Sunday, August 29, 2010

3D Wooden Plinth design tutorial

In this tutorial a simple 3d modelling application (swift 3d) is used to create a basic rendering of a plinth shape. This shape is then edited in Photoshop to add a wooden texture and placed in a scene.

Often when creating a scene in Photoshop you will wish to add an object that you do not have a suitable image of. In this situation you could attempt to 'draw' the object using Photoshop and/or Illustrator tools, however there is a faster and simpler option. This is to use one of the new generation of 3D polygon modelling applications.

3D modelling is often seen as an activity that takes many hours to learn. This is true if you are using advanced applications like 3D Studio Max or Alias Maya to produce highly detailed models. However simple 3D models can be produced quickly and easily with the new generation of low cost 3D polygon modelling applications.

Two of the best low end 3D applications are Sketchup ( and Swift 3D ( At around £100 Swift 3d is the cheaper option and also includes advanced features like lighting, rendering and feature based modelling. Both applications enable the import of pre-built 3D models in the .3DS (3D Studio Max) format. Many websites (e.g. have large libraries of 3D models that can be downloaded, sometimes for free. This tutorial uses Swift 3D version 4.0.

To produce a plinth shape in Swift 3D start by selecting the 'Lathe Editor' tab. This will display a set of 2D drawing tools and an area where a 2D 'sketch' of the plinth profile can be drawn. Only one half of the profile is required as this will be rotated 360 degrees to produce the 3D plinth model.

Once the 2D sketch is complete select the 'scene editor' tab to view the 3D model. Click on the plinth model to select it and make sure the 'sweep angle' is set to 360 degrees (this will produce a closed model). The 'radial segments' can be set to any number greater than 3. Set the number of segments to a high number to produce a 'circular' plinth. To edit the shape of the plinth simply select it in the scene editor and then click the 'lathe editor' tab.

Now add a 'material' to the plinth. Select the 'glossy' tab (the materials are seen in the bottom right of the scene editor) and drag and drop the gray gloss material onto the plinth.

The last step before rendering is to add lighting to the model. Click on the 'sun' (to add a point light source) or 'torch' (to add a spot light source) to add as many sources of light as you wish. Position these lights by clicking on them and dragging them around the 'circle'.

Finally the plinth model can be 'rendered'. Click on the 'preview and export editor' tab. In the 'output options' section select 'raster' and a file type (e.g. .tif). In the 'render preview' section click the 'generate selected frames' button. To change the orientation of the plinth rotate it using the rotation tools in the 'scene editor'. Finally click the 'export selected frame' button to output an image file.

Open the plinth image in Photoshop and place it on a new layer. Then find a wooden texture e.g. copy part of the image of a wooden object and place this texture on a new layer on top of the plinth layer. Make sure the texture covers the plinth and has an appropriate size and direction of grain. Change the wood texture layer to 'multiply' using the layers palette, this will enable the rendered lighting to be visible on the wood. Finally with the wood layer selected click 'group with previous' on the 'layers' menu [ ctrl - G ].

Various shapes of plinth can be modelled simply by changing the value of the 'radial segments' option in the 'scene editor'.

Once a wooden plinth has been created in Photoshop it can be added to a scene. Try to match the lighting of your plinth when it is rendered to that of the scene that it will be placed into.

This table model was downloaded for free from the website. It was imported into Swift 3D using the .3DS format then rendered and the wood texture added in Photoshop.

Final Tips:

Wooden objects are often made of different wooden parts, e.g. a table is made of a top and four legs. As each part is made from a different piece of wood the grain should be different. In Photoshop this can be achieved by cutting out the different wooden components and pasting them to separate layers. Thus different wooden textures can be applied to each part.

Try using the 'dodge' and 'burn' tools to add to the highlights and lowlights from the 3D rendering. Also use 'Image > Adjustments' to modify the final image or any of the intermediate stages.



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