Create Shapes for 3D Printing

CIOS F255 - University of Alaska Fairbanks

Approximate time:  1 hour

This is a tutorial on how to make a pair of 3D earrings (or basic extruded shape) in Photoshop CC and send them to a 3D printing service. Much of this is based  on the information in this awesome tutorial from Adobe.  

Step 1 – Create a new Photoshop CC document

Use these settings (2 inches square is about the largest earring size you’d want):


Step 2 – Create a drawing

Create a basic vector line drawing in  Photoshop.

The important thing is that the lines are at least 3 pts wide and that it is on a transparent layer.  You will know the layer is transparent by the checkerboard pattern.

Your document should now look something like this (your line shape will be different than mine):




Step 3 – Create 3D extrusion

Once you have a shape in Photoshop on a transparent layer, go to the top menu and choose -> 3D -> New 3D Extrusion from Selected Layer.

Step 4 – Set extrusion depth

The Photoshop environment will change to the 3D Workspace and you will see new 3D layer panel and properties panels.

The default extrusion is too deep for an earring so we’ll change it to .125″ deep.



Step 5  – Set  location and angle

Now we need to place the item to be printed in the middle of the x/y/z axis and lying horizontally.  It also needs to be lying on  top of the ground, as it represents the printing plate surface.



Step 6  – Set  printing specifications & export



It will take a few minutes once you click on ‘3D Print…’. Photoshop is optimizing your image and getting it ready for packaging.

Eventually, a dialog box will appear asking you to review the model and export. Click on export.

Exporting will take a few minutes and will result in a file ending in ‘’.

Step  7 – Upload file for printing

Log into, click on ‘Design’ and upload your file. You will have to set the units (inches) you used in your design.  Once uploaded, you can customize, publish, and order from a variety of materials.


If you see this error ‘Thin Walls’ try clicking on the words ‘Thin Walls’.  Shapeways will help you diagnose and fix some problems:



Advanced modeling in Photoshop CC

Photoshop is not the best 3D modeling tool for complex 3D designs. However, you can combine multiple 3D layers easily.

Create multiple pixel layers as described above in steps 1-2.

Create new extrusion layers for each layer (must be done independently)

Merge 3D layers (Top Menu -> 3D -> Merge 3D Layers)

Now each layer is on the same x/y/z field and they can each be moved around individually.



For each object, set the location on the x/y/z axis approximately where you want it to be.

You can move objects either by selecting them and using the Coordinates panel in the Properties box or by selecting them and manipulating the x/y/z axis/rotation/scale tool:



View the  composite design above on Shapeways.

Keep in mind that a 3D printer can not print into thin air so your design must be able to layer from the bottom up.