3D printing in Photoshop: A guide for photographers

3D printing is taking the world by storm – not just within the creative industries, but also sectors as diverse as manufacturing and healthcare. A recent report I read by Canalys estimated that the 3D printing industry will be worth £10.9bn by 2018 – that’s an annual growth rate of 45.7%! Whilst new technologies come and go, those figures suggest that 3D printing is no passing fad, and is in fact here to stay.

It’s the type of technology that opens up new creative routes that were previously thought to be impossible – particularly within the field of photography. It wasn’t that long ago that there were questions raised as to the extent to which photography could continue to innovate given the greater accessibility to high definition digital cameras. 3D printing is just one advancement that has put paid to such speculation, particularly its integration into products such as Photoshop which has enabled photographers to explore new creative territories within their digital imaging work.

I’m in regular contact with photographers through my role at Adobe, and as a photographer myself can vouch for there being a huge amount of interest in 3D printing within the photography community. The ability to create and print Lithophanes (etched artwork) is something that has been around since the 1820’s – but a huge leap forward has been the capacity to transform this into 3D form. Using a 3D printer, it is possible to easily create and print a 3D Lithophone from any photograph, direct from within Photoshop CC.

A great example of a photographer that is doing really creative things with printing 3D lithophanes is Sandra Canning. I was lucky enough to interview Sandra last year who told me she has been inspired by the creative possibilities that 3D printing offers and has led to her producing some really beautiful, 3D printed, fine art quality lithophanes of her photographs.

Above: Sandra’s original photograph

Above: The final result is back lit and hung on the wall

3D printing in Photoshop CC is also supported by services such as Sculpteo, Shapeways and i.Materialise, which are integrated into the software and support full colour printers. These partnerships help to create a larger, more open 3D printing marketplace and expand the realms that photographers can work in.

I’m currently at the Photography Show (21 – 24 March) at the NEC in Birmingham to explore this topic even further. So if you’re keen to find out more about 3D printing and what it means for photographers, then head to the Adobe Theatre, follow me on Twitter @richardcurtis or check out my personal blog.