If you want to convert 2D images into 3D without putting in a lot of effort, dozens of tools are available on the internet for free. Most of them add the binocular disparity depth cue to digital pictures to give the brain a 3D illusion.
We’ve listed some of the best tools that can help you transform your pictures into 3D almost instantly. Since we have kept our focus on lightweight applications, the accuracy and details of the resulting image might not be perfect.
The items in the list are arranged in no particular order, and you won’t find any advanced software like 3dsMax or Photoshop.
Table of Contents
Tinkercad is an online 3D design and modeling tool designed for beginners. It allows you to import 2D photos and convert them to 3D within a few clicks. It offers simple drag-drop functionality and is suitable for basic 3D modeling tasks.
- User-friendly interface
- Built-in library of pre-designed objects and shapes
- Exports design in compatible file formats for printing
- Not suitable for complex designs
- Doesn’t offer realistic material representations or advanced visualizations
While it may have some shortcomings, it serves as a quick platform for students and educators who want to explore the world of 3D design.
ConvertImage allows you to instantly create a stereoscopic image online. You don’t need to worry about the details or provide any technical parameters: just upload the picture (supports all popular image formats), and you’re done.
- Produces quality stereoscopic image
- Extremely easy to use
- Supports all popular image formats
- All images are deleted from the server 15 minutes after processing
- Doesn’t work perfectly on images with lots of details or text
The tool turns your images into 3D anaglyph stereograms that give you the illusion of depth. To see these stereoscopic pictures, you can use any conventional pair of two-tone glasses.
15. 3D Shade
3D Shade helps you transform ordinary pictures into quasi-3D renderings. It uses unique algorithms to calculate color intensities in the image and create false-height relief with an accurate perspective.
- Lightweight and easy-to-use application
- Plenty of options to edit images before processing
- Supports full-screen window for an unobstructed view
- Doesn’t support PNG files
- Sometimes it only renders a portion of the original file
The application comes with a simple interface that contains enough information to tell you how to generate 3D pictures. However, it only works with BMP and JPG image formats.
14. MakeSweet Logo
If you are looking for the easiest way to make 3D logos, this is a perfect tool for you. MakeSweet logo allows you to customize the color, shading, and view of your creation.
- Perfect for making 3D logos
- Fast and accurate
- Can convert 2D text to 3D pretty well
- Only works with black and white images less than 1 MB in size
Since it’s a lightweight, browser-based tool, it works with only black and white images and supports png and jpeg format. For best results, try to keep the image dimension less than 1000×1000.
13. Clip Studio Paint
Price: $50 (for the standard version) | Includes 3-month free trial
Platform: Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS
Clip Studio Paint is a sophisticated graphics software that offers specialized features for drawing cartoons and comics. It lets you make full-color comics in 3D, and convert ‘tone’ and ‘outline’ into a separate layer by executing “LT conversion of layer.”
- Works great on animation and character art
- Import 3D data made with other software
- Comes with an instruction manual and tool settings guide
- Limited functions available in the free trial
The tool makes it quite easy to change tone settings, add corrections to drawing lines, and modify several components to enhance the quality. There are thousands of materials available via Clip Studio Assets, which you can use without paying any additional price.
12. Image to Lithophane
A lithophane is a photo ‘carved’ into thin translucent porcelain (ceramic material), whereby a backlight reveals the contents. Although lithophanes haven’t always 3D printed, humans have been using them since the 1800s.
- The tool works offline
- Offers image, model, and cache settings
- Use the generated models for commercial projects
- Cannot preserve fine details in the picture
This tool allows you to convert any image into a lithophane. You can choose from six different shapes and views (zoom and rotate in any direction) the model before downloading the final STL file.
Price: Starts at $2299
ZW3D is a CAD-CAM application for 3D modeling, machining, and mold design. It is specially designed for mechanical engineers to help them optimize their design workflow in Microsoft interface and create efficient models in both 2D and 3D.
- Features intelligent design tools
- Contains more than 80 default post-processors
- Specialized Tools for Mold Design
- Available for both 32-bit and 64-bit system
- Not available for Mac users
It’s a lightweight tool that allows you to load BIG models without losing performance. It comes with a new set of algorithms that drive faster panning, rotating, and zooming of your design. Moreover, the application runs relatively faster than others; for instance, patterning 4480 shapes with 98560 faces takes only a minute.
Price: $5 per image
Embossify is an online design utility service to transform images (jpeg format) into 3D STL (Stereolithography) files suitable for 3D printing or CNC routing. It tessellates the image file pixel-by-pixel until generating a complete topographic model of the image brightness.
- Options to specify target width and depth (in millimeters)
- Creates a perfectly enclosed tessellation of rendered 3D mesh
- Low-resolution renderings are available free of cost
- Only supports JPEG images
The tool offers low-resolution renderings (108,000 facets) for free, and if you have multiple images to process, they would charge you less for high-resolution rendering.
Price: Depends on the size
Reliefmod offers an effortless way to create a 3D model from a 2D picture. It’s very much similar to Bas Relief, one of the ancient sculpting methods that involve carving out the voids of a picture from a flat surface, leaving behind the artwork that seems to be raised above a solid background.
- Fast and easy to use
- Offers two modes: Monochrome and colored
- Users can specify denoise and smoothness factor
- Dosen’t work well with low-quality pictures
All you need to do is upload an image with minimal shadows and adjust a few parameters like direction, quality, denoise, and smoothness factor. Once you are satisfied with the appearance of your model, you can turn it into a real object using their manufacturing service. If you choose to proceed, you will get plenty of options to customize the material, color, and size of the 3D model.
8. Smoothie 3D
Smoothie makes 3D printing an image as easy as possible. It uses a single photo to generate an online digital model that resembles what you get after scanning or photogrammetry. You have to do a bit of drawing to transform certain parts of the image into textured 3D models.
- Symmetry management system
- Users can subdivide and smooth models
- Exports models to STL, OBJ, VRML
- Users need to register to use it
- Import could fail if the size of the image is too large
However, this tool won’t be of much help if you want an asymmetric model with plenty of details. It doesn’t need any plugin but if you are using an old computer, the tool might run slow.
If you want to get a better experience of the 3D sculpting workflow and level up, you should definitely try SculptGL. Despite being a browser-based application, it is packed with hundreds of options to get your feet wet in 3D sculpting.
- Perfect for beginners
- Plenty of options for rendering, topology, sculpting, and painting
- View the complete history of your actions
- Export file as STL, OBJ, PLY, and SGL
- Not available for Mac users
We recommend you not to create a high-resolution mesh right from the beginning, instead build up detail levels step-by-step. Start with very broad brushes to define the silhouette (heads, arms), and then switch to large details (fingers) using smaller brushes. Once you get a good grasp of this, you can add tiny and complex details like scars and wrinkles using finer brushes.
6. 3D Face Reconstruction
In 2017, British researchers revealed an interesting AI-powered tool that turns your face into a 3D model. The AI tool extrapolates a face from one image by feeding it multiple pictures and corresponding 3D models.
- Lightweight and easy to use
- Set (depth) z-axis
- Works well with low-quality images
- Processed image doesn’t look realistic
To develop this, researchers used a simple convolutional neural network that performs direct regression of a volumetric representation of the 3D facial geometry from a single 2D image. If you’re interested in knowing how this whole system works, you can read this paper.
ItsLitho allows you to convert your images into 3D model lithophanes. It comes with an image editor that can make the difference between a good lithophane and an exceptional lithophane.
Using its model creator, you can design 3D model lithophanes in many different ways. Create a shape (or pick from existing ones like sphere, pumpkin, vases, or lamp), add a frame or border, add attributes, and apply filters to give your model a unique look.
- Fast and intuitive
- Various shapes and frame options
- Realistic model preview
- Project can only be exported as .STL file
The platform gives you multiple environment options to preview your project. Try out different light colors and material colors to get a fast glimpse of how your lithophane is going to look after it is printed.
Platform: Windows and Linux
With Insight3D, you can create a 3D model from a series of images of a real scene. The tool measures the positions in space as well as the camera’s optical parameters along with the 3D point cloud of the scene. Then it generates a textured polygonal model.
- Generates a textured polygonal model from a series of images
- Helps you work on complex objects
- Export 3D model into several different formats, including VRML
- Doesn’t work with blurry photos or photos of blank walls
This tool won’t let you create a 3D object from scratch but will help you work on more complex models, making it easier and simpler. All you will need is a decent camera. And since it’s old software, it is unlikely to work on a large number of high-resolution pictures.
Price: $170 (for basic version)
Platform: Windows and Linux
3D-tools helps you analyze complex 3D models without CAD knowledge. It is packed with multiple tools for evaluating designs, including analyses for toolmaking and extensive measuring functions.
- Provides practical tools for the evaluation of 3D designs
- Merge multiple 3D models and 2D drawings
- Both Viewer and Interfaces support 32bit and 64bit
- Combine Custom Views with animations
- Export animations as AVI video
- Not available for Mac users
At the push of a button, the tool displays dimensions, surface areas, and volume for each individual part in a model. It can calculate the angle, radius, distance, wall thickness, clearance – all in three-dimensional space. However, if you are loading a large or complex file, it could take a while.
2. Selva 3D
Price: $2.5 per high-quality STL file
Selva3D is accessible online as a tool to generate 3D files directly from images. You can upload any image or logo (including gif format), and it will transform your input into a flat 3D file.
- Easy to use
- Provides two types of transformation: Text and Photograph
- Users can adjust the thickness and brightness of the model
- Users need to register to use it
If you’re working on a complicated design, it’s better to use a high-resolution image. Using darker colors will be associated with black and lighter colors with white. You can change this setting via a ‘threshold’ controller, which allows you to experiment with the details of your project.
Price: Free | Premium version starts at $19/month
This browser-based CAD software is definitely worth your attention. Vectary is known for its innovative user interface and approach to collaboration. It comes with a library that contains all the things you need to create an eye-catching visual.
- Users can start with a high-quality pre-rendered scenes
- Tons of realistic and fully textured materials to choose from
- View your design in Augmented Reality
- Documentation is not easy to follow
- Doesn’t work well on Safari
All designs are created in a 3D viewport where you can either jump straight into your design by using pre-designed mockups or build everything from scratch. The tool provides enough light to make shadows that give each object its unique depth. And of course, you can import or export models from popular services like Sketchfab, Thingiverse, or Google Poly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is 3D modeling hard?
While 3D modeling is relatively easy to learn with enough time, it can be difficult to perfect. It requires knowledge of modeling software, plugins, scripting, as well as mathematics.
Although 3D modeling is a competitive field, it’s a great career path for people who enjoy combining arts and creative ideas with the latest technologies.
What are the common file formats for 3D printing?
There are more than 25 file formats for 3D printing. The most common ones are:
- STL (Standard Triangle Language) describes only the surface geometry of a 3D object without representing its color texture or other typical CAD model attributes
- OBJ (Wavefront Object) can encode smoother surfaces with fewer tiles by using polygons like quadrilaterals or hexagons.
- AMF (Additive Manufacturing File format) has native support for materials, color, lattices, and other metadata.
- 3MF (3D Manufacturing Format) incorporates all relevant model features as well as security and encryption for parts of 3D models.
What are the best 3D modeling tools for beginners?
If you are a beginner, you can start with:
- Blender supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline from animation and simulation to compositing and motion tracking.
- Daz Studio is a 3D scene creation and rendering software used to develop detailed images and videos.
- SketchUp is one of the simplest 3D modeling tools on the web that allows you to visualize ideas before turning them into real projects.
- Wings3D can be used to model and texture polygon models.
The best thing about these tools is that they all have free versions as good as paid modeling programs.