Why graphic designers should learn 3D

We reveal why learning some 3D skills can help improve your 2D art, and show you how to get started.

For the most part, I'm a 2D artist. But for the past few months I've been playing in 3D space – and I love it! It turns out that it can be helpful to have the skills to create a 3D model , even when the spec calls for 2D art.

In this article, we'll take a look at some of the reasons why you should learn 3D, and how it can help improve your 2D art. We'll also review a few software options, and show you where you can go to get help learning the art of 3D modeling.

The benefits of going 3D

I wasn't always eager to work in 3D. In fact, I did everything I could to stay away from it. I mean, really. What's the point in spending time creating a 3D model when the spec calls for 2D art? As it turns out, there are a lot of good points.

Let's take a look at some of the reasons why you might consider learning and using 3D:

01. Fine-tune your designs

3D modeling can help you ensure accuracy in perspective, lighting and anatomy

When you're working in 2D space, it's important to design things with the basic principals in mind. This includes composition, perspective, lighting, values and tones, color theory, and form. With the aid of 3D modeling software, achieving these things has never been easier.

02. Work faster

Granted, if you're just learning 3D there's going to be a bit of a learning curve. But once you're past that, you'll discover how quickly you can model things. More importantly, you'll be able to change those things when needed, without spending a lot of time doing it.

03. Increase your marketability

Quite possibly the best reason to learn 3D is to improve your position within the marketplace. The trend is definitely moving towards the 3D world. As more and more designs take on a photorealistic look, understanding 3D will give you a competitive edge.

04. Stimulate your mind

There's something to be said about learning a new skill. When you take the time to learn something new, a few surprising things begin to happen. 

For one, it helps to stimulate your mind. It also gives you something to talk about. This may not seem like a big deal, but it actually helps you build connections within the community. 

05. Boost your creativity

I know this seems like a silly reason, but having fun is important. Even if you never plan to use your 3D designs, it's a lot of fun to play around in the 3D space. If nothing else, it helps you to tap into your creativity.

3D software options

Now that you know why you should learn and use 3D, let's find out what software options are available:

Creative freedom starts with open source software Blender

Blender is the de facto standard when it comes to free and open source software. While I wouldn't say the interface is particularly user friendly or intuitive, it's not too bad once you learn how to get around. 


The flagship of 3D software is Maya –but it doesn't come cheap

The flagship of 3D software is Autodesk's Maya – but it's not cheap. If you're not a student, Maya will cost you (at a minimum) $185 per month. If you're looking for a cheaper alternative, Autodesk offers Maya LT, which is only $30 per month. The good news is that you can download free trials for both of these products.

Out of the three of these options, Maya LT is my preferred choice for creating characters and environments – especially for games.

Note: The list above is not meant to be comprehensive. It's simply a starting point. I encourage you to look around and find the right tool for you. Keep in mind, rarely will you have a single tool for every job.

Learning 3D

Master the art of 3D with the Lego Digital Designer

OK, so you've decided to learn 3D, and you selected a few tools. But where do you go to learn the basics?

Chris Language at Day Of The Indie suggests LEGO Digital Designer. He says, "LDD is a great training tool for anyone wanting to learn the basics behind the 3D authoring tools available today. LDD is also great for prototyping. Besides, who doesn't like to play with LEGO?". You can watch Chris' up-and-coming LDD tutorial at Day Of The Indie.

If you're looking for tutorials specifically on the software mentioned above, Blender has everything you need in its tutorial section. Or you can take a look at this list of 38 brilliant Blender tutorials. For Maya, have a look at 22 mighty Maya tutorials to try today

Hopefully, you're convinced to give 3D a try!

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