The (3D) Shape of Type to Come, In Adobe Photoshop

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In this article, we’re going to take flat 2D letters and extrude them into a 3-dimensional form using Photoshop Extended’s Repoussé command. Then, we’ll use that form to cast shadows and create reflections via the 3D panel. Finally, we’ll adjust the lighting to soften and direct the shadows while creating dramatic highlights. (Note that these features are only available in Photoshop CS5 Extended, not the standard edition.)

Making 3D Type in Photoshop

Today’s article comes from Deke’s Techniques episodes 016, 017, and 018 (first presented as Deke’s Techniques 010: “Making 3D Type with Repoussé”) produced by the vanguard online training company,

The French word repoussé (pronounced ruh-poo-SAY) literally means “pushed up.” Photoshop borrowed the term from decorative metalworking, where it was employed to create elaborately decorated antiques. Repoussé is accomplished by hammering soft metal such as gold or copper from the reverse side to create a relief design on the surface that you look at. And that is essentially what the command does: It takes a flat shape, like the outline of a string of text, and pushes it up from the reverse side to create a 3D volume.

From Flat to 3D: Getting Started with Repoussé

With Repoussé in Photoshop, you don’t need to import 3D wireframes to create 3D objects. The command extrudes 3D meshes from flat text and shape layers. However, the command is aggressive. It’s going to rasterize text and shape layers the start, and you can’t apply it to Smart Objects. So, you’ll want to duplicate any editable type you plan to convert so that you have an original to return to when needed.

select layer panel options
panel optionos dialog
  1. Select Panel Options from the Layers Panel menu
  2. Turn off the option that reads Add “copy” to Copied Layers and Groups.
  3. Use Ctrl/Command + J to duplicate your type layer
  4. Turn off original layer

Now, you’re ready to apply the Repoussé command.

layers after jump
dimension starting point
  1. Select the layer you want to convert
  2. Select 3D > Repoussé > Text Layer from the menu bar
  3. Photoshop will tell you that it needs to rasterize. Click Yes.
  4. The Repoussé dialog will appear.
text layer confirmation

The dialog has no preview option, so there may be a delay as the screen updates each time you change a setting.

You can safely ignore most of the settings for now, but there are a couple we’ll change:

  1. Reduce the Extrude Depth to .5
  2. Set the Bevel Height to 1 and Width to 2.
  3. Click OK to apply the settings
repousse dialog

Your Layers panel will appear like this:

Applying 3D Tools

Your text is now a 3D object. One of the ways you can adjust its appearance is with the 3D controls in the Options bar or the Tools panel.

3D tools
  1. Activate the 3D Rotate Camera tool.
  2. Drag inside the image to change the perspective of the text. (Photoshop temporarily turns off the other layers for performance reasons. You can change a preference setting if you need to. We’ll do that later in this article.)
3D Rotate 1

Making Adjustments with the 3D Panel

The easiest way to open the 3D panel is to double-click on the thumbnail of your 3D object in the Layers panel, but you can also select Window > 3D from the menu bar.

3D panel
In our example, we’ve applied Repoussé to the word “dimension,” so the options listed in the first part of the scene dialog will begin with “dimension.” If you started with text that was something other than “dimension,” that word or phrase will appear where you see “dimension” in this example.
  1. Select the first item in the list (dimension Front Inflation Material)
  2. Click the sphere icon in the bottom half of the dialog to bring up the Materials picker.
  3. Locate the “No Texture” material and click on it.
  4. Click the color swatch labelled “Diffuse” to open the color picker.
  5. Select a color, e.g. HSB 215, 65, 50, and click OK to apply the color to the face of your text.
apply no texture
face color

Now, we’ll change the color of the bevel:

  1. Click the second item in the list (dimension Front Bevel Material) to change the appearance of the Front Bevel material.
  2. Click the Diffuse color swatch again and enter HSB 50, 15, 100.
  3. Click OK to commit the change.

Next, we’ll change the extruded edges:

  1. Click the third item in the list. (dimension Extrusion Material).
  2. Select the “No Texture” sphere and then click on the Diffuse color swatch to set its color.
  3. Deke used HSB 215, 65, 15.

Switching on Ray Tracing

If you’re looking closely at your work at this point, you’ll probably be alarmed at the appearance of jagged edges everywhere. That’s OK, because what you’re seeing is a preview designed to redraw quickly. To smooth out your results, and create realistic looking 3D, you’ll need to apply Ray Tracing.

  1. If you’ve put the 3D panel away, you can reactivate it by double-clicking on the layer thumbnail or by selecting 3D from the Window menu.
  2. Click the word Scene at the very top of the list in the dialog box to reveal the Render Settings panel in the bottom half of the dialog.
  3. Select Ray Traced (Draft) from the Quality menu
init ray tracing

This is key: Ray Tracing takes a long time — several minutes in Draft mode, even with low-res files. It can take about twice as long in Final mode. While Ray Tracing is happening, you’ll see a grid effect washing across your image. If you click anywhere inside Photoshop while this is going on, you’ll interrupt it.

You can switch to another app on your computer, if you like, but that could slow Photoshop down. Better to go take a coffee break or have a stroll.

When the process is complete, your cursor will return to normal when the process is complete. Once the Ray Tracing is done, you can put the 3D panel away.

Adding Faux Lighting

Rather than use the actual 3D lighting feature at this point (we’ll get into it at the end of this article), we’ll apply a gradient to create a faux lighting effect. Your 3D layer should still be active in the Layers panel.

gradient overlay
  1. Select Gradient Overlay from the fx menu at the bottom of the Layers panel.
  2. Click on the gradient preview to open the Gradient Editor dialog.
  3. Double-click on the left-hand color stop to open the color picker
  4. Change the B (brightness) value to 60% and then click OK.
  5. Create a second stop by holding down the Alt/Option key and dragging the color stop until its location reads approximately 15%.
  6. Release the mouse button and the Alt/Option key.
  7. Double-click on the new stop, change its brightness value to 15%, and then click OK.
  8. Click the diamond between the two stops to select it and then change its location to 35%.
gradient editor
  1. Click OK to dismiss the Gradient Editor dialog and return to the Layer Style dialog.
  2. Change the angle value to 115°.
  3. Change the Blend Mode to Overlay.
  4. Reduce the Opacity to 60%

The final settings for the gradient overlay are all shown in the screen shot above. When you’re done, your result should look something like this:

3d type completed

Casting 3D shadows and reflections

For the next example, we’ll expand on the Repoussé-rendered text by placing it above a shape layer containing a simple rectangle. We’ll convert the shape layer into a 3D mesh and then make the two layers interact.

3D shadow start
  1. In the layers panel, click to select the mask of the rectangle layer to select it.
  2. Choose 3D > Repoussé > Selected Path from the menu bar
  3. You will see a warning indicating that the shape layer will be rasterized. Click Yes.
confirm shape layer rasterization

In the example illustration, the layer containing the the 3D text is named “dimension.” We can copy its position and scaling settings to the newly-extruded 3D shape via the View menu rather than trying to match it by hand. You’ll find the View menu in the Scene Setting section of the panel.

  1. Select “dimension” from the View menu.
  2. Set the following parameters: Depth = .2, Bevel height = 1, Bevel width = .5
  3. Click OK
repousse 2

Now, we’ll work on the appearance of the newly-extruded background shape.

  1. Double-click on its thumbnail to open the 3D panel.
  2. Click the Front Inflation Material option (the first item in the materials list).
select front inflation matl

We’re going to take a quick detour here to load some additional materials to work with:

  1. Click on the Material Picker button to open the dialog.
  2. Click the triangle at the upper right corner of the Material Picker and select Default (for Ray Tracer) from the fly-out menu.
  3. You’ll see a dialog asking if you want to replace the current materials. Click the Append button.
load ray tracer defaults
append ray tracer defaults

Once you load them, you won’t have to load them again, unless you reset the materials picker dialog. The items you’ll be adding will remain in the Materials picker indefinitely.

Now, we’ll use one of the newly-loaded materials for the face of the background rectangle.

  1. Choose Metal Gold from the materials.
  2. Click the color swatch labeled Diffuse to change its color.
  3. Set its HSB value to 215,65,50
  4. Click OK
select metal gold
change hsb for diffuse setting

Let’s color the bevel:

select front bevel matl
  1. Click the Front Bevel Material item (second in the list)
  2. Select the No Texture material
  3. Click the Diffuse color swatch and assign HSB 50,15,100

Now, let’s define the sides by defining the extrusion materials and color:

select extrusion matl
  1. Click extrusion material (third item in the list)
  2. Click the materials picker and select Satin Black.

You can hide the 3D panel. We’re done with it for a while. Now, we want to refine the composition by moving the rectangle around.

• The Pan tool moves the object left, right, up, or down. • The Slide tool brings the object closer when you drag downward and moves it farther away when you drag upward.

Another quick fix. Select the 3D Object Pan tool from the Tools panel and drag inside the image. Just as we saw before, the rectangle layer is the only one visible as you drag. This is Photoshop’s default behavior, and it’s problematic. Here’s how to fix that:

  1. From the menu bar, select Edit > Preferences > 3D (on the Mac, select Photoshop > Preferences > 3D)
  2. Turn off the Auto-Hide Layers checkbox and click OK.


3d auto hide

Now, you can reposition the layers with the 3D tools, and all the layers will remain visible.

Currently, the text and rectangle layers are independent of each other, but we can combine them into a unified 3D space:

  1. Select both layers
  2. Select 3D > Merge 3D layers from the menu bar
select both layers

But once you merge the layers, you may be surprised to find that the rectangle layer cuts through or even obliterates the text.

We’ll resolve this by moving the meshes independently via the 3D Mesh Slide tool in the 3D panel. The tool is nested in one of the buttons at the bottom of the panel.

  1. Double-click the layer thumbnail
  2. Click the Filter by Meshes icon at the top of the panel.
  3. Press and hold the third button in the bottom half of the panel to reveal a fly-out menu and then select 3D Mesh Slide Tool from the menu.
3d mesh slside tool
  1. Now, hover the cursor over the rectangle and notice that a cyan outline appears to indicate that its mesh is selected. If you hover the cursor over the text, a different rectangle will appear.
  2. Drag the cursor upward to slide the rectangle’s mesh back in 3D space. As soon as the text no longer looks cut, you know that the two are touching.
3d mesh hover
3d mesh sliding

What, no Shadows?!

If you look at the settings for the two meshes in the 3D panel, you may notice that they are supposed to be casting and catching shadows, but there’s not a shadow in sight.

catch and cast shadows

That’s because you need to run Ray Tracing to see the shadows.

  1. Click on the Filter by Whole Scene button at the top of the 3D panel.
  2. Make sure that Scene is selected
  3. Select Ray Traced (Draft) from the Quality menu.
ray trace to produce shadows

Using 3D Light Sources

As you’ve probably guessed, the shadows are created by the default 3D light sources inside our composition. Now that we’re interested in casting shadows, it’s time to tackle those light sources. Working with 3D light sources is a bit tricky, but it gets easier to do as you gain experience with the software.

The tricky part is learning how to move lights in infinite space. The success of your 3D effect depends greatly on how credible your lighting setup is.

In the example file that Deke created, dark bands appeared at the bottom of the letters as soon as ray tracing began. It turns out that one of the default light sources sat below the letters and was casting a shadow from the background rectangle onto the bottom of the lettering.

problem shadow

If you get the same thing, you can click in Photoshop to stop the ray tracing process and adjust the settings. The fix in this case, was to turn off the eyeball icon next to Infinite Light 2 in the Scene list. The light sources sit beneath your layers in the list.

Double-click the layer thumbnail to bring up the 3D panel. Since editing the light sources will cause Ray Tracing to update, we’ll turn it off first, then switch the light source off:

  1. Click on Scene at the top of the list to display the Render Settings at the bottom of the panel.
  2. Switch off Ray Tracing by changing the Quality setting back to Interactive (Painting)
  3. Scroll down in the box to find Infinite Light 2, and click the eyeball icon to switch the light source off

Isolating and Adjusting the Lights

It’s time to tackle 3D lighting. The default lights are OK, but not very dynamic. We’ll adjust the position and type of lights to create a much more dramatic effect. It’s best to edit your light sources one at a time, so we’ll start by isolating one.

  1. Click the eyeball icon to switch off Infinite Light 1, so that only Infinite Light 3 is active
  2. Click on Infinite Light 3 to select it and display its controls in the bottom of the panel.
  3. Click on the Light Rotate Tool icon (fourth one down)
  4. Zoom out so that you can see a large area of the pasteboard around your work.
  5. If you don’t see icons indicating your light sources, you’ll need to toggle on those Extras: Select 3D light from the 3D Extras menu at the bottom of the panel.
isolating light sources

The active light will show a ray extending from the source to the composition. The other lights will have direction arrows, but no connecting ray.

initial lights

Spot lights give the most dynamic interaction, so we’ll change the Light Type to Spot. The display will change from a single ray to an expanding cone. You can see clearly how the light is interacting with the objects in your scene.

switch to spot

Deke worked out the following adjustments for his example (yours may be different):

  1. Change the Intensity to 0.6
  2. Change the Softness to 22
initial spotlight setting

Positioning the Lights

You can activate the Pan, Slide, and Rotate tools and drag in the image to change the way the lights impact your composition. It’s best to position the cursor on the opposite side of the light source from the beam for its movement to make any kind of sense. Imagine that the light source is on a pivoting stand with a handle on the back and the beam projecting from the front. This metaphor breaks down quickly, though, because the cursor will move a substantial distance from the light source as you drag with the Slide and Rotate tools. So, you don’t really get the feeling of pushing on a handle. Still, you’ll get a feel for them after a bit of playing with these tools.

3d light tools
  • The rotate tool pivots the light along its horizontal and vertical axes as you drag. Because you’re directing the light from behind, pushing up tilts the light down, while pushing to the right swings the light to the left. Similarly, pushing down and to the left will swing the light up and to the right.
  • The Pan tool lets you position the light source anywhere along an arc extending across the front (or back, depending on its depth in 3D space) of the object you’re illuminating.
  • The Slide tool controls the depth of the light source in 3D space as you drag up or down, moving the light farther away as you drag downward and closer as you drag upward. Thus, you can position the light source behind your letters. The tool also swings the light across the object plane as you drag horizontally. The light source can move away from the cursor very rapidly and you can find yourself dragging diagonally, which changes both the depth and the horizontal position.

As soon as you activate one of the tools above in the 3D panel, they also become available in the Options bar.

3d light options bar

You can also use the 3D widget in the upper left corner of the pasteboard to position a light source. Each axis has two controls, a cone and a crossbar, that will change color when the cursor hovers over them. A yellow ring also appears when you hover the cursor over the crossbar. Once the control lights up, you can begin dragging to change its setting.

3d widget
  • When the cone at the end of the blue axis (the Z axis) lights up, hold the mouse button down and drag to change the depth of the light in 3D space.
  • Dragging from the red and green cones will swing the light across the object in two arcs that are perpendicular to each other.
  • Hold the mouse button down on the crossbar of the blue or red axis and drag to swing the light along two other arcs.
  • Dragging the green crosshair only rotates the beam, which will have no visible effect, since the beam is round.
  • Depending upon the orientation of the light in 3D space, dragging the green cone may or may not do anything meaningful.

While dragging with the various tools can be a good way to adjust your lighting, you can position your light sources precisely by entering values directly into the options bar. We’ll set up the current light first:

  1. Activate either the Drag or Slide tool in the Options bar
  2. Enter a value (e.g. 400) into the X value and hit the Enter/Return key.
  3. Enter a value (e.g. -700) into the Y value and hit the Enter/Return key.
  4. Enter a value (e.g. -50) into the Z value and hit the Enter/Return key.
  5. Click the Rotate tool in the Options bar to activate it.
  6. Set X to zero and hit Return/Enter
  7. Set Y to 1200 and hit Return/Enter
  8. Set z to -600 and hit Return/Enter

At this point, you may be wondering where these values came from. Deke fiddled with the lights manually until he found pleasing results. If you’ve ever worked with real photographic lighting, you’ve probably found yourself doing the same thing. Setting up multiple lights and adjusting their intensity never goes quickly.

Next, we can adjust the other two light sources.

  1. Click the eyeball next to Infinite Light 1 to switch it on.
  2. Change its type to Spot.
  3. Change the softness value to 28

You can alter the quality of spotlights by adjusting the Hotspot and Falloff values. When you hover your cursor over the value boxes inside the dialog, its diagram highlights the affected part of the beam.

  1. Change the Falloff value to 55°.
falloff hover indication

Now, we’ll reposition the light:

  1. Activate the Drag or Slide tool via the Options bar or the 3D panel.
  2. Enter X, Y, and Z coordinates of 1000, -550, and 200 respectively.
  3. Click the Rotate tool in the Options bar.
  4. Set the X, Y, and Z coordinates to -100, 500, and -500 respectively.

Let’s convert Infinite Light 2 into a spot and completely reposition it.

  1. Change the type to Spot
  2. Change the Intensity to .8, the Softness to 25%, and the Falloff to 50°

At this point, it’s less than obvious where this light source is within our example file’s 3D space. You could try dragging around with the Drag and Slide tools or use the positioning widget until the light source is revealed, but the easiest way to get a handle on the light source is to activate the Slide tool and set its Z axis to zero. (For this example, Deke also set the X and Y values of 600 and -650 respectively.)

Finally, we’ll use the Rotate tool, setting its X, Y, and Z values to , 600, -300 respectively.

final lighting

Our lighting setup is now complete. You can tidy things up in the 3D panel by renaming the lights Spot 1, Spot2, and Spot 3. Double-click on the names to edit them, just as you would a layer.

final 3d scene

Completing the Piece

To produce the final piece, you’l need to Ray Trace again:

  1. Scroll the 3D panel list up and click on Scene to select it.
  2. Click the Marquee tool in the Tools panel to hide the 3D extras
  3. Select Ray Traced (Draft) from the Quality menu
  4. Wait, while the process runs.

Once your Ray Tracing is complete, you can further tweak the dramatic impact of your composition by adding finishing touches such as adjustment layers or a gradient overlay similar to the one we did at the beginning of this article.

final with gradient

And, Voila—3D Text Via Repoussé!

The command lets you create striking 3D type with believable shadows and a sense of depth and visual punch that goes way beyond anything you can produce with 2D lettering. You’re bound to blow people away with your designs when you master these techniques.

Next entry:dekeSpeak October 19

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 042: Drawing a Halloween Scareflake


  • Love the 3D…but

    I would love to be able to melt the 3D type and be in control as to how far and how much it melts. How would this be possible, I have not found anything, so far, that would allow this.

    Thank you

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