Software Review: Dressing up 3D Designs

March 20, 2008
You are probably already familiar with Photoshop as nifty image-editing software that lets users crop and rotate pictures, and even adjust images down to the last pixel.

The new Photoshop CS3 Extended targets engineering and product development, letting users make measurements and work with 3D objects. For example, designers can import part data from different suppliers and place each part on a separate layer while setting the scale of each part. This makes a composite that could be used to ensure that all the components will fit inside a particular housing.

Additional new features give users new ways to manipulate images. For example, Merge To HDR combines many images of the same scene with different exposures into a single image. And new filter and color-correction functions can help repair under and overexposed images. As in previous versions, selection tools range from the Lasso, which lets users select complex shapes, to the Magic Wand, which selects areas based on color.

For designers, the software’s strong point is that it lets users communicate design intent as well as aesthetics. For example, Photoshop supports several 3D formats, including OBJ, U3D, 3DS, KMZ, and Collada. So an engineer might, for example, export geometry data from 3D CAD as an OBJ file for creating a marketing proposal.

To try out such a scenario, I imported an OBJ file of a cube into Photoshop Extended. Next, I created a new layer for the background. The Layers pallet made it easy to drag the new layer to place the background “behind” the object. Changing the 3D model took selecting Layer > 3D Layers > and Transform 3D model. This selection opens an intuitive toolbar at the top of the window with options for rotating, rolling, sliding, and resizing the 3D geometry. It was a simple matter to select the geometry with the Magic Wand and paste the resulting bitmap on the background layer. Rotating the model and making it smaller was also easy. (A 3D-icon next to the thumbnail on the layer lets users know a layer contains a 3D object.) Next, clicking on the Create a New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon on the Layers palette put a gradient on the image. Last came making another layer for a solid color to go behind everything on the final image. Overall, building the composite was intuitive and straightforward.

According to the developer, the software works with MatLab, a program that provides an easier way to develop algorithms than working in C++. Working with images in MatLab is said to be tricky because users must convert actual images into the numbers that represent the image. But with both programs, users can call Photoshop directly from the MatLab command line, and MatLab pulls in the image data. Users can run any algorithms in MatLab and then send the adjusted pixels to Extended to see results. The developer says Photoshop can also read Dicom files for medical imaging.

Apple has switched to Intel-based Macs, which can run Windows and the Mac OS simultaneously. Photoshop Extended supports Intel-based Macs, as well as XP and Vista. Photoshop Extended costs $999 and comes from Adobe Systems Inc., 345 Park Ave., San Jose, CA 95110, (408) 536-6000 ( Users can also upgrade from the standard version for $349.

Changing a 3D object in Photoshop Extended took selecting 3D Layers, then Transform 3D Model.

Next came copying the object and pasting the resulting bitmap on a different layer. The model was also rotated and scaled down.

The Gradient tool added a blue gradient. Creating another layer covered with a solid yellow-green completes the composite.

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