Short Run and Bridge Manufacturing Services
05 July, 2023
It is often said that a picture is worth a 1,000 words, but what if you could take a two dimensional photograph, turn it into a 3D model, and have it be worth $1,000 (or more)?
Converting a two-dimensional photograph into 3D can be lots of fun. Imagine 3D printing your own bobblehead or turning a memorable moment like an engagement photo into a 3D statue or piece of art that you can display somewhere in your house and treasure long term.
But there are also lots of more serious applications for turning a photograph into a 3D model that can be used as part of your business or as part of a professional service.
In this article we’ll suggest a few common methods of converting photos into 3D models, and some of the ways this technology is being used by people.
There are various approaches to converting photographs into 3D models. If you just need a computer model or 3D file for personal purposes, there are many different programs that can be used to convert 2D photographs into 3D. One thing all these software programs require however is a high-resolution photograph. If you don’t have a good quality photo, it doesn’t matter how good the software is, you won’t get great results when the photo is converted. Some of these programs are user friendly even if you are a beginner, but free, easy-to-learn programs are usually only good for hobbyist purposes as they are mostly automated, lack control over the final output and are sometimes unable to be exported to usable files that can be manipulated in CAD programs.
If you are planning on making a 3D printed model from your photograph, you will either need to find a piece of software that will create a CAD file (STEP, STL, OBJ and IGES are common file types that can be manipulated in most CAD software suites), or if you need the conversion for a professional purpose or you need a professional finish in your output, it’s best to consider getting help to turn the 2D photo into a 3D file from professional CAD designers, like those we have on our team here at J – CAD Inc.
A 3D file created by a CAD design team has many benefits. 3D designers familiar with 3D printing, manufacturing and prototyping processes can ensure the file is ready to be used for the manufacturing area you’re interested in. 3D designers can also clean up the photo as it is being converted to a high degree, smoothing surfaces, removing unwanted objects and more. This is typically not possible with 2D extrusion software which only allows you very minimal editing capabilities, and will often produce a file that is not able to produce a professional product in manufacturing processes.
Below we discuss a couple of different ways that hobbyists can create 3D models from photographs. If you have an idea you’d like to turn into a product and you’re not sure where to start, these tools can be a useful way to experiment and get a rough idea of what your 3D model would look like based on the photo you’re experimenting with.
If you are fairly computer savvy, there are online extrusion tools that are free to use that can turn a photo into a reasonably good 3D model.
Smoothie 3D is a popular and widely-used converter that is available for online use. It’s also completely free. All you need to do to use Smoothie 3D is to upload an image and use the tools to draw an outline around the photo. Based on this outline, the software generates a 3D render. You can export this into an OBJ or STL file. Take for example this video showing how to create a 3D model of a squirrel based on its photo.
When using Smoothie 3D, the best results come from images that are symmetrical. With asymmetrical structures, there is a possibility of the details getting lost.
The ease of use of this program sits around the medium level and the flexibility to customize elements of your model is quite decent, but you may find it difficult to achieve very fine grained control over your model. Since it is online, it is supported by almost all platforms.
What could you achieve with software like this? Here are a few ideas:
Another interesting form of 3D photo conversion software for hobbyists are lithophane creators. Lithophanes are translucent surfaces (which can be made easily via 3d printing) into which an image is carved in great detail. The idea is to block more light in some areas than others, so that when you hold the material up to light, you see a clear 3D image. Lithophanes can be surprisingly beautiful, and make excellent presents.
What kind of gifts or decorations can you make with lithophanes? Think of things like:
This software is a great choice for beginners who want high-quality 3D lithophanes as the process of creating lithophanes from photos is practically automatic. Upload your photos, change settings according to the instructional videos on the site, and create your 3D model ready for printing! Once you have the output file you can 3D print it on your material of choice.
Here is a walkthrough video showing how to create a lithophane for a lamp shade:
The site has recommendations for personal 3D printers, but if you only want to create one lithograph or you want really high quality, it will be more cost effective to get us to do the print for you, and it will be higher quality because we use cutting edge 3D printers with very high resolution output!
There are many reasons why people might want to convert a 2D picture into a 3D model for professional or business purposes. Some examples are included below, but the possibilities are almost limitless depending on people’s imagination:
When you are looking to turn a photo into a 3D model for professional, business or mass production purposes, it pays to hire professionals to do the job for you.
If you have a serious need for 2D photo to 3D model conversion, you’ll be much better placed hiring a pro than trying to go it alone and create the 3D model yourself, even with the use of free online software.
Some of these reasons include:
If you search on Google, you will find a range of options that will let you convert a regular photograph into a 3D model. It usually won’t look very professional, but a lot of them are good enough for basic hobbyist 3D printing applications. If nothing else, it is a great first step to envisage how your end product might look and feel.