Did you see...

Working with 3D Materials in Photoshop CS5

Over the past couple of weeks, my tips have focused on new and interesting ways to create 3D objects with Photoshop CS5. However, the objects we’ve created have all been a bit cartoonish, with solid colors and no texture. Today, we’ll take a look at some ways of working with materials, which will give us a head start down the path of making our 3D creations look much more photo realistic.

We’ll begin with a document that has a colored background, and add a new blank layer above the background, like so:


With the new blank layer selected, choose the menu item 3D > New Shape From Layer > Sphere.


This will create a new 3D Sphere with a neutral gray color. Note that in the Layers panel, the former blank layer is converted into a 3D Layer, as evidenced by the change in the thumbnail and the “Texture” item underneath. That’s where we’ll focus our attention today:


While we can access some materials properties directly through the Layers panel, the 3D Panel is far more capable and suited for this use. Choose Window > 3D to open the 3D Panel, if it isn’t already visible. Within the 3D Panel, the four icons across the top represent filters that allow us to zero in on the parts of the 3D environment where we want to work. The four icons are Whole Scene, Meshes, Materials, and Lights. Today, we’ll choose the third one, Materials:


Now, in the upper part of the 3D Panel, we see the only material in the scene, “Sphere_Material.” In future tips, we’ll see scenes with multiple materials, but to make it easy here, we just have one. With the material selected, we can affect the properties of the material using the lower section. We’ll start by modifying the Diffuse property, which governs the basic color/image that is seen on the surface of the object.

Clicking the color swatch next to the word Diffuse brings up a standard color picker, allowing us to select a Diffuse color. As we pick, the object is updated immediately, so we can see the results we’re getting:


This is useful, but the object is still too clinical to seem very realistic. Notice just to the left of the properties panel is a large drop down list with several built-in materials presets. We can choose from this list to get sets of properties that not only include diffuse color, but also bumpiness, transparency, shine, gloss and other material properties. For example, pull down the list and select Organic OrangePeel:


This produces a surface texture that is not only colored and shiny, but also seems to be bumpy. Much more realistic than the flat color we started with. Note that the Texture in the Layers Panel includes both a Diffuse and a Bump element:


We can modify these elements using the 3D Panel. For example, to remove the bump texture, we can click the flyout menu next to Bump and select Remove Texture:


Note that the Bump element is no longer visible in the Layers Panel. We can take this a step further with the Diffuse element. Click the flyout menu for Diffuse and choose Load Texture…


This brings up a standard File Open style dialog box, and we can choose any image from our file system. I’ve chosen a wood texture that I have downloaded from free stock image site stock.xchng:


As soon as it is loaded, we see the result. Notice not only the change in appearance, but notice also the Layers Panel has updated to reflect the “Wood” image as the Diffuse element of the Texture:


Double clicking the word Wood in the Layers Panel opens up the texture image much the same as a smart object. You can edit the texture, add layers, do anything you want – and when you save, the changes are updated in the 3D object. In this case, I want to rotate the wood grain 90 degrees, so I choose Image > Image Rotation > 90° CCW:


After rotating, simply close the document, choose Save, and the image is updated with the grain oriented across the sphere:


Now, we have something that is starting to look photo realistic. Let’s add a few finishing touches. I’ll cover this in greater detail in a future tip, but we’ll start by adding a feature new to CS5 – choose 3D > Ground Plane Shadow Catcher. This is a feature that provides an invisible surface upon which shadows will fall, from the lights in the scene (yes, we have some default lights already included):


After choosing this, Photoshop warns you that shadows will only appear when using Ray-Traced render quality settings. So, let’s go back to the 3D Panel, and click on the first icon at the top, for Whole Scene. Then, select the drop-down list next to Quality and choose Ray-Traced Final:


At this point, you will see a square pattern trace across the scene over and over again, analyzing the scene and painting in the lights and shadows:


The rendering process can take some time depending on the complexity of the scene and the power of your computer, but eventually it will finish, and you can either Save For Web to produce a jpg image, or flatten the 3D Layer (losing your model in the process). Note the gloss, shine and shadows that have been fully rendered in the image below:


At this point, over the past several tips, we’ve seen 3D Objects (meshes) and Materials. In the next tip, we’ll tackle Lights, a tricky subject but the final touch that will make your 3D scenes come to life. Keep on experimenting!

About Michael Hoffman (224 Articles)
Mike has been a photographer, artist, educator, and technophile for most of his life. Early in his career, he created technical illustrations and photographs for electronic equipment manufacturers, and taught classes in computer aided drafting and 3D modeling software. When digital cameras became widely available in the late 1990s, the move was a natural one, and has led to a happy combination of technology, software, photography and art. Mike is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Acrobat, and is well versed in Lightroom and Photoshop Elements, as well as Illustrator and InDesign. He has also contributed his time and efforts to the excellent work being done by Operation Photo Rescue, in restoring photographs damaged by natural disasters. As an active member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, he continues his quest for excellence in art, excellence in design, and excellence in education.

1 Comment on Working with 3D Materials in Photoshop CS5

  1. wow theres a lot to learn in CS5 with the 3D tool. Great post! thanks for sharing!


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.