10 great tips for 3D graphic design

If you want to become a great 3D graphic designer, follow these essential tips.
4 minute read
Adam Smith @HomebrandAdam
Technical Co-pilot
Cover photo for 10 great tips for 3D graphic design

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There are no shortcuts to creating stunning 3D graphic designs. Having vision and talent alone is not enough. You need passion, determination, resilience and hard work to bring ideas to life.

Designing in 3D gives your design three dimensions – depth, height and width. It allows you to explore your idea or product in more detail. Combine your artistic skills with an understanding of design software.

The use of 3D design allows end users to visualise the end product. Designers can see the object from all perspectives as a single model for 3D printing. What you use it for depends on the subject and industry. Here are some tips for newcomers to 3D designing.

Choose the right software

What software you choose depends on personal preferences. There are many software 3D modeling options available. This includes open source software you can use and learn for free. Choose the software that feels the most comfortable to work with. The best software is the one that works best for you and has full functionality.

Understand the software

Use tutorials, forums, videos and manuals to learn new software techniques. There is always help available when you run into trouble. Watch tutorials to master a new technique or try something new. And, hit the forums when you need more help. There is no shame wanting to know more.

Start simple

Moving into 3D design is the same as learning a new language. You learn the letters; words; sentence structure; context and pronunciation. Learn how it sounds and feels. Then put them together to write a bestseller.

Starting 3D designing is no different. You have to learn the different elements and techniques to bring designs to life. Start by creating the basics like triangles, pyramids and cubes. Keep designs simple until you have the confidence to tackle more complexity. You need to understand the process and build your skills. Once you master these move on to mastering more complex shapes and concepts.

Have patience

Avoid being impatient, 3D design is complex and does not happen overnight. Give yourself time to learn the processes and techniques to achieve success. Teach yourself and build these skills tight from the start. Without them you cannot produce complex work.

When it gets too much and frustrating, do not give up. Keep working through it and all will come together at the right time.

But it is important to continue building your 3D design skills. The better your skills, the easier it is to tackle that complex idea stuck in your head.

Be experimental

Have some fun, do not be afraid to be experimental. You can learn a lot by experimenting with the different software features. Try out different techniques and tools to learn how to use them. Discover what they do without a specific goal in mind. Set aside some time each week to learn a new technique.

Set short-term goals

Set short-term goals when you start 3D designing. While you may have a long-term project in mind, you need the right skills. Set timelines to learn each new technique so you become comfortable using it to create. Learning the right skills takes time when you want to create complex 3D masterpieces.

Don't ignore topology

Getting topology and edge flow right is important for seamless animation. This is the flow, structure and organization of all the elements that give it life. Do not ignore topology. Get it right and modifying your design easy. Here are some things to keep in mind while designing:

  • Make all faces quads (four sided polygons) to avoid leaving artifacts like pinching. Quads are the only shapes that subdivide perfectly.
  • Use extra circular loops over joints like elbows and knees to make bending smoother.
  • Try to subdivide evenly.
  • Clean up artifacts.
  • Avoid using N-gons which are polygons with upwards of five sides. These are harder to model around and usually hidden in joints and the armpit so you cannot see it pinching.

Not always single seamless mesh

Finished models do not have to be a single seamless mesh. Look at what you are designing and consider how it works in the real world. How is it constructed? Use that as a guide for your design. Form follows function so model parts as two pieces if you need to.

The only time this does not work is for game art and 3D printing. These need to be single seamless mesh models for the best results.

Lighting makes a difference

When your 3D design looks flat and lifeless, change the lighting to give it life. Soften the light to give it a realistic feel. There are usually three common lighting options:

  • Ambient light is illumination from different directions when you cannot see its source.
  • Directional light uses direct lighting that does not have a focus on something specific in your design.
  • Omni light does not cast shadows. Use it as fill lighting or as the light source.

Have fun experimenting with the different effects of different lights. Change the color, turn it down or up, change the intensity to get the look and feel you desire. Good lighting gives 3D art its realism.

Plan ahead

Plan your projects instead of starting without a design. It is not easy creating a character from out of your head. Sketch it out first. If the sketch works out, scan it and add it as an image plane in your design platform. Image planes make developing your design quicker and more accurate when crating complex designs.

The way of the future

Stunning 3D designs are the way of the future. For breathing life into new products and characters. With 3D printing becoming more popular it is easy to create a model from your design.

If you have an interest in 3D designing take the time to learn the skills. Choose your software wisely. Even experiment with free open source software to find the one that works best for you. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You will soon be creating stunning 3D designs using your artistic skills.

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