How 3D Renders Are Being Used for 2D Artwork

Plus, a game we’re calling “3D render or real photo?”

Image from PixelSquid

What is 3D rendering? A quick overview

3D rendering is a process that converts 3D wireframe models into 2D images. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry — you don’t have to be a 3D designer to use 3D designs. In fact, that’s kind of the point.

Companies like PixelSquid make 3D content for graphic designers available to download as 2-dimensional PNG or PSD files. Unlike with isolated images and photos, the 3D renders can be rotated at any angle, turned upside down, and more easily manipulated to fit a scene.  The PSD files in particular include powerful layers for precise control and perfect blending within your 2D design.

“What PixelSquid does is kind of a middle-ground, where it allows designers to use 3D models in a new way within familiar 2D design software,” says Eric, a content specialist at Envato. “You can create some rad stuff compositing and manipulating PixelSquid items in Photoshop.”

Image: Globe on Stand, PixelSquid

Incorporating 3D elements into 2D design projects is a popular design approach. From posters and full 3D render scenes, to 3D details in email campaigns or PowerPoint presentations, they’re showing up in the work of designers and non-designers alike. Adobe is even working on a way to design directly with 3D objects and scenes for 2D graphics projects through Project Felix (it’s currently in beta).

‘Photo-realistic’? A side-by-side comparison

Okay, but… how do the 3D renders look, really?

The 3D renders from PixelSquid have detailed textures, lighting, and shadows to make them look ‘photo-realistic’. Here’s a few side-by-side comparisons of 3D renders and stock photos of real-life objects — can you tell the difference?

Pencil, left vs. pencil, right:

The red one’s the 3D version.

Green helmet vs. gold helmet:

The green one is 3D.

Pocket watch, left vs. pocket watch, right:

The left one is a photo.

Bicycle, left vs. bicycle, right:

The black one is a photo.

Strawberry, left vs. strawberry, right:

Almost too close to tell! But the left one is a 3D rendered berry.

Pudgy Lawn Gnome (left) vs. sitting gnome (right)

The sitting gnome (right) is the photo version.

Inspiration for using 3D renders in your designs

Not sure where to start? We’ve highlighted a few of our favorite design ideas, mostly from our friends at PixelSquid. For more inspiration, check out the Created by PixelSquid section of their blog.

Octopus in San Francisco

3D render: Octopus

Design: Image by 8thdamon

Friday the 13th

3D renders: Hockey mask, Chef’s knife, Aeriel splash

Final design: Friday the 13th movie poster


3D render: Goldfish

Final design: by Nevs, for an Envato PixelSquid contest.

Doctor Mess

3D renders: books, globe, tea cup, Wolfsbane jar, hourglass, magnifying glass, vase, branches, candelabra, candles, pouch.

Final design: Doctor Mess by Dani-Owergoor (check out her DeviantArt post for a full breakdown of the design).

Low Poly outdoor scene

3D renders: low poly tree, low poly pine tree, low poly mushrooms, low poly mossy log, low poly grass

Final design: by Samantha Zhang.

NASA space scene

3D renders: Phone, US Advanced Crew Escape Suit ACES.

Final design: by Irving Gerardo (via Twitter).

Have you created a 2D project using 3D designs? Share with us @envato.

Brittany Jezouit

About the Author Brittany Jezouit

Brittany is a Contributor to the Envato blog. She helped launch the publication and was its founding Editor. You can follow her on Twitter @brittanyjezouit.