• Price: $695 (around £470)

  • Company: Strata

  • Pros: Advanced texturing and materials; uses Photoshop UI standards; imports many 3D formats including Collada; powerful modelling tools.

  • Cons: Challenging learning curve for 3D novices; doesn’t import native files from LightWave, modo, or Cinema 4D.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

Strata Design 3D CX is a 3D modelling tool aimed squarely at digital artists and illustrators. Everything seems designed to be approachable for Photoshop users – from interface similarities to use of the same vocabulary. It even ships with six Photoshop plug-ins to make using Design 3D CX almost like running a large filter set. Photoshop CS4 boasts some 3D tools but Design 3D CX has much more powerful 3D tools.

Strata Design 3D CX offers subdivision- and spline-based 3D modeling as well as texturing, lighting, and rendering. Its interface is as straightforward as Photoshop, plus it is a bit easier to navigate than many 3D programs. This can be a real benefit. Even so, the nature of 3D modelling is very different to layered compositing, so it’s going to take some time for newcomers to become confident working in three dimensions.

If you’re new to 3D modelling, you can use Strata Design 3D CX to edit existing 3D models – perhaps bought as stock or supplied by a client. Because Strata Design 3D CX works with many standard formats such as OBJ, 3DS, DXF, IGES, OpenEXR, Collada, and others, you can almost always find a way to convert models, even if standard LWO, LXO, and C4D (LightWave 3D, modo, or Cinema 4D) files won’t load.

You can then edit your model, apply textures and materials, either from photographs, or from supplied materials – using Photoshop to edit these textures if needed. When completed, you then push the finished model over to Photoshop for use as part of a composition. If your work in Photoshop requires changes to the model, you just push it back to Design 3D CX, tweak, then pull it back into Photoshop. It’s seamless.

Strata Design 3D CX 6.1 is an excellent production tool, especially for artists put off by the complexity and different workflows and terminology of full 3D suites. And it might even help you take your first steps into full-blown 3D modelling.