What is 3D Rendering and How is it Being Used in 2D Artwork?

You don't have to be a 3D designer to use 3D in your 2D work. Follow these tips for using 3D in 2D design.

Portrait for EnvatoBy Envato  |  Updated June 6, 2022

3D rendering is a process that converts 3D wireframe models into 2D images. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry — you don’t have to be a 3D designer to use 3D designs. In fact, that’s kind of the point.

Companies like PixelSquid make 3D content for graphic designers available to download as 2-dimensional PNG or PSD files. Unlike with isolated images and photos, the 3D renders can be rotated at any angle, turned upside down, and more easily manipulated to fit a scene.  The PSD files in particular include powerful layers for precise control and perfect blending within your 2D design.

“What PixelSquid does is kind of a middle-ground, where it allows designers to use 3D models in a new way within familiar 2D design software,” says Eric, a content specialist at Envato. “You can create some rad stuff compositing and manipulating PixelSquid items in Photoshop.”

‘Photo-Realistic’? A Side-by-Side Comparison

Okay, but… how do the 3D renders look, really?

The 3D renders from PixelSquid have detailed textures, lighting, and shadows to make them look ‘photo-realistic’. Here’s a few side-by-side comparisons of 3D renders and stock photos of real-life objects — can you tell the difference?

3D rendered pencil vs 2d pencil

The red one’s the 3D version.

3D rendered American football helmet vs 2d American football helmet

The green one is 3D.

3D rendered Vintage Pocket watch vs 2d Vintage Pocket watch

The left one is a photo.

3D rendered bicycle vs 2d bicycle

The black one is a photo.

3D rendered strawberry vs 2d strawberry

Almost too close to tell! But the left one is a 3D rendered berry.

3D rendered gnome vs 2d gnome

The sitting gnome (right) is the photo version.

Using 3D Renders in Your Designs

Not sure where to start? We’ve highlighted a few of our favorite design ideas, mostly from our friends at PixelSquid. For more inspiration, check out the Created by PixelSquid section of their blog.

Octopus in San Francisco

3d rendered octopus

3D render: Octopus

Design: Image by 8thdamon

Friday the 13th

3d rendered hockey mask, chef's knife anf aerial splash


3d rendered goldfish

3D render: Goldfish

Final design: by Nevs, for an Envato PixelSquid contest.

Doctor Mess

3d rendered books and library objects

Final design: Doctor Mess by Dani-Owergoor (check out her DeviantArt post for a full breakdown of the design).

Low Poly outdoor scene

3d rendered Low Poly outdoor scene

Final design: by Samantha Zhang.

NASA space scene

3d rendered NASA space scene

Final design: by Irving Gerardo (via Twitter).

3d rendered monitor, plant and keyboard

Have you created a 2D project using 3D designs? Share with us @envato.

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