Create a 3D Text Effect With Photoshop and Maya

Photoshop is an incredibly versatile application that is often used along side 3D applications. In this tutorial,

we will show you how to sketch out an idea for a text effect, build up the idea in Photoshop, render it in 3D using Maya, and then how to add the finishing touches again in Photoshop. Let’s get started!

Tutorial Details
  • Applications Used: PS CS6/Autodesk Maya
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Estimated Completion Time: 3h +

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Final Product What You’ll Be Creating

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.


Before you get into project like this, it’s good to do some brainstorming. Throw together some random ideas, save them in your mind, on paper, in Photostop, anywhere. It’s all just to give you a clue as to what you’re striving for. Even if you’re not good with drawing, just try it.

You can see my own doodles below. They’re not pretty, but it’s the fastest way to visualize your goals, also it can open your eyes and give you many great ideas that you can implement later on.

Step 1

Let’s start by opening a Photoshop document of 3000px x 3600px. Pick a font of your own choice (I used Helvetica, it’s heavy and makes the letters look massive, like buildings do).

Make sure you type every letter in separate layer so you can easily rotate it, the do some twists as you see in 1st image below. Although it’s kind of a fantasy scene, I wanted to keep the pose after collapse quite real.

Notice in 2nd image below, that every letter leans on the next one, like they just fell on each other. I’ve indicated there several points that make letters stick together to give you idea how this works. Now, everything here needs to sit on something, otherwise it will look like the text is jumping up, and the whole idea of collapse won’t make any sense.

Our bottom letters are quite crooked, so yeah, if we want to feel the gravity (red arrow – 3rd image below) at this point we should bring up something underneath the text to make the surface completely plain (3rd image below). If you take a far look at this text you will notice that they totally make sense, by that I mean, in reality they would collapse in quite similar way. This is just a part of visualizing it, you can draw a surface just to see how your work should be further settled.

Tip: Try to start building your text from the letters on the very bottom (from the last word), it gets much easier this way, as you sort of have wider visual range of constructing them.

Step 2

Now, select all letter layers, right-click on any layer and choose Convert to Shape option (1st image below). Then again keep those layers selected and hit Command/Ctrl + E, this will merge all the shape layers into shape while still maintaining the vector mode (2nd image below). You should get that little square in corner to know it’s still a shape layer (indicated with red arrow in 2nd image below). I’m not sure if this whole process I just did works in other Photoshop versions, so I strongly recommend using CS6. When you’re done, go to File > Export > Paths to Illustrator. This will save the path to file.

Step 3

Next, open Maya. Go to File > Import, then select the saved .ai file with paths (1st image below). Switch to the Surfaces section (indicated with red – 2nd image below). Then select first letter and go to Surfaces > Bevel Plus, set the desired Bevel Depth and apply this process to every letter. If your basic text got letters with gaps inside themselves like A, R, B, etc., make sure you select first the outer line and then the inner line while holding shift, before applying bevel plus. Otherwise you might receive an error or some full shape.

Step 4

We should be done with the 3D stuff now and to be honest you can render this text as it is right now. However, just to give me a better clue on some lights I decided to bring up a few ones myself here. So go to Create > Lights and choose here either Area or Spot Lights. You can throw few a round the scene and rotate it so they are targeting front and back of the text, these are the parts I basically wanted to keep in light (1st image below). Now if you decide to set those up, you will need to go to the Atribute Editor window, select the Raytrace Shadow Attributes and check Use Ray Trace Shadows option, then you can play around with the values there to get a decent shading. Finally go to Window > Rendering Editiors > Render View. In settings make sure you’re saving the file as PSD with Alpha channel checked (2nd image below). Then select Mental Ray and simply render the text (3rd image below).

Step 5

OK, great. Now that the text is ready, bring it up to Photoshop. Take a look at 1st image below. I’ve just added some background to put my text in any scene (1st image below), this is not something you need to do, but I really find it helpful sometimes. I used the perspective basing on my Maya not rendered view of the text.

Now in the same image (1st below), you should now bring back the vector shape text that we made in step 1. Next using Command/Ctrl + T > Distort, try to match it to face of the render that we created. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect, in fact if you take a look at mine (1st image below), it has some unmatched corners and sides. It’s fine, now that you have it positioned, use Direct Selection Tool (A) and adjust the anchor points exactly on the edges of the proper letters (2nd image below). If you do a good job on this, the text shape should now almost perfectly match the 3D render face.

Next, as I mentioned previously, I used the perspective view from Maya to give me a clue how to put things on the ground. So draw or distort a grid over your ground to set the perspective (3rd image below), and then using this guide draw a plain surface underneath your text. Pen Tool path or distorting simple square shape layer will do the job fine.

Step 6

Now switch back to the shape text layer, we’ll divide it into single letters. To do this, select Direct Selection Tool (A), click on first letter – this will reveal its path. Then right-click on it and select “New Selection”. When the dialogue box appears, just hit OK. Now that you have that selection up you have two ways of separating the letter to new layer 1. Create new layer above, grab Paint Bucket (G) and fill that selection with color. 2. Select Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), again right-click on the letter and select Shape Layer Via Cut (or Copy). The difference between these two is that the first one will rasterize the letter and the second one will keep it vector. I used the first method, might seem less confusing.

After that grab some medium gray color and paint shadows under text and the floor (3rd image below). Shadow underneath the text doesn’t need to be accurate at the moment, it should be rather straight and sketchy, as later on we’re going to fill that space with an uneven surface like ground/rocks/grass etc. Remember to always keep those layers with shadows in Multiply Blending Mode, as whatever further comes below these layers, Multiply will blend with it.

Step 7

Next use one of the backgrounds from the tutorial assets of “background” link and put it below the floor layer in Layers Palette (on the very bottom). Because they’re seamless you can adjust them to any size you want simply by duplicating them and setting next to each other (1st image below). If you picked a saturated texture, try to make it more light and desaturated using Hue/Saturation (2nd image below). Next use Gradient adjustment layer, change its Blending Mode to Soft Light, adjust its Opacity to 70-80% and set it from black to transparent (3rd image below). Make sure it’s casting black from the bottom to top.

Step 8

Above the Gradient layer create a Curves adjustment layer, set it as shown in 1st image below. Then select the Curves mask and totally fill it with black color using Paint Bucket (G).

Then use soft white brush and paint around the mask to reveal it (3rd image below), we’re mostly looking for the corners and edges to be visible. You might notice some straight horizontal brushing on my mask (3rd image below), by doing that I tried to indicate the surface.

So in 4th image below you can not only notice that the mask is revealed in corners, it also gives us an impression that the text is really sitting somewhere in space within the perspective. Now add another adjustment layer – Gradient and the colors from black to white.

Make sure it’s a Radial type of gradient (4th image below) and set its Blending Mode to Multiply (80-90% Opacity). If your result is still too dark, you can use new layer with Overlay Blending Mode, and just paint with soft white color in the center of the image. This should brighten up and bring the focus to center.

Step 9

Next, open image wall_1, drag it above O letter layer and while having that layer selected, hit Command/Ctrl + Alt + G (Clipping Mask). This should look like in my Layer Palette preview in 1st image below. Then use Command/Ctrl + T (Distort and/or Perspective) and match the perspective of brick wall to the O letter face (1st image below).

Now, repeat this step and add texture to U and T letters. Open the link called wall_2 and pick 2 another, but different brick walls. It’s important to keep some variety, as in reality there are no two exactly the same cracks. Remember that the angle of the texture needs to match the letter angle. So if the letter is falling to the right and its top side is visible too, same way should be directed your texture.

Important note: From now on we will be only using Clipping Masks, while working with the letter adjustments. So please remember, when you will be told to add another adjustment layer, you just go ahead and hit Command/Ctrl + Alt + G to add a Clipping Mask.

Step 10

Now you’ve probably noticed that the U, T letters texture is slightly different than O’s, and it looks like O just needs a little bit of a yellow tones touch and some destaturation to match the rest of letters. So now add Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (remember to use Clipping Mask!), and lower the Saturation almost all the way down and add a little bit of Lightness. Now if you’re not getting something similar to my 1st image below, you could either use some masking on the Hue/Saturation layer to reveal the saturation on bricks or/and add a little bit of red and yellow tones with Color Balance (set it in Shadows and Midtones).

Next, add another adjustment layer – Brightness/Contrast, lower the contrast all the way down (2nd image below), then select black color and using Paint Bucket (G) fill the layer mask with black. Now, as indicated in 2nd image below (red color), paint with soft white brush to reveal the mask and bring up the lowered contrast. You need to paint in dark areas to soften them. If this isn’t enough, you might try to duplicate this Brightness/Contrast layer 1-2 times to give it a better effect. After this, create another adjustment layer – Solid Color, and fill it with soft brown color like #cdb89f. This will totally fill up the letter with solid tone and we just want some touch of that color here, so lower this layer Opacity down to 15-20% to match the O tone showed in 3rd image below.

…and that’s the end of the preview!

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