Compared to true 3D suites though, Photoshop Extended’s 3D tools aren’t especially advanced. You can’t create new textures in Photoshop, or change how they are mapped to areas of the model; meanwhile, to edit the model structure itself you need a 3D application. Lighting and rendering aren’t that sophisticated, either.

Since the release of Photoshop CS3 Extended, graphic designers and other users have been able to employ 3D objects in their artwork. Previously, you had to render out a TIFF or TGA file from a 3D application and composite it in Photoshop. Of course, if you then wanted to change the angle of the 3D object, you’d have to return to the 3D application, adjust the scene and re-render the image file again before restarting the compositing process.

Now the Extended version of Photoshop CS3 offers 3D layers in addition to the normal kind, into which you can import a 3D object and use the Transform tools to rotate, scale and move it. This can be tricky to accomplish, though the forthcoming Photoshop CS4 aims to simplify the process a lot.

Models can be brought into Photoshop from a number of applications, with options for 3DS (from 3DS Max), OBJ (from Maya and others), and KMZ (from Google Earth) formats. Other supported formats include the CAD-focused U3D format, and Collada, a data-interchange format that makes transferring 3D models between applications easier
– and, in some cases, possible at all.

If the imported object supports it, there’s an option for editing textures separately, defining them as child layers to the main 3D object. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, think of textures like decals applied to a kid’s model plane, only wrapped all over the surface of a 3D model.

These textures give an object its colour and appearance, and are often used to give the impression of dents and bumps on a surface. Used in Photoshop, they’re ideal for product-design tasks, such as adding a number of label options to a model of a can.

Another aspect of Photoshop’s 3D support is the ability to view objects in different rendering modes, such as wireframe, and the ability to add lights to a scene. This lets you apply colours, reflections and shading to the object, making it more realistic.

You can also choose to render out the object as a 2D image, so that all of Photoshop’s filters, adjustment layers and blending modes can be applied. For architects and other technical artists, it’s possible to render the model in cross-section view, quickly offering a detailed look at a structure or mechanism that would take a lot more work to do by hand in a 3D package.

Instead, it’s better to use one of the six tools we’ve looked at here. These range from simple ways to bring 3D models in Photoshop, to 3D suites that are designed to be easier for someone from a graphic design or illustration background to learn and use, to plug-ins that give you full modelling and rendering tools directly within Photoshop.

High-end 3D tools require separate skills from design applications, and often use a wildly different vocabulary. The best of these tools we’ve looked at here include workflows and terminology that help you transfer your current skills and creative talent from 2D to 3D. It can still seem like an unnatural world – even navigating around a 3D scene takes some getting used to – but with perseverance, you can add a whole new set of elements to your artwork to enhance your creative style.

Click here to see our review of Caligari trueSpace 7.6.
Click here to see our review of Daz 3D Bridge.
Click here to see our review of Daz Carrara Pro 6.
Click here to see our review of Microspot 3D Toolbox.
Click here to see our review of Smith Micro Poser Pro.
Click here to see our review of Strata 3D[in].