Creating a 3D Silhouette using Photoshop

Contributed by
Helma Groot

Duration: 4 class periods
Level: Beginner/High School
Requirements: Computers with Photoshop and powerful enough to handle the 3D button of Photoshop



I created this project for my high school students. It’s better to have a bit of proficiency with Photoshop, but the instructions I created worked for beginners as well as those who had experience using Photoshop. The silhouettes can be made into necklaces and cookie cutters, but my students were content with just the 3D prints.



Making a 3D print of a silhouette in Photoshop

OBJECTIVE:  you will create a 3D print from a picture you take.  To create a 3D design in Photoshop, you will need to have a bold black outline on a transparent background.



  1. Take a picture of yourself or someone you know, creating a visually interesting silhouette.  

    Make sure the picture has good contrast- if the person is wearing light clothing, place them in front of a dark background, if a person is wearing dark-colored clothing, place them in front of a light background.

  2. Open the image in Photoshop.

  3. The 3rd and 4th icon on the left contain tools that are useful for isolating the silhouette.  You will use a combination of those and your eraser tool.

    Use the polygonal lasso tool (3rd icon from the top on the left side. right click on the icon will give you three choices) to roughly outline the figure.  Once the outline is complete, a live dot line will appear around the cut out part.  To delete the area around the figure, go to select, then inverse, and then delete or backspace, which will remove the selected area.

    You can also use the quick selection tool  or magic wand tool if you have a good edge between the figure and the background.

  4. Use the eraser tool to erase around the figure.  The eraser tool is the 11th icon down on the left side of the screen.  You can change size and hardness by clicking on the dropdown screen next to the number, second ribbon down, right under 'edit'. Take your time erasing around the image.  You need the outline to be precise.  Save your work every few minutes.  If you cut out too much, go to edit, and select step backwards.

    To get precise lines, enlarge your picture by zooming (control + to enlarge and control -  to scale down)

    If you want to use the 3D print as a pendant/necklace/keychain, be sure to create a circle in the place where you would like the print to dangle.

  5. Once you have the silhouette you want , go to image, then adjustments, then threshold level.  move the lever all the way to the right, and you will have a solid silhouette.

  6. You will now select your silhouette to create a border around your figure. Use your magic wand or quick selection tool to select the figure.

  7. Go to edit on the top ribbon, then stroke.  You will be asked to select a pixel width.  I made mine 45 pixels.  You will have to experiment with this. Make sure the color is black, and opacity is 100%

  8. Click backspace or delete.  You should now just have an outline on a white background.  

  9. Use your quick selection tool to select the outline, and click control and C to copy. If your outline is not completely black, before you copy the image, use the brush tool to make the selection a solid black.  Click the brush icon, fifth down, and then make sure the color is black (to change color, click on the 2 color icon 3rd from the bottom, and select black). To change the size and hardness of the brush, go to the dropdown menu under edit.

  10. Check the image size (go to the top ribbon, select image, and then image size)and write down the information.  For example, my image is 8"x12" at 300 dpi.  Create a new 'page' by going to file, select new, and then choose transparent for background contents, and make the size and dpi the same as the image with your silhouette.

  11. You will now paste your outline on the transparent background. Click control and C to copy, and then click on the transparent page and click control and v to paste. If you accidentally copied parts that shouldn't be part of your 3D print, erase them before you continue. Make sure you save your image as a Photoshop file before you continue.  

  12. You will now use the 3D button on the top ribbon.  Instructions will continue on the next worksheet. At this point, only certain computers will work.  You will be upset if you have not saved your work!!

Using the 3D button in Photoshop to prepare an STL file

Begin with a line drawing in Photoshop with a transparent background

  1. Select the line drawing layer, and select 3D on the top ribbon.  Choose new 3D extrusion from selected layer.

  2. When Photoshop asks if you want to switch to the 3D workspace, click yes.

  3. In the 3D panel to the right, begin by selecting the scene

  4. Click on the printer icon in the properties channel. In the dropdown menu for printer, select STL file.  Set printer volume to preferred unit of measure (inches or millimeters).  For detail level select high.  Go to scene volume, and change the x value to 2 if working in inches or 50.8 if working in millimeters

  5. Go back to the 3D panel, and select the object itself. In the properties panel, click on the second icon, which is the option for deform. Modify the extrusion depth to  0.2 if working in inches or 4.25 if working in millimeters

  6. Next, you'll need to rotate your object to lay it flat on the floor plane. Click on the last icon in the properties panel, this will give you options for changing the object's coordinates. To rotate 90 degrees around the x axis, add the value 90  into the x axis rotation field. This is the top option in the center column.  Next, select the option for move to ground

  7. In the 3D menu, choose 3D print. A new window will appear.  Choose export.  Save the file as an STL file.   You're now ready to print your silhouette!