Using 3D Models for Wireframe Effects

By: Scott Valentine

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Set for printing


Ready for a quick one? Here's a simple way to use 3D models for wireframe and blueprint effects. You'll need the extended version of Photoshop CS3 or CS4 for this one.

Grab a Model

First, we'll need a 3D model. If you aren't up to making one yourself, you can check out Google's 3D Warehouse or, both of which offer some great free models. In both cases, you may need to look for a model that's in the right format for Photoshop to use, or convert the model in another application. There are many other good sites out there, too, and lots of them offer .OBJ format models, which Photoshop can read natively. For more on the formats Photoshop Extended can read, check the online help files.

Once you have downloaded the model (I'm using a model of 'Serenity', which is in Sketchup's .SKP format. I converted to .KMZ using Google's free version of Sketchup, here). In this case, I also had to scale the model up to fill the canvas better. Do this with the 3D Axis tool, described below.

Prep it

When you've found your model, create a new Photoshop document with a black background, then bring in the model using the 3D menu > New Layer From 3D File... This will create a new layer and import your model with default lights. Since we're going to use the wireframe, anyway, let's turn off the texture rendering to speed things up. When you do this, you'll be able to see exactly how the model was made. If you don't like the way the wireframe works, hang on before you go looking for another model. I have a trick for you :)

Open up the 3D panel (Window > 3D) and choose the left, top button - Filter By: Whole Scene. This gives you access to the Render Settings button. You can choose Wireframe from the presets drop down, but the Render Settings dialog gives you more control. Press the button, and check out the top two items: Face Style and Edge Style. Face Style controls how you render the actual polygons - the 'faces' between each set of lines. Clear the checkbox next to Face Style to turn it off.

Figure 1 - The 3D Panel, showing Filter By: Whole Scene.

Just below that is the Edge Style, which as you may have guessed, is where you will turn on the wireframe options. There aren't a lot of controls here, but you do have what you need. Check the box next to Edge Style to turn on the edges, and let's take a look at what we can do.

The first box to pay attention to is the Crease Threshold input. This control determines which lines are visible and which are not. It works basically off of the angle between faces, with angles closer to 180 degrees given less priority. So, the higher the number, the more acute the angle has to be for the edge to show up. The overall effect is to let you control how many lines make up your wireframe. For this image, I chose a setting of 14. Tweak this one a bit to get the right density of lines.

Figure 2 - The Render Settings dialog, where you can dial-in your render.

Next, check out the line width. This should be pretty clear, so give it a whirl. I'm using a width of 2 for this project.

That leaves us with two more checkboxes, a drop down menu, and a color picker. The checkboxes determine which lines are visible to the camera. For blueprints effects, I like to leave them both checked, which hides extraneous lines. If you clear Remove Hidden Lines, you will get all of the internal edges as well as those along the back. Give it a try - depending on the model you use, it may be just what you need. I find it gets very cluttered, and because there are no depth cues, it's hard to tell at a glance how your model is oriented.

Color should be easy to get - I'm using white for this tutorial, but feel free to use what suits you. In this case, I knew I wanted to have some flexibility with blending, which we'll talk about in a moment. We will render the image after the next step, so start with white and you can come back to it later.

The drop down menu determines how these lines are rendered. The basic, flat effect comes from Constant, while Flat appears very similar. In fact, for this model, the first three options don't appear to do much. With some models, I like to use the Solid option because it picks up some color from the textures, and can create a wonderful look when combined with the ray tracing options. For now, choose Constant.

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photoshop, cs4, 3d, wireframe, blueprint