Stepping Into a New Dimension: From 2D to 3D Design

How to use materials, Photoshop brushes, and more to explore your creativity in Adobe Dimension.

by The Creative Cloud Team

posted on 07-19-2018

Adobe Dimension makes it easy for designers of all skill levels to bring images to life. By compositing 2D background images with 3D assets, the creative possibilities are endless.

This summer, we are taking you behind the scenes into the creative processes of some of our very own Dimension team members. During the day, they work to make Dimension the best product it can be for our users. But in the off hours, they each have their own creative visions and passion projects.

In this post, we’d like to introduce you to Erin Kim, a senior product designer on the Dimension team. She’ll share a little bit about her journey into the world of 3D design and take you step by step through her process to create your own abstract 3D rendering. You can download the Dimension app as well as Erin’s design file and incorporate your own design choices to make the scene unique. Share what you’ve made on Behance and Twitter using the hashtag #adobedimension.

Download Erin’s Dimension file to follow along and recreate her scene!


My name is Erin, and I’m a member of the Dimension team here at Adobe. I’ve never been a 3D expert, but I’ve always had an interest in creating 3D art.

Before Adobe, I worked at a variety of branding and advertising agencies where I frequently created 3D mockups for everything from package designs to sneaker campaigns. During that time, I would “fake” the 3D effect by performing painstaking and time-consuming 2D image manipulation.

At a high level, I would bring in background images (e.g., stadiums, arenas, etc.) and the object image of interest (e.g., sneakers). After all the images were present, I would use Adobe Photoshop to further manipulate the images, making it seem like they were taken during the same shoot with the same lighting. A lot of my time was spent focused on making sure the images appeared natural with respect to angles, shadow direction, and light.

I soon realized that faking 3D in Photoshop had its limitations. So, I decided to learn how to use 3D software. I was fascinated by the possibilities of creating realistic physical objects on a flat computer screen. More importantly, I believed 3D design would allow me to create a more authentic, realistic look compared to a manipulated 2D image. As I started using 3D software, I managed to make very simple models fairly quickly. But they didn’t look as good as I wanted. What was I doing wrong?

It turns out there are many more considerations in 3D than 2D. The real challenge was how to make 3D look captivating and realistic with elements like textures, materials, and lighting. I often ended up coming back to Photoshop to manipulate the images with effects such as lights and shadows because I couldn’t get beyond the gloomy greyish screen on the 3D application. Modeling was already a hurdle, but materials and light made designing in a 3D landscape even more challenging for me.

There is a distinct visual difference between an image created without light or material in traditional 3D applications (left), an image with only added light when you begin working in Dimension (center), and a finished image in Dimension with both light and materials (right). Designed by Erin Kim.

When I joined Adobe, everything changed. I learned we were launching an application called Adobe Dimension and knew immediately that this was the 3D app I had been dreaming of. I asked to join this team because I was inspired by the goal of helping 2D designers like myself who wanted to work in 3D but had been intimidated by its complexity. To create the best experience, we needed to simplify 3D design’s unique considerations into something easily understood that gives the user desired outcomes in just a few steps.

To do this, I had to become very familiar with the technical aspects of 3D creation. I challenged myself to create three-dimensional designs every week in Dimension, not only to better understand the concepts, but also to be able to sympathize with our users’ pain points. Throughout this process, I have grown as a user and a product designer. I’ve also been able to create projects that I would never have been able to bring to life before.

I challenged myself to design a 3D scene every week. Here are some examples of the projects I created. Designed by Erin Kim.

In this file, you’ll find that I’ve already setup a stage and objects. My goal is for you to become a bit more familiar with how to use materials in your designs and for you to see what a difference materials can make in your finished product. As you follow my instructions, we’ll be creating this scene together:

In the scene panel, there is a folder called “Softbody” that consists of multiple objects. I want to walk you through how I created materials for each of them. I have set up bookmarks in the file so that you can always go back to the camera position if you get lost. Also, don’t forget to check the Render Preview (in the upper right hand corner of your canvas area) often to see what the final render will look like.

The materials in this scene are variations of four different types: Gravel, Metal, Denim, and Plastic. Let’s create them one by one!


Select “Gravel-1” and “Gravel-2” in the Softbody folder in Scene panel. Dimension ships with a number of models, materials, lights, and background images to help you get started quickly. You can find these under “Starter Assets” in the Assets panel. Apply the “White Gravel” material from the Starter Assets to the object. This will result in Gravel-1 and Gravel-2 having linked materials.

Now, we’ll make this texture lighter. Select Base Color for the gravel material from the Properties panel and click on the Edit icon (the pencil icon) to open this image in Photoshop. Use Curve or Level to adjust the lightness of the image. Save and close the document.

Since we want Gravel-2 to have a slightly different look, unlink the material of Gravel-2. Then, go to the image from Base Color for Gravel-2 and hit Edit to edit the image in Photoshop. In Photoshop, add a new solid color layer (I used Hex #A5A9FF) and set blend mode as color. Hit Save.


Now, let’s make some patterns! Go to Photoshop and create a new file. Select any brushes of your choice and start doodling. I used Ultimate Pastel Palooza from Kyle’s Brush tool with color of Hex #0F1584, #FF8F8F, #A5A9ff. Repeat it, and arrange it. Make sure you have background turned off to have transparency in this .psd and save.

Drag and drop this Photoshop file on top of the Gravel-1 object to place it as a decal. Adjust the placement by dragging around.

Follow the same process to make another pattern in Photoshop for Gravel-2, and place it as a decal as well.

Creating your own drawings with brush tools in Photoshop can be a great way to bring your own flavor and style to the materials in your design.


Now, it’s time to make material for the metal that has grains using two attributes in the Material property: Metallic and Roughness. (Visit this page to learn more about all the attributes.)

Select an object, “Metal-1.” Choose any color of your choice for the base color of material. (I placed Hex #FFA985”).

Go to Metallic in the Properties panel. True to its name, Metallic is an attribute that helps you make objects look like they are made of metal. Set the value to 0.75.

Now, go to the Properties panel and select Roughness. Roughness determines how glossy the surface looks. If it’s set to 0, it will look glossy. If it’s set to 1, it will appear rough. But selecting a number isn’t the only way to control this. In fact, you can load a grayscale image to mask this attribute. We’ll load an image here so that this metal looks a little imperfect with grain.

To do so, we’ll create a new square document in Photoshop with a black background. Using Kyle’s Spatter Brush with white color, fill the document evenly with splatter.

Save the file and apply it to the “Metal-1” object in your Dimension file by clicking on the image field next to the Roughness property. Load the file into the Roughness image picker popup. The loaded image defines the appearance of the roughness property similar to layer masks in photoshop — white areas of the image are rough, while black areas are glossy. The metal now has the imperfection of spots of roughness on surface. You might need to increase “Repeat Number” under “Texture” to adjust the scale.

These before and after shots show what it will look like after loading your image on the Roughness image picker.

Select “Metal-2” and apply the material from Metal-1 using the eyedropper tool. This also results in a linked material. Unlink the material through the Actions Panel and change the color (I used Hex #FFBE5C).

Plastic and denim

Select “Plastic” and apply the blue plastic material from the Starter Assets. Adjust the color as you wish.

Select “Denim ” and apply the material from the Starter Assets.

Ready to render

Our last material has been added, and now it’s time to begin the rendering process. You can do this from the Render tab. As the image renders, it will start to become more and more clear. Give it time, and enjoy watching your design come to its full 3D glory.

Our completed scene!

It has been three months since I started my own weekly challenge to create one new render a week, and I enjoyed sharing the making of this render with you! Even now, every week, I look forward to creating new projects with Adobe Dimension. I just love exploring all the possibilities that it opens up for me as a designer. I hope our product adds another dimension to your creativity as much as it has been enriching mine.

I’d love to see your designs! Share what you’ve made on Behance and Twitter using the hashtag #adobedimension.

Erin is a senior product designer on Adobe Dimension. Before joining Adobe, Erin was at R/GA, where she worked on a series of campaigns for Nike and wearable device experiences for Fossil. She is also a co-author of “A Journey to Find My Path,” a Korean autobiography of five native Korean designers and their career journey in the design industry in the United States. Erin’s design foundation is built upon her studies in architectural engineering and graphic design.

Erin’s work has been recognized by multiple awards such as Clio, One Show, and has been featured in publications like Tokyo Type Director’s Club and “Communication Arts Design Annual.” During Erin’s free time she becomes her own user, exploring her creativity through Adobe Dimension or is an amateur pianist playing Chopin.

Topics: Creativity, Design

Products: Photoshop, Creative Cloud