How to Turn a 2D Image or Logo into a 3D Model

Pink 3D design element

 Westend61/Getty Images

Have you ever had a logo or a cool image that you wanted to turn into a 3d model or make it 3d printable? Sure you could always upload the image into your 3d CAD software and trace it… but maybe there is an easier way. We interviewed an expert 3D Modeler, James Alday, of ImmersedN3D and we're going to share his commentary on how to use this 2D image to 3D model technique.

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How to turn a 2D Image or Logo into a 3D Model

3D model of Inkscape logo

 Inkscape

We met with James Alday in Orlando where he attended a meetup from the 3DRV Roadtrip. He gladly shared a bunch of his models and prints and talked about how he did it. He is an excellent resource and he continues to help us expand my 3D printing knowledge. You can follow his impressive stream of creations at ImmersedN3D on Instagram. He recommends using a powerful free program: Inkscape.

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2D to 3D - Turn image into SVG (Vector Image)

Inkscape logo

 Inkscape

James Alday of ImmersedN3D on Instagram guides us through turning 2D images into 3D models.

This method involves turning your JPG, or other image formats, into a format called SVG (or Vector image). A vector image is a 2d geometric representation of your picture. Once we have an SVG file we can then import it into our CAD software and it will automatically become a sketch that we can work with -- eliminating the need to do any painstaking tracing.

It does require an image that has clearly defined edges and lots of solid colors. A good high-resolution photo works best. This method works great for client sketches of designs, or simple tattoo-like images found on google images! It can be done with more complex images but it will require some intermediate knowledge of Inkscape not covered in this tutorial.

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2D Image to 3D Model - Import Image into Inkscape

Screenshot of using Inkscape

Screenshot 

Note

Previously, we inserted the image that James references, but show the file/import step image here to help you through the tutorial.

We are going to need an image to work with... Let's start with something simple and download the Inkscape logo. Save this image to your computer. Now it is time to open Inkscape and select File/Import then select your Inscape logo. Click OK when presented with the prompt.

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Step by Step 2D Image into 3D Model

Screenshot of Inkscape logo with Inkscape

 Screenshot

Now we need to turn this image into an SVG. In Inkscape. To do this we will first click on the image until you see the dotted box and resizing arrows around the image indicating that it is selected.

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2D Image to 3D Model in Inkscape - Path-Trace Bitmap Command

Screenshot of Inkscape

 Screenshot

Then from the menu select PATH/TRACE BITMAP

This is the most difficult part of the process, setting the optimal parameters for the trace. These setting will depend on the complexity of your image. We suggest playing around with all the settings and learning what they do. Be sure to try other images as well. 

For this image, we are working with 2 colors… black and white. Easy enough. We are going to select EDGE DETECTION then click the Update button. You should see a trace of the image populate in the window. You can always try different settings then re-click the update button to see the effect.

When satisfied, click OK.

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2D to 3D - moving from Inkscape to Autodesk Fusion 360

Screenshot of Inkscape

 Screenshot

Now we need to delete the previous image. The safest way is to drag the image away from our work area to make sure we have the correct one selected then click delete, leaving behind our trace.

Now we can save the image as a SVG. Click File/Save and name your new SVG.

Now, all that is left is to open our favorite CAD software and turn this into a 3D model! Our go-to CAD software for 3d printing is hands down Autodesk Fusion360. It’s a free download for enthusiasts and startup companies making under $100,000! 

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Moving from Inkscape to Autodesk Fusion 360

Screenshot of Inkscape

Screenshot

From within Fusion 360, click on the Insert button on the menu bar, drop down to Insert SVG. This tool now is asking us to click on our working plane. Select the plane you wish to work on by clicking on one of the sides of the origin box in the center of the screen.

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2D to 3D - Insert SVG

Screenshot of Inkscape

 Screenshot

Now in the insert svg toolbox window, we need to click on the Select SVG file button. Go ahead and find the SVG file we created earlier and select ok. You should now be presented with some resizing arrows.. for now, let's just click OK on the insert svg tool window.

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2D Image to 3D Model -- Perfect Trace into a 3D CAD Sketch

Screenshot of Inkscape

 Screenshot

There you go! A perfect trace of the image into a 3D CAD sketch. Without any time consuming, manual tracing. With this sketch, we can use all the powerful Fusion360 tools. Click and highlight sections of the sketch and then click Create from the menu and drop down to Extrude. You can either drag the little arrow or define your own measurements for the solid model. 

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Finished! 2D Image or Logo into a 3D Model w James Alday

Inkscape logo in 3D

 Inkscape

It’s that easy! Multiple colored SVG’s are even more interesting. You can save a SVG with multiple layers of sketches, a sketch for each color! Extremely powerful tool for 3d modeling. All done with FREE software!

We're grateful to James for this quick tutorial. To check out more of his work and projects and designs you can find him at www.ImmersedN3D.com or follow him on Twitter.