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Draw in Three Dimensions


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This tutorial is available as a PDF. Click here to open or download the PDF


This tutorial, in my opinion, requires a lot of time and patience, so make sure you have the time to work on this before starting. Things can get really meticulous.

This will be the end result, and what we are ultimately shooting for:


1. Start off with a blank canvas, using a white-to-light-grey gradient as the background-color, and a simple single-color shape. The shape can be whatever you want, a star, circle, even letters and numbers, and whatever color you choose (remember to put this on a new layer). Here, we used a simple grey square:


2. To put some perspective on this, using the Rotate/Zoom adjustment in the Adjustments Menu, rotate the shape as if it were the surface of a 3D object in space:


3. This next part may get a little tedious. Duplicate your shape layer. Select ( :MoveTool: ) the entirety of the lower layer and move it down one pixel using the arrow keys on your keyboard. Duplicate that layer, and again move the lower of the two down one pixel.

Pattern: Now, merge the lower two shape layers. Duplicate the merged layer, select the bottom one, and move it down two pixels. Merge the two, duplicate, and move the bottom four pixels. Merge, duplicate, move eight pixels. Repeat this pattern with the lower two shape layers until you end up moving it down 32 pixels. Merge the two lower layers, leaving only one thin upper layer and a thick lower layer:


(miscellaneous info: I chose this method to create the depth of the shape because it was very clean and precise, more so than using a motion blur, despite its tediousness)

4. Here you are going to want to create some alpha masks, so with both your thin layer and your thick one, use the Hue/Saturation adjustment in the Adjustments Menu to turn them black by sliding the Lightness slider all the way to the left. Create a layer above your background layer and fill it with white. Hide the thick shape layer and save as a flattened image. Show the thick layer, hid the thin and save as another flattened image.



Now, undo all of this, to the point right before you blackened your shapes. Go to your thick layer and darken it, enough so that you can distinguish between it and your thin layer.

5. This is where the image will start to get a bit layer-heavy, so name both your thin shape layer and your thick one. Here we will use Surface for the thin layer and Depth for the thick layer. Create a layer above your Surface layer, and name it Surface Highlights. Create a layer beneath your background layer and fill it with black. Switch to the Clone Stamp tool and use a brush size of 90 to 300, depending on the size of your shape (try to make the diameter of the brush size around 1/4 to 1/2 of the size of your shape). Click the More >> button on the Colors Window and adjust the Transparency - Alpha value. The value you choose depends on the size and color of your shape, the brush size you selected, and overall personal preference. Create an origin on the black-filled layer, switch to the Surface Highlights layer and lightly brush over a portion of your shape (this is all personal preference, but I generally try to have the brush strokes to be very subtle yet noticeable). When you're done, open up the Alpha Mask... plugin in the Effects Menu, click Browse..., and open the alpha mask of your Surface Layer (then referred to as the thin layer). This is done to eliminate any brush-strokes outside of the shape's area (the Mix Alpha check-box must me ticked, but you may also need to tick the Invert Mask check-box). Repeat all of this with the Depth Layer, on a layer right above it called Depth Highlights, using a smaller brush size, and with white instead of black:


(on the Depth Highlights layer, depending on the color and brightness/darkness of your shape, you may or may not want to set the layer on Overlay)

6. Duplicate your Surface layer. Turn the duplicate white by sliding the Lightness slider all the way to the right in the Hue/Saturation adjustment. Duplicate that, and invert the new layer's color, turning it black. On the black Surface layer, run Feather with True Feather checked on, at a moderate Feather Radius and a high Effect Strength. Merge this onto the white Surface layer:


Run Alpha Mask... to get rid of the black areas, set the layer to Overlay and name it Surface Outline. Create a layer above your Depth layer and name it Depth outline. Using the Line/Curve tool, create straight white lines over all of the sharp vertical edges of your shape. Set this layer to overlay. You may want to play with the opacity of both outline layers.

7. Again duplicate your Surface layer, turn the duplicate white, and move it to the very top of your Layers Window. Create a layer above that and draw a black Bezier Curve over the white area. Use the Pen Tool to create a line connecting both ends of your Bezier Curve around one side of the white area. Using a Tolerance of 67-69%, use the Paint Bucket Tool to fill the newly created enclosed area with black. Merge onto the white Surface layer:


Run Alpha Mask... to rid the image of the black areas:


Apply various gradients to the white area to create a sort of gloss. Name this layer Surface Gloss.

8. Go to your Depth layer and duplicate it twice. Blur the top duplicate at a Radius of 40 to 60:


Go to the lower duplicate and move the image down until it appears to be physically under the entirety of the original Depth layer:


Lower the opacity of this layer and name it Reflection.

9. Create a new layer at the very top and name it Shine. Draw white lines with a Brush Width of two across a few Surface layer edges that visibly connect with the top of the Depth layer:


Draw a selection around one of the lines and, using either Radial or Linear (Reflected) modes, draw a gradient from the center of the line to its edges. Do this for each line:


Apply a glow to this layer:


By now, you can flatten your image and call it a day. However, you may also apply two (optional) extra steps:

With your image flattened, run Soften Portrait with Softness and Warmth turned all the way down:


The effectiveness of Soften Portrait really depends on the colors you used in the image, as well as the images darks and lights. Many times, this plugin can really make an image. However, use it with discretion, as sometimes it may be completely unnecessary.

Now, apply a light Vignette and you're done:



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@aguba: you have 378 posts and have been on this forum for three years and you still post pictures that are too wide?

C'mon, you know better than that!

Please resize the larger images down to a maximum dimension of not greater than 800pixels.

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Sorry mods, looks like Photobucket is having a bit of a problem updating the resized pictures. I may have to switch to Flickr as 0(-.-)0 suggested.

Scratch that, looks like they're properly resized. Although I may just start using Flickr from now on.

Angel, awesome result. I may just start regretting divulging my secrets :P

Awesome, I gots me a sticky! Yay :D

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Sorry mods, looks like Photobucket is having a bit of a problem updating the resized pictures. I may have to switch to Flickr as 0(-.-)0 suggested.

Scratch that, looks like they're properly resized. Although I may just start using Flickr from now on.

When updating images, always clear your browser's cache. Otherwise, it might display the old versions. Reloading the page with [Ctrl][F5] will do it.


ambigram signature by Kemaru

[i write plugins and stuff]

If you like a post, upvote it!

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I'm not wearing any pants right now. How's that for personal?

Too much information :!: :shock:

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Excellent tutorial. I've worked a lot on 3D before (check out my Gallery if you want to see) and we share a few differences in style. For instance, where you duplicate the layer a lot of times, I duplicate it two or three times then make it a solid using Pyrochild's Outline Object color using a color that is actually lighter than the object (or darker). I found this fixes some depth issues.

For any newcomers: The currently published version of Alpha Mask Import does not work as described in this tutorial. For that, I suggest instead using my Isolate White / Black plugin.


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