How to convert a 2D image to 3D for printing in 3D

If you have a 3D printer or are interested in this world, you most certainly would have wanted to make a personalized key ring, your company logo…

You probably thought it was a task that required advanced knowledge in 3D design, but today we teach you that converting your 2D image to a printable 3D model is easier than you think.

Throughout this article, we will show you one of the best methods to do this conversion, as well as some tools that, although not mandatory part of the process, can help improve the final quality of the 3D model.

2D image to 3D using 3D Builder (Windows)

If you are a 3D printing user or work manipulating 3D objects and you are not familiar with 3D Builder you don’t know what you’re missing. This is a program that comes pre-installed on most PCs with Windows 10, but don’t worry if it is not installed on your computer, as we teach you to download it for free.

Install Microsoft 3D Builder

It’s very simple: you just need to open the Microsoft App Store by pressing the Windows key and typing “store”. Once in the store just type in the search engine “3D Builder” and click on the button that says “Install”.

Once we have installed the program, we will have one of the most powerful and simple 3D software on the market. Although it is not a software for modeling itself, with 3D Builder we will be able to create and edit 3D models from simple 2D images in a very simple way. This method, although it may require the installation of a software, is probably the most complete that we know, since it allows us to play around with several parameters to adjust our 3D model to our needs. If you want us to show you what other wonders you can do with this program just leave a comment indicating your interest.

Uploading an image and converting it to 3D

Doing the conversion couldn’t be more intuitive. Start the program and click on the open button indicated in the image:

Uploading an image into Microsoft 3D Builder to transform it into 3D

This menu allows us to load both 3D files in almost any format (stl, obj, 3mf…) and images that we want to convert to 3D models. Afterwards, we click on load image, and then we click on our image file. Once loaded, the interface shown in the photo is displayed before us. In it we can see several elements, but there are three that are the most important and the ones we are going to explain to you.

Which conversion method to choose

Conversion method selection: this dropdown list includes 4 different options for converting from 2D to 3D but we will only explain the ones we consider most useful. “Contour” sections the image by searching for borders (abrupt color changes) and generates a 3D model based on this. “Height Map” assigns a different height to each color, creating a staggered 3D model. This mode is especially useful to create models and print them in various colors changing the filament. Please leave a comment if you want us to do a tutorial on this because you’re sure to love it.

Level selection and smoothing

Selecting levels and smoothing: these sliders allow us to select both the level of detail we want to preserve and the smoothing we want to apply. The ideal thing is to try different settings depending on your image. In general, adding a bit of smoothing helps if our image is low resolution and the 3D model that is generated has noise, or very sharp peaks and edges.

Activation of image inversion: this switch has the function of creating the image negative, since depending on each specific case we will want the highest parts of our 3D model to be the brightest parts of the image or the darkest.

As you can see, the program is very simple, and you just need to play a little with the parameters we have explained. If you have any doubt do not hesitate to ask in the comments section.

Scale your image to the size you want

Once we have the 3D model generated, we are going to use this same software to scale it to our liking. In our case, we will select the model generated by the “map of heights ” method since we will print it in two colors by pausing and changing the filament. To scale it we only have to click on the scaling icon in the toolbar at the bottom

Before changing any dimension we must make sure that the lock on the right is closed. This means that we want to maintain the aspect ratio of our figure, that is, its proportions. If the lock were open when changing one of the dimensions, the rest would not be changed accordingly and we would end up with a deformed figure. Bearing this in mind, we only have to type in the dimensions we want for our 3D model and we would have it done.

Save the image

In order to export our model we only have to press the button with the three parallel lines in the upper left corner and then click on “Save as”. Usually 3D models for 3D printing are in STL format, but it is an old-fashioned format. Almost all your current laminators such as Cura or Simplify3D support other more modern and efficient formats, so we recommend you try the 3mf format. You will see that your file weighs considerably less (even several times less) than if you had saved it in stl, which is a point to bear in mind if you’re like us and save hundreds and hundreds of your favorite 3D models.

Convert an image to 3D online

Do you prefer to convert a 3D image directly from your browser? No need to download any program, because with Selva3D you can upload an image and transform it into 3D in a moment.

You can also convert images to 3D with an online app

Tip: better use a vector image (Windows, Linux and Mac)

On this occasion, we have converted to 3D a simple image with an acceptable resolution, but this is not always the case. Many times, we find that the image we want to convert to a 3D model is in a very poor resolution, or has been converted to an inadequate format or compressed multiple times, resulting in a pixelated and blurred image. In this case it can be very interesting to convert our image, which will usually be a .jpg or .png file, to .svg.

To make it simple, just keep in mind that an svg file is not a bitmap, but a collection of vectors, and, in practice, is an image with infinite resolution, which you can enlarge as much as you want. For this task you can use online converters like this one or our most recommended option, Inkscape (available for Windows, Linux and Mac).

Vector image files are the method used by graphic design professionals and more experienced users to generate 3D files from flat images. The 2D image saves information about the lines and areas of the area and can be extruded to generate the most accurate 3D model possible. It is a technique that is widely used for logos, posters, signs…

Here is an example of how this process can be done in Inkscape and Blender:

Did you like the article?

We’ve seen that there are multiple methods that allow you to convert your 2D image to a 3D model and we’ve shown you the one we like best. Getting good results depends a lot on the starting image, but if this is of good quality we can achieve a very accurate model in just a couple of minutes.

If you want to materialize your 3D design you can use our 3D service to print it online, just ask for a quote:

On the other hand, there are many ways to transform an image into something three-dimensional, such as lithophanies or velocity painting. If this blog has caught your interest, we will certainly do tutorials on these cool topics if you let us know.

Have you already converted your first image to a 3D model? Leave us a comment sharing your experience!

2 thoughts on “How to convert a 2D image to 3D for printing in 3D”

  1. If I give you 2D pictures (multiple angles as you wanted), can you convert that in to a 3D model and print it out like a sculpture? I also want to know how big of size can you produce.

    • We have to do the photographs ourselves since they require a certain quality and our experience in focusing on the most important views of the part in order to get a perfect 3D scan. We usually work by going to our customer location or having the parts sent to us.

      Currently we print parts up to 40x30x30cm in one piece and bigger parts split in several prints.


Leave a Comment