How to Create a 3D Postcard in Adobe Photoshop

The 3D postcard is the simplest of the 3D mesh presets in Photoshop. 3D modeling is processor-intensive, so if you've seen a message when launching Photoshop about insufficient vRAM, you will not be able to work in 3D.

This feature works the same in Adobe Photoshop CS6 and CC versions. Photoshop CS5 also has 3D capabilities, but the interface has changed.

  1. Let's start with an explanation of 3D terminology:
    • Meshes – Sometimes called wireframes, they are the skeletons of 3D objects around which the image wraps.
    • Materials – Refers to the surface of the 3D object. Is it smooth and shiny like glass or metal, or textured like fabric or orange peel?
    • Lighting – Affects the highlights and shadows of a 3D object.
    • Camera Position – Refers to the line of sight relative to the 3D object.
  2. To optimize Photoshop for working in 3D, go to Edit > Preferences > Performance to open the Performance Preferences and make sure Use Graphics Processor is checked. If this option is grayed out, your video card or driver does not support Open GL, and 3D options will be limited and slow.
    Performance Preferences
  3. In case things don't work out as planned, it's a good idea to make a copy of the image layer you'll be turning into a 3D object by going to the Layers panel, right-clicking (PC) / Control-clicking (Mac) on the layer, and choosing Duplicate Layer.
    Layers Panel
  4. I'll name the layer "image - 3D" in the next dialog box.
    Duplicate Layer Dialog Box
  5. Now the original layer can be hidden by clicking the layer's Visibility icon.
    Visibility Icon
  6. From the Workspace menu, select 3D.
    Workspace Menu
  7. With the 3D layer active, go to the 3D menu to New Mesh from Layer and choose Postcard.
    3D Menu
  8. The image will likely display a Secondary View Panel and a ground plane grid.
    3D Image Window
  9. These can be turned off by going to View > Show > 3D Ground Plane, then back to the View menu again and toggling off 3D Secondary View.
    View Menu
  10. Go to the 3D panel and click on [layer name] Mesh.
    3D Panel
  11. A 3D axis widget will appear in the image window. The widget has three differently colored "arms" for X, Y, and Z axes. Hover over the different sections in the arms and you'll see tool tips display showing three sets of controls for each arm:
    • Move On Axis: moves the object along the selected axis.
    • Rotate Around Axis: rotates using the X, Y, or Z as a pivot point.
    • Scale Along Axis: changes the size along a specific axis.

    • 3D Axis Widget
  12. I want the image to appear angled with the right side closer to the camera, so I'll click and hold on the Rotate Around Y Axis control and drag to the right.
    Rotated Image
  13. There's a cube shape in the center of the widget that can be used to scale the 3D object proportionally. As you hover over it, a tool tip will appear to Scale Uniformly. Click and drag away from the center to make the 3D smaller or toward the center to make it larger.
    3D Image
  14. Once the 3D effect has been created, you can either rasterize it to use as static art or render it for use in video or animation by going to the Layers panel, right-clicking (PC) / Control-clicking (Mac), and selecting either Render 3D Layer or Rasterize 3D. Note that rendering can take a long time to complete.
    Layers Panel
Author: Kate Cahill

Kate Cahill is a graphic designer, writer, and creative director who has developed content for print and web. As creative director, she has produced award-winning work for agencies focused on the pharmaceutical and health and beauty aid industries. She has also served as production manager, with responsibility for the successful fulfillment of long-run print contracts. Kate has been delivering training for Webucator clients since 2010. Her enthusiasm for cutting-edge technology, combined with hands-on practical experience, brings an added benefit to her classes. Kate teaches real-world techniques and integration of Adobe software, as well as Microsoft PowerPoint, to produce a fully developed and cohesive brand identity.

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