It’s no secret that Adobe has been focused on integrating 3D design capabilities throughout its suite of Creative Cloud software with an especially keen focus on 3D printing within Photoshop.
Adobe’s 3D pursuit began with Adobe Dimensions, a vector-based generator of 3D geometries. Dimensions reigned for about 12 years (version 1 was released in 1992 and it discontinued in 2004), but it never quite went away – the capabilities of Dimensions was integrated into both Photoshop and Illustrator. In fact, users of Illustrator CC can see remnants of Dimensions in the “3D Extrude and Bevel” effect and other 3D options in Illustrator’s Effects menu where the current UI has a very “Dimension-like” interface.
It’s easy to see why Adobe has strived to integrate 3D into its 2D design empire. From packaging design to visual effects, having the capability to manipulate 3D content is essential. Unfortunately, the 3D printing community at large may not see 3D as Adobe’s strong point. Adobe is hoping to change that perception with recent (and some speculated) acquisitions that will place a greater focus on 3D capabilities in the Creative Cloud. This stronger desire to be a bigger contender in the 3D marketplace is evident in Adobe’s recent purchase of MIxamo, a San Francisco-based 3D software development company. Part of Mixamo’s 3D toolkit is a large database of 3D content with a primary focus on posable human characters. Mixamo has supplied generic 3D humans to the video game industry and motion capture studios, taking away the burden of developing 3D characters from scratch.
What Mixamo brings to Photoshop's 3D printing capabilities is the ability to quickly create custom content from pre-existing assets. Mixamo will provide Photoshop users with tens of thousands of turnkey 3D models that can be utilized for 3D printable projects. Currently, Photoshop’s 3D menu will let users create 3D content from selections, layers, and the pen tool, but most of the results are extrusions (you can also generate “height maps” in Photoshop, but that capability deserves its own story). An extrusion is basically a flat surface that has been pushed into 3D space, creating depth.
Compared to other 3D applications, the extrusion process in Photoshop is an extremely quick way to create a 3D printable design. For example, you can open a blueprint in Photoshop CC, select the floor plan details with the magic wand tool, and use "New 3D Extrusion from Current Selection" to create an instant 3D printable floor plan. There is no need to generate curves for the extrusion – something necessary if older, non-digital blueprints were uploaded into SketchUp, Revit, or AutoCad.
You can create a range of geometries with extrusions in Photoshop, but you can’t adjust those geometries after they are created. Extruding is also not a means of making highly complex models with intricate parts and surface detail. The addition of Mixamo may offer a solution to these issues by giving users an adjustable 3D base model that can be customized with editable parameters.
Currently, Mixamo’s appeal for animation artists is that it takes away some of the more cumbersome steps in the 3D modeling and production pipeline. Mixamo assets come “pre-rigged” (rigging is the process of making a 3D character posable) with adjustable surface textures and 3D accessories. Including Mixamo into Photoshop’s set of 3D tools allows for customization, and giving access to 3D customization is one key way to bring more designers who lack 3D modeling experience into the 3D printing community.
Mixamo could provide a generic shape, such as a base 3D house with a wide variety of parameters to create a broader range of 3D printable possibilities. Users could open the base 3D house in Photoshop and then adjust it – adding more windows, changing roof details, adding additional levels – allowing them to create a custom 3D printable house that is more personalized.
We have yet to see what additional 3D capabilities Adobe will bring to Photoshop. Based on other developments in the 3D software marketplace, it is reasonable to assume Adobe will continue to add more 3D printing functionality into the Creative Cloud in order to remain a player in the 3D printing sector. Hopefully, the end goal will be to demystify the process of 3D design in order to make it more accessible to the masses. Simplifying the 3D modeling process is important for the industry, since one aspect driving the growth of 3D printing will be developing a user base that is comfortable with making 3D models on their own.