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How to Create 3D Text Blocks in Photoshop

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Read Time: 13 min

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to create a 3D Blocks text effect. You need to have Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended to practice this tutorial. This will be fun and I'm sure you can do lots of cool things using this technique. Let's get started!

Final Image Preview

Take a look at the image we'll be creating. 

Video Tutorial

Our video editor Gavin Steele has created this video tutorial to compliment this text + image tutorial.

Step 1

Before we start, you may want to download the font that we'll use in this tutorial. A bitmap font goes good with this effect so you can use any, or download the font that I used named Acknowledge, from

Create a new document 1000 pixels wide and 600 pixels high. Set the Resolution to 300 pixels/inch and set the Color Mode to RGB, named "Blocks." Fill the "Background" layer with color #3a3a3a. Set the Foreground Color to black, grab the Horizontal Type Tool and type "PSD." Set the Font to Acknowledge, set Font Size to 120 pt and set the Anti-aliasing Method to None to achieve rough edges.

Step 2

Create a new layer and name it "Mosaic." Set the Foreground Color to 70% black and Foreground Color to 85% black. Go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Go to Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic, set the Cell Size to 50 and apply.

Step 3

Select the "Background" layer in the Layers Palette and hit Command + J to duplicate it. Now Alt-click on the line between the "PSD" and "Mosaic" layers to mask the "Mosaic" layer.

Step 4

In the Layers Palette select all the layers other than the "Background" layer. Go to 3D > New Mesh From Grayscale > Two-sided Plane. Photoshop will create two symmetrical planes and apply the selected layer or layers as a depth map to both planes. That means our mosaic text is now a depth map for the plane, lighter squares will be higher as darker ones will be deeper. The darkest area in our depth map is the "a3a3a3" colored surface and all of the squares are lighter than this color, so there will be no dents but bumps on the surface.

Step 5

Now we have a 3D object and we are viewing it from the front. Actually we are viewing it through the camera but the camera is in the front of the 3D object. You have two options for getting a perspective look. You can rotate the object or change the orientation of the camera. We'll chose to leave the object where it is because this will help us make the reflection easily later.

Get the 3D Orbit Tool and drag to orbit the camera. You can also use the 3D Roll View Tool to rotate the camera. The 3D Orbit Tool orbits the camera in the X or Y direction. The 3D Roll View Tool rotates the camera around the Z-axis. Using these tools try to achieve a perspective as shown below. Then grab the 3D Zoom Tool and drag to zoom in and use the 3D Pan View Tool to move the camera if necessary.

Step 6

There are different rendering presets in Photoshop. The only rendering method that will give us shadows and reflections is the Ray Tracing method. But to achieve the effect we want we are not going to use Ray Tracing. So we have to create the reflection using a trick. This is why we are using a Two-sided Plane instead of a regular one.

Step 7

Go to Window > 3D or double-click the 3D Layer Icon in the "Mosiac" layer in the Layers Palette. Select Scene and check Cross Section. This operation will cut the 3D model with the Cross Section Plane and will show the content only on one side of it. The plane is perpendicular to the axis selected. Select the Y-Axis. Thus the bottom side of the Two-sided Plane will become invisible. In order to make the Cross Section Plane invisible as well, uncheck the Plane in the 3D panel.

Step 8

When you create a mesh from a grayscale image, Photoshop uses the grayscale image as a Depth Map. In the Layers Palette when you select the "Mosaic" layer, you can see a Mosaic Depth texture. Double-clicking this material will open the depth map in a new document window. Since you selected three layers to create the mesh, you will be able to see and edit these layer in the opened document.

All changes will be updated when you return to the main "Blocks" document window. So if you are not happy with the block structure, you can open the Mosaic Depth texture, go to the "Mosaic" layer, and apply the Clouds and Mosaic filters again as described in Step 2. The depth map is also assigned to the model as a Diffuse and Opacity map. Since we don't need these textures, we are going to remove them. Select the Mosaic material in the 3D Panel, click the Texture Map Menu icon next to the Diffuse and select Remove Texture. Do the same thing for the Opacity.

Step 9

In the 3D Panel select Scene and click the Render Settings button to bring up the 3D Render Settings dialog box. Set the Face Style to Flat, check Enable Line Rendering checkbox, set the Color to black, set the Edge Style to Constant and set the Crease Threshold to 2, the higher this threshold is, the less the visible edges are. Set the Line Width to 1 and hit OK. In the 3D panel set Anti-Alias to Best for a good anti-aliasing.

Step 10

Now we'll change some material settings. Go back to the Mosaic material in the 3D panel, set the Ambient Color to #880022. Set Diffuse to #ee8800. Set Glossiness at 0%. Go to Scene in the 3D Panel and set Global Ambient Color to #575757. Ambient color defines the lightness of the scene when all lights are turned off.

Step 11

You will see three lights in the 3D Panel. These are the current light sources in the scene. Now we'll tweak the lights a little. All the lights are Infinite Lights. There are three types of lights in Photoshop. There are Infinite lights, acting like sun and shine from a one directional plane. Point lights shine from all directions just like a light bulb and Spotlights shine in an adjustable cone.

Select the Infinite Light 1 and set the Color to white. Select Infinite Light 2, set the color to #696969 and uncheck Create Shadows. Obviously no lights are creating shadows at the moment but when they do, we want only one light to. Select the Infinite Light 3, set the color to white and uncheck Create Shadows and set Light Type to Point.

Step 12

The third light is positioned under our plane so we don't see any effect. To position the light easily we need to change our view, but first, in order to be able to get back to our current view, we need to save it. Get one of the 3D camera tools like the 3D Orbit Tool and click the Save the Current View button and name it "Cam." Open the View list and select "Top."

Step 13

Click the Toggle Lights button at the bottom of the 3D Panel to see the lights in the scene. Get the 3D Zoom Tool and zoom out until you see the point light. Click the Drag the Light button in the 3D Panel and position the light as in the below image.

Get one of the camera tools, open the View list and choose "Cam" to go back to the camera view. Click the Toggle Lights button to hide the lights. Set the Intensity of the point light to 0.6. You can still drag the light using the Drag the Light and Slide the Light Tools in the 3D Panel.

Step 14

Go to Layers Palette and duplicate the "Mosaic" layer and name it "Line." Go to the 3D Panel, select the Line Illustration preset and hit Render Settings. Set the Line Width to 1 and hit OK.

Get the Magic Wand Tool, set the Tolerance to 80. Click on the black area outside the text to select around the text. Shift-click the holes of the letters and any closed areas. Then get the Polygonal Lasso Tool and add any unselected areas around the text to the selection by pressing Shift before making the selection.

Step 15

Go to the Layers Palette and make the "Line" layer invisible. Go to Select > Inverse to inverse the selection, now the text is selected. Go to the "Mosaic" layer in the Layers Palette. Hit Command + C to copy and hit Command + V to paste the selection into a new layer. Name this layer "Text." Duplicate the "Mosaic" layer and name it "Reflection." Turn off the visibility of the "Mosaic" layer.

Step 16

Make sure the "Reflection" layer is selected in the Layers Palette and go to the 3D Panel. To get the reflection we need the other half of the Two-Sided Plane. Select Scene in the 3D Panel. Click on the Flip Cross Section button to make the other half visible. Select the Mosaic Material in the 3d Plane and uncheck Two Sided. This will make the back faces invisible and only the reflection will be left.

Step 17

The only problem we have with the reflection is that it is quite far away. We need to snap it to the text but making this from the camera view would be a difficult task. Now turn layer visibility off for the "Text" layer and on for the"Mosaic." This can look weird, move the "Reflection" layer below the "Mosaic" layer in the Layers Palette.

Now get any camera tool and from the View list select Right and do it for both "Mosaic" and "Reflection" layers. Now you will be able to see both planes from the right view and you can see how far they are from each other. Zoom into the planes using the standard Zoom Tool in the Toolbox, get the 3D Pan Tool, make sure the "Reflection" layer is selected and drag the plane on the left, while holding down the Shift key to the right as in the image below.

Step 18

Now get any camera tool again and for both "Mosaic" and Reflection" layers go back to Cam view. Turn the visibility off for the "Mosaic" layer and on for the "Text."

In order to clean the lines in the "Reflection" layer we need to rasterize it first. Select the "Reflection" layer in the Layers Palette, go to 3D > Rasterize. Get the Eraser Tool, set the Mode to Pencil to avoid any softness and accidentally erasing any parts of the reflection, clean the edges of the plane. Set the layer Opacity for the "Reflection" layer at 45%.

Step 19

We'll now create the shadow. Go to the Layers Palette, turn visibility on for the "Mosaic" layer, duplicate the "Mosaic" layer and name it "Shadow." Move the "Shadow" layer above the "Text" layer in the Layers Palette.

Go to the 3D Panel and select Scene, Set rendering Preset to Ray Traced. Select the Mosaic material in the 3D Panel and set Ambient to black and Diffuse to white. Select Infinite Light 1 and set Intensity to 4. Turn Infinite Light 3 off. Go to 3D > Rasterize.

Step 20

Set the blending mode to Multiply for the "Shadow" layer and set Layer Opacity at 90%. We have quite sharp blocks, but the ray traced shadows make it look smooth. To get rid of these smooth corners we'll need a little help from the "Line" layer. Select the "Line" layer, make it visible, go to 3D > Rasterize and turn the layer visible off again.

Step 21

Get the Magic Wand Tool and set the Tolerance to 60. Make sure the "Line" layer is selected in the Layers Palette. Zoom in to the letter "P." Click inside the top-left cell of the letter block, although the "Line" layer is invisible the cell will be selected. Then while holding the Shift key, click other cells which are lightened and don't have shadows on them.

After selecting the cells on the top row as in the below image, go to the "Shadow" layer, set the Foreground Color to white and fill the selection by hitting Alt + Backspace. Remember to make the selections on the "Line" layer and to fill the selection on the "Shadow" layer. Since we used a Clouds filter, which generates clouds randomly to make the blocks, your letters probably would not look like mine. But the idea is the same.

Step 22

Go back to the "Lines" layer. Using the Magic Wand Tool select the cells that have to be flat shaded and fill the selection with the color #4e4e4e on the "Shadow" layer.

Step 23

Completely lightened and completely shaded cells would be quite easy to fix. Fixing the cells that have shadows would take a little bit longer. Again go to the "Lines" layer and select a cell with shadow on it using the Magic Wand Tool. Get the Polygonal Lasso Tool, and while holding down the Alt key, select the shadow to subtract from the selection. Go to the "Shadow" layer and fill the selection with white.

Step 24

Now you have to repeat these three steps for the rest of the cells for a sharp look.

Step 25

Make the "Mosaic" layer invisible. Go to the "Text" layer and apply a Gradient Overlay using these settings: Blend Mode of Color, Opacity set at 70%, Gradient set to Blue, Red, Yellow, with a Style of Linear and Angle set to 10 degrees.

Go to Layer > Layer Style > Copy Layer Style. Go to the "Reflection" layer in the Layers Palette, then go to Layer > Layer Style > Paste Layer Style. Set the Blending Mode to Hard Light and Opacity at 35% for the "Reflection" layer.

Step 26

Now we'll add a slight texture. Download this nice photo from Flickr by clicking here. Bring it in as a new layer into your document and name this layer "Texture." Place the "Texture" layer above the "Text" layer. Alt-click the line between the "Texture" and the "Text" layers to mask the texture. Set the Layer Blending Mode to Overlay.

Step 27

We'll now make a texture for the background. Create a new layer on top and name it "Bg." Set the Foreground Color to 85% Gray and Background Color to 90% Gray. Get the Gradient Tool, set it to Foreground to Background and set to Radial. Fill the layer as in the below image.

Go to Filter > Artistic > Film Grain and apply with all parameters set to 0. Go to Filter > Distort > Glass and apply with these settings: Distortion set to 20, Smoothness set to 1, Texture set to Frosted and Scaling set to 100%.


Get the "Bg" layer above the "Background" layer and that's it. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and you're happy with your result!

Further Suggestions

You can achieve cool effects playing with the textures and parameters. You can use texture maps instead of solid Diffuse colors, tweak the Glossiness and Shininess values and use reflecting Environment textures maps. Different light types, colors and angles will create different effects. Have fun with it!

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