Cinema 4D. He details the differences between the processes and the results that can be achieved. 

In the first half of the tutorial, you will use the basic 3D tools in Photoshop Extended to create 3D type. You will then use photographs to texture the surface to add depth and details in a way that’s much faster than applying them to the 3D shapes before rendering. 

In the second part, Christopher will teach you how to get photorealistic renders in Cinema 4D. You’ll learn how to use the free CV-ArtSmart plugin, set up lights and make a studio for your text. You’ll also create materials to make a convincing 3D object.

If you’re new to Cinema 4D but an old hand at Photoshop, this is an excellent first tutorial for the 3D suite, as you’ll be following a process in an application you know well, rather than in the one you want to learn. 

Time to complete 

8 hours


Photoshop CS6 Extended, Cinema 4D R13 (or later)


I’ve provided my own typography for this tutorial, but if you want to use your own, here’s what you should do. In Illustrator, ensure your text is converted to outlines. If not, select everything and go to Effect > Path > Outline Object. Select everything again and hit Cmd/Ctrl + C to copy it to the clipboard.

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Open Photoshop and create a new file, sized 8 x 8 inches at 300dpi. Make sure you have a transparent background. Now hit Cmd/Ctrl + V to paste your vector into Photoshop. A dialog box will appear; select Shape Layer. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + Delete to fill the object with white.


Under the 3D menu, choose New Extrusion from Selected Layer. Another dialog will ask if you want to go into the 3D workspace. Click Yes. Once you’re in the 3D space, select Environment from the 3D panel. In the Properties panel, find the Ground Plane. Pull the opacity down to 0%.

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Choose Current View in the 3D panel, and make sure your FOV is at 67mm lens and 0.5 for DOF (these are the default camera settings). 

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Go to Shape 1 in the 3D panel. In the Properties panel, choose an Extrusion Depth of 1,700, then select the Deform settings from the icons at the top of the panel and set Taper to 0%. This will give your text depth without distorting it.

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Select the Infinite Light 1 in the 3D panel. Position it on the canvas in the front, slightly to the upper right. Change the Shadow Softness to 85% in the Properties panel. 

Create a new layer and fill it with black. Drag it under the ‘Shape’ layer – this will be the background for the text. Right-click the 3D shape layer and select Render. 

My render time was between three and four hours, so this is a good time to take a break.


Once the render is finished, it’s time to add texture. We could have applied this to the model before rendering, but then the render would have taken even longer. It’s often faster to do this afterwards, and the effects are near-indistinguishable.

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Choose Select > Color Range. With the eyedropper, select the white text with a fuzziness of 160. Then go to Select > Modify > Expand with an Expand By 1 pixel. Press Cmd/Ctrl + J to duplicate the selected area onto its own layer. 


For my texture, I used a free photo of concrete from Copy and Paste the image into your document. With the picture layer selected in the Layers panel, right-click and select Create Clipping Path to clip it onto your text layer. 

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Duplicate this texture several times and scale these down to increase the detail of the 3D text. Use layer masks to hide the seams, then merge all the textures into one layer and change its blending mode to Multiply. Add a Bevel and Emboss layer style to the text layer to increase the depth, using the settings shown to create an outer bevel. 

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Next, we will make an inner bevel. Duplicate the flat text layer by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + J, and Cmd/Ctrl + click the thumbnail to make a selection around it. Go to Select > Modify > Contract and bring it in by 4px.

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Invert the selection and press Delete. Put this text layer on top of the rest and clip a duplicate texture from the first copy. Add a Bevel and Emboss layer style using the settings shown above to create an inner bevel.


It’s now time to texture the extrusion. Copy and paste the concrete texture, and clip it under the first shape layer. Set the texture layer’s blending mode to Multiply. Add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment to brighten it if needed.

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To finish it off, add a layer above the background. Create a white to transparent radial gradient from the centre outwards, and set the layer’s opacity to 35%. This will makes the 3D text pop from the background.


Hide the gradient and background. With the top layer selected, hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E. This will duplicate and merge all visible layers. Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and clip it to the text. Check the Colorize box and change the layer’s blending mode to Color – I opted for gold. Finally, turn the gradient and background layer visible again and you’re ready.

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Now, let’s do it again in Cinema 4D. Open that application and, if needed, install the CV-ArtSmart plugin from Go to Plugins > CV-ArtSmart > CV-ArtSmart Object and choose your vector file. 

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If you’ve not used CV-ArtSmart before, spend some time familiarising yourself with the tabs. Extrude your text by 50cm. Add a fillet cap by using the Caps settings shown above and rotate your text by 90 degrees.

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Next, make a plane and scale it to 1,340 x 1,340cm. This will be the ground. Make sure the text is resting on the floor and that it’s not floating. Now press Alt and drag out duplicates of the plane. Make a box – this will be the studio space that we’ll light from within. 

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Select the front-most side of the box. Open the Attributes panel and, in the Basic tab, change Visible in Editor to off. That way we can see inside our scene. 

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Now we’re going to produce our lights. Create a sphere (Create > Primitive > Sphere) and scale it using the Coord tab in the Attributes panel. Make it look like a flat sphere, and position it in the upper left of our box. 

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Make a second sphere. Scale it into a long cylinder shape and place it on the bottom left. This will be our fill light.


Now create materials for your objects. See opposite for the settings I’ve used for the: 

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walls (top left and right)

text (middle left and right)

the main light (bottom left

fill light (bottom right)


Hit Cmd/Ctrl + B to open the Render Settings panel. If you want to make a poster, change the size to 8 x 11 inches. Create a camera and position and align it so the text is towards the upper half. Your scene should look like the screenshot (above). 

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In the Render Settings, click on Effect and select Global Illumination. Change the settings in the General and Irradiance Cache to those shown (right). Render it out to the Picture Viewer for the final poster.

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Once the render is done, bring it into Photoshop. Under the Filter menu, choose the Field Blur (we’re blurring here rather than in Cinema 4D to save a lot of rendering time). Position the pins at the top and bottom as shown. Set it to a 10px blur on the outsides and 0px in the middle. Your finished image should look like this.

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