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

Using powerful free programs Inkscape and Autodesk Fusion 360

Have you ever had a logo or a cool image that you wanted to turn into a 3D model, perhaps even making it 3D printable? While you have the option of uploading the image into CAD software and tracing it, there's an easier way to turn 2D images into 3D models with the help of a powerful free program called Inkscape.

Here's how to use Inkscape to turn a JPEG or another image into SVG format and then import it into CAD software, such as the free Autodesk Fusion 360.

The techniques described in this article are courtesy of expert 3D modeler James Alday of ImmersedN3D. This method works best with simple sketches or images. For more complex images, you'll need some intermediate knowledge of Inkscape not covered in this tutorial.

Lifewire logo in 2D and 3D
Lifewire / Tim Liedtke

The Process of Turning 2D Images Into 3D Models

The first part of this process involves turning a JPEG image, or an image in another file format, into the SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format. This type of file is also known as a vector image. A vector image is a 2D geometric representation of a picture.

After you create the SVG file, import it into CAD software, where it automatically becomes a sketch. This process eliminates the need for detailed tracing.

The image should have clearly defined edges and lots of solid colors. A good high-resolution photo, simple sketches, or tattoo-like images work well.

You can also use this method to work with more complex images. However, you need some intermediate knowledge of Inkscape.

Create an SVG File With Inkscape

The first step in turning a 2D image into a 3D model is to create an SVG file. To follow along with this tutorial, download and work with a copy of the Inkscape logo as an example.

  1. Download the Inkscape logo and save the image to your computer.

    Download Inkspace logo from Wikimedia Commons
  2. Download Inkscape from the Inkscape website, then open the application.

    Download Inkspace from the Inkspace website

    Inkscape is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux.

  3. Select File > Import.

    The Import command
  4. Select the Inkscape logo you saved, then select OK.

    Select the Inkscape logo and then select OK
  5. The Inkscape logo is now in the Inkscape application, ready to be modified.

    Inkscape logo in the Inkscape application
  6. Select the Lock icon so that width and height will be changed proportionally.

    The Lock icon
  7. Make sure units are set to mm (millimeters) or in (inches), and then change the image size to whatever works for your printer.

    Unit selection in Inkscape
  8. Select the image and then select Path > Trace Bitmap.

    The "Trace Bitmap" command
  9. Set optimal parameters for the trace. For this simple black-and-white image, select Edge Detection, then select Update. Leave the other default settings.

    The Edge Detection option and Update button

    These settings depend on the complexity of the image. Experiment with the settings and learn what each setting does. Be sure to try other images, as well.

  10. A trace of the image appears in the window. Select OK.

    A trace preview and the OK button

    Try different settings, then select Update to see the effect.

  11. Drag the original image away from the work area and select Delete, leaving behind only the traced image.

    Delete the original Inkscape image, leaving behind the trace
  12. Go to File > Save and save the image as an SVG file.

    Save the traced image as an SVG file

Import the Image Into CAD Software

The next part of the process of turning a 2D image into a 3D model involves importing the SVG file you created into CAD software. Use any CAD software you're comfortable with. This tutorial uses Autodesk Fusion 360, which is free for personal use. You'll need a free Autodesk account to get started.

  1. Open Autodesk Fusion 360, select the Create button, then choose Create Sketch to start a new sketch.

    The "Create Sketch" command
  2. Select a plane on the workspace.

    Select a plane on the workspace
  3. Select the Insert button on the menu bar, then select Insert SVG.

    The "Insert SVG" command
  4. In the Insert SVG toolbox window, choose the Select SVG file button.

    The "Select SVG File" button
  5. Find the SVG file you created earlier, then select Open.

    Find your SVG file, and select Open
  6. Select OK on the Insert SVG tool window to insert the drawing into the sketch.

    The OK button
  7. Choose Finish Sketch from the Sketch Palette.

    The "Finish Sketch" button
  8. You now have a trace of the image in a 3D CAD sketch without having to do any time-consuming, manual tracing.

    Perfect trace of your image with no manual tracing
  9. From the ribbon menu, select Create > Extrude.

    The Extrude command in the Create menu
  10. Select the profile you want to plot.

    Select the profile you want to plot
  11. Enter an extrusion height, such as .2 mm, and then select OK to complete the extrusion process.

    For extrusion height, refer to your printer's default printing height.

    The Distance menu and OK button
  12. Right-click the top-level object in your Fusion document from the menu on the left, and then select Save as STL.

    The "Save as STL" command
  13. In the confirmation dialog box, select OK.

    In the confirmation dialog box, select OK.
  14. Choose a save location, and then select Save.

    Choose a save location and then select Save
  15. You've created a 3D model from a 2D image with the help of the free tools Inkscape and Autodesk Fusion 360.

    Multiple-colored SVGs are more interesting. Save an SVG file with multiple layers of sketches, with a sketch for each color.

    Inkscape logo in 3D