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 a look at 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 painstaking 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 Linux, Windows, and macOS.

  3. Select File > Import.

    Open Inkscape and select File > Import
  4. Select the Inscape 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 image. A dotted box and resizing arrows appear around the image.

    Select the image in Inkscape.
  7. From the menu, select Path > Trace Bitmap.

    Select Path, Trace Bitmap in Inkscape
  8. Set optimal parameters for the trace. For this simple black-and-white image, select Edge Detection, then select Update.

    Select Edge Detection and Update

    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.

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

    Trace of image created in Inkscape

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

  10. 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
  11. 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 and select Sketch to start a new sketch.

    Select Create Sketch to start a new sketch
  2. Choose the XY plane on the workspace.

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

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

  5. Find the SVG file you created earlier, then select Open.

    Insert SVG file into Autodesk
  6. Select OK on the Insert SVG tool window, then select Finish Sketch from the Sketch Palette. You now have a perfect trace of the image in a 3D CAD sketch without having to do any time-consuming, manual tracing.

    SVG file is traced in Autodesk
  7. Use the Fusion 360 tools to define the measurements for the solid model. Select and highlight sections of the sketch, then select Create > Extrude. Either drag the arrow or define the measurements for the solid model.

    Final 3D model created from 2D logo
  8. You've created a 3D model from a 2D image quickly and easily with the help of the free tools Inkscape and Autodesk Fusion 360.

    Inkscape logo in 3D

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