3D Printing

By Sam McMillan

Anyone who’s been warned of a “storm of the century” for the third time in one winter knows that the media likes its stories on the dramatic side. So I understand if some headlines about 3D printing seem too good to be true: 3D Printer to Build Human Heart. Architects 3D Print An Entire Room. This 3-D Printer Will Make Clothes You’d Actually Wear!

While they may sound like hype, 3D printing is already changing many fields. For creatives, one of the most exciting aspects is the ability to give physical form to digital designs. High-resolution, full-color printers are key to a coming explosion of remarkable 3D-printed content.


To create a complex 3D model from scratch, you need software dedicated to 3D. But if you’re not ready for that steep learning curve, you can download existing models and add color and texture in Adobe Photoshop CC. You can even turn a simple drawing into a printable 3D model, as I’ll explain later in this article.

Watch this video about 3D printing, which involves Adobe Photoshop CC as part of the workflow.

New features in Photoshop CC also help you output a viable object that doesn’t collapse, whether it’s printed on desktop models or larger machines at services like Shapeways.


A 3D type creation by Ben Johnston

Ben Johnston says that his interest in 3D began with wanting “something more physical to bring designs to life from the screen.” 3D printing gives him the ability “to create something that couldn’t physically be man-made.” 


Creatives of all stripes are embracing 3D printing. Here are some to watch.



You might not think that Ben Johnston and Mark Simmons would mesh well. Ben is a graphic designer and illustrator who likes to hand-draw ornate lettering. Mark Simmons is an industrial designer who favors streamlined products with not an element to spare. 

And yet, working together, they have produced 3D typographic sculptures of impact and delicacy. Mark’s work in 3D not only captures the essence of Ben’s illustration, it enhances it. Transformed from the flat page, the illustrations become monumental.

A 3D printed sculpture by artist Sophie Kahn

To prep her work for final output to the Shapeways print shop, Sophie Kahn uses the 3D printing option in Photoshop CC. “I can visualize the material, run error corrections, and wall thickness fixes before sending the digital file.” Particularly helpful to Sophie is the quick file repair. “It’s saved me enormous amounts of time.”


New media artist Sophie Kahn is a former photographer who switched to sculpture some years ago. Her tools are now architectural laser scanners. By using the handheld laser scanner to capture a three-dimensional image of the human body—something it was never intended to do—Sophie pushes the tools to their extremes and beyond. 

When the scans break, the fractures let in surprise, poetry, and insight. “I’m engaged in a process of discovery, not perfection,” Sophie explains.



A 3D sculpture by artist Jessica Searfino

The title of this piece, “Phobia: Late by Traffic,“ refers to Jessica Searfino’s fear of being delayed. She says, “An hourglass represents time as it inevitably runs out; there is no control over it. The cars take the form of sand as they jam through the neck one at a time.”


Jessica Searfino’s work is a “spin on our expectations of traditional jewelry and adornment.” Her sculptural jewelry is designed to engage the viewer and the wearer alike, she says, “to create an experience for the wearer that could range from uplifting to uncomfortable.” 

Jessica’s iterative process begins with sketches and clay models before she moves into 3D modeling software. She opens the resulting file in Photoshop CC to edit the model and add patterns and imagery.  It’s “like playing with a digital ball of clay,” she says. 

A 3d sculpture by artist Tobias Klein

Tobias Klein was one of the first artists to get into 3D printing, way back in 2005, and has continued to push the medium. “When I discovered the 3D printing capability of Photoshop, I felt instantly comfortable in its capability of streamlining the complexity of geometry,” he says. “Instead of problem solving, I am creating.”




Trained as an architect, Tobias Klein mashes up techniques, disciplines, and software. To create his groundbreaking works, Klein combines the formalism of architecture, MRI scans of his own body, crystalography, and cutting-edge fashion. The results range from sculptures that evoke otherworldly creatures to Gaudi on acid.

For an exhibit at the 2014 Venice Bienniale, Tobias is working with fashion designer Alexandra Verschueren. The pair will combine fashion, fabric, 3D printing, and synthetic aluminum sulfate crystals grown specifically to be incorporated into the 3D print. The garment points to a future in which garments won’t be sewn; they will be built.

Still from a video about 3D printing.



Even if you don’t have the time or desire to master a full-blown 3D modeling program, you can still experiment with 3D printing. The tutorial “How to print a 3D object in Photoshop” walks you through three stages:


1. Transform a simple 2D drawing into a 3D model in Photoshop CC.

2. Export the model and upload it to Shapeways, which integrates with Photoshop CC.

3. Upload the model to Sketchfab and add it to a Behance profile.

June 2, 2014

Video: Dan Cowles