As graphic designers, we use many graphic design software to accomplish our ideas & visions. If our work is print related we use a combination of Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Photoshop to put together images & text in best possible technical and aesthetical way. Working with websites and apps design will usually combine Sketch, Photoshop and bunch of prototyping apps like Adobe XD, Marvel app, etc. For motion design, we will use Adobe After Effects or Apple Motion, with the support of different converting/encoding tools such as Adobe Media Encoder.

(And I will drop “Adobe” in app names because you got it by now what is what, so it is not necessary to call it with full name:)

Depending on graphic designer workflows, it happens that some other combinations of apps are used. So, where in all this setups 3D software & apps are exactly and more important: WHY?

First things first

Every designer or person in a creative field should at least once try for 15-20 minutes any software/app that is used around them or in next/previous phase of a work process but not necessarily needed in their work. For example, you work on packaging design and you use Illustrator and Photoshop as main tools. After that somebody will make ads or presentation with this product using After Effects or Keynote/PowerPoint. Usually, they will require files to be prepared in a certain way so they can use them properly, and this is where our “interaction” with other apps usually stops. Even if we don’t use those apps in our packaging design process, it would be great if you check them. Just play around in them for some time to get a better picture of how they work, what is their philosophy.

That will help you better understand what comes next and maybe, maybe will inspire you how to approach design challenges next time or just gives you a better idea what your coworkers dealing with. But all of this is the story for some other time.

Now back to our 3D software. Why we should use it more or start using it? There are generally two main reasons in your everyday design work: 1) you are using 3D renders for your designs (like objects & backgrounds) and 2) you do mockups of final designs to show them to your team or clients.

Using 3D images as part of your design

So, let’s check where 3D apps come handy in the first scenario when you use 3D renders as part of your design. Depending on what you have on your mind, what you envisioned or what project requires, sometimes is nice to have 3D imagery to complete your ideas. Usually, you will search online for an image that will fit your concept on many stock websites. Some of you will recreate the idea in Illustrator or Photoshop.

Now, it rarely happens that you can find exactly what you were looking for and most of the times you tweak your designs to better fit founded material. Or you spent some time to create a faux 3D looking asset but fits perfectly your vision. But now you want to change the angle a little bit and then you need to redo the whole thing. So, why not creating some 3D looking images by yourself completely in 3D software, with unlimited possibilities to change view angles, perspective, textures, and lightning?

Your first reaction (probably) is No way, it is super hard to do or you don’t want to learn new app because you don’t have enough time for something that you will not use that frequently.

To your surprise, today 3D software is so advanced that most of them have versions, layouts or UI adjusted just for graphic designers to help them easily and quickly realize their visions. On top of that, most of the designers already, during a design process, think in 3D space, how final concept will work in real world, from which angle is best visible or how will look in different weather and lighting conditions. Now, just extend your arm from a flat 2D plane into the 3D world, and new possibilities will come out.

Using 3D mockups to display your graphic designs

Mockups are one of the most used assets by graphic designers. Whenever you are working on packaging, book, flyer, Instagram post, website or app design, you need to represent it to clients or to yourself/team how will your masterpiece look like in real world. Thousands of mockup files are around us, both free and premium, where with few clicks and few adjustments you will quickly get your design ready to be presented.

Of course, all of this works perfectly when you have a standard design to do a mockup, like a magazine cover, poster, cup or roll-up banner. Things get a bit trickier when your designs go in non-standard categories, like, what if your poster is three centimeters shorter than A3 or new packaging shoo box have some holes on sides? You will hardly find specific mockup for these kinds of designs because mockup creators are trying to reach a wider audience thus they are using more standardized formats to cover most use cases.

So, why you do not create your own mockup set for those cases? Every popular 3D software has huge free (and paid) library of already made real-life objects, which are easy to customize/edit to better fit your concept. Place them in the environment, render with the light you prefer and later in Photoshop add your design on top of them, and you have your mockup done. Anyway, a lot of mockup files that you are currently using are made with 3D software. Let see how you can do that also.

3D apps and software for graphic designers

To be clear, nobody is expecting from you to master modeling or do Pixar kind of animations. We are here to check out what is available on market and what can give us most in less possible time.

The goal is to quickly and easily have 3D results that will help us in our graphic design workflow.

That being said, we will recommend you some apps according to the above-mentioned criteria. I believe colleagues who are deeply into 3D will not agree with my list, but I am approaching from a graphic designers point of view and what can help us in our design process.

1. Adobe Dimensions

If you are Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber and you using CC for graphic design, you can download Adobe Dimensions. For others, you can try this app for free, fully for 30 days. Now, Dimensions app is for some time standard part of CC, but with recent updates, it raised the production value of software. Now, with few clicks, you can set your scene, place some predefined objects, add materials to them, adjust light, background and render. Super easy, with focus on presentations, without going too much into the technical side of 3D, your work with Dimensions will be smooth. An app is made for graphic designers and that’s why we highly recommend it to at least try.

Dimensions are made mostly for quick mockups, where you place materials and your designs as decals on different objects (coffee cup, shopping bag, retail box or roll up banner). Everything is predefined, and you can adjust some aspects of materials to better fit your vision. In the case you need something that is not part of Dimensions, you can always import a 3D model from other apps and prepare it here. You can find for free or buy those models, then use them forever for different outputs. It will save you time and give you new possibilities for each time differently set scene before render, thus enrich your visual presentations.

But what if you want some 3D work that’s not mockup presentation from Dimensions? Well, you can do that also, just combine primitives from the app with imported ones, combine textures, decals, backgrounds, and lights and you can get your vision. Check out our Team page where my colleague did in Dimensions, from scratch all team members profile images.

Note: Dimensions is trading ease of use for deeper 3D work, like modeling and animation, advanced lighting and texturing, but for most of the graphic designers it will offer more than what they will anyway use.

2. Adobe Photoshop

Ha! Surprised? I was thinking should I include Photoshop in this list, but thinking again who will find this interesting and that graphic designers are target group, our beloved image editing software is here.

So, you are using Photoshop daily, some of you 90% of the time and there is a good chance that you noticed 3D thing mentioned in a few places in the app. Now, Photoshop and 3D are just for graphic designers who really don’t want to change anything in their workflow, not even move from apps they use every day (we have in office guy like that :). These days in Photoshop you can even import videos and edit them, so why not do some basic 3D work also?

All you need for this is layer or layers that you want to become a 3D object or create a new 3D layer using some of the already defined primitives (cubes, spheres, cylinders, etc). For example, you can place some logo or text in a new layer, then make 3D from it using extrusion. Play around with extrusion depth, rotate it, make some bevel and you have a nice 3D object. Further, adjust lights, shadows, and camera. Next step is to render it and your 3D layer is now part of your file for additional positioning. All this work in 6-7 minutes can spice up your design.

If you are not satisfied with an angle or other parts of your 3D layer, just back to it, edit, render and you are good to go. One of the best things about this is that is editable and you can apply it to Smart object, so once you set properties, you don’t have to that again for future 3D layers. Let’s say you need to present different logos but in the same scene. Place logo first, make it a Smart object, convert to 3D layer, make adjustments and then render. Now just replace the logo in a Smart object with your second logo, a 3D layer will auto-update and you just hit Render to make it.

For basic 3D visuals, Photoshop will give you a lot of options to make it part of your design. If you work with bigger formats of canvas it will take more memory and CPU/GPU resources to render. On the other hand, you will not leave your favorite software, you will work within the familiar interface and directly see results in your graphic design.

3. Cinema 4D

At last proper 3D software on the list! Before I started my 3D journey, over years I tried a couple of available software, both free/open source, and commercial ones. After installing Maxon Cinema 4D (or shorter C4D) and few hours playing around following some YouTube tutorials I finally felt that this is THE 3D app I was looking for. That’s why you should try as many of them as possible, just for an hour or two, maybe some other ones (like 3DS Max, Maya, Blender, Sketchup…) will better click with you. Most of those, being for beginners or professionals, are available for trial and it will cost you nothing to check them out. And there are thousands of tutorials on blogs, forums, and YouTube/Vimeo to get familiar with the software.

Even if C4D is professionally oriented software, it is also one of the most used ones and great for beginners as an introduction to the 3D world. When you start the app you will find UI very well presented and organized, with clear logic what is what.

With C4D you can start your journey without any previous 3D knowledge or experience, just try to make in it what you want (well, don’t go Pixar crazy) and soon you will have some results. Use predefined primitive objects or create ones from your Illustrator file. Importing 2D files from Illustrator into Cinema 4D is something that I do most of the time. Try adding some text, then use some creative ways to bend it, warp or transform in a creative way. Slap some materials on it and do render. Different settings in render and lightning will bring some interesting results.

Of course, you can experiment with all of this but you can also find a lot of free resources online: objects, materials, light setups, renderers… In our work we used C4D numerous times to do high quality renders of Intisars jewelry but also modeled this Bareec award and later we did final renders in Adobe Dimensions.

4. Blender

I was playing with Blender a few years ago and what I remember from my experience it was smooth and easy to pick up. There’s a lot of amazing features beyond modeling and visualizing, like video editing, compositing, video game creation or simulation.

The great thing about Blender is that is free and you can download it immediately for a test drive. Another point is open source nature of software, which means that is in active development, ever expanding and there is a passionate community around it providing tutorials, resources, and solutions. If I wasn’t hooked on Cinema 4D (which is paid software) Blender would be mine 3D app to go with.

5. Any. Other. 3D. App!

No, seriously, just try some of the available 3D apps, like Maya, 3DS Max, A360, etc. At least you can tell that you tried them and maybe some new inspirational spark will touch your creative soul and bring new ideas into your workflow.

We hope this blog inspired you enough to think about 3D software and expand your knowledge regarding different 3D usage in everyday graphic design work.