3D Print a 2D Image

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

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At my college makerspace, at least a few times a semester, a student will come to me with a picture and ask to 3D print it. I’ll explain that you can’t 3D print a 2D picture.

Well, this is partly true. It’s true that you can’t simply draw a picture of a spherical soccer ball and 3D print it but there are cases where this is possible.

If the 3D object consists of a profile that is extruded to give it thickness, then this is absolutely possible. Examples of these can include jewelry, brackets, and logos as I’ll demonstrate below.

Take a look at the golden ratio earrings above. In my Fusion 360 Next Level Course, I use this model to teach how to enter user defined parameters to incorporate mathematical formulas and relations into your designs, but that is a topic for a different day.

Today I simply want to focus on the simple 3D shape. It basically consists of a 2D drawing that is extruded in the Z direction.

The shamrock earring above uses the same procedure. And in the video below I show how I made it by creating the 2D sketch directly in Fusion 360.

If you were starting with a hand drawing, the workflow would look something like this:

  • Draw the image by hand on a piece of paper

  • Scan the drawing

  • Bring it into Adobe Illustrator or similar software

  • Perform an image trace

  • Export it as an svg file

  • Open the svg file in Fusion 360

  • Extrude and 3D print

I actually keep a digital paper scanner in the makerspace for this exact workflow. It’s also a great workflow for the laser cutter.

Instead of drawing the image by hand or sketching it in Fusion 360, you can also create it in a vector design software. Nowadays, there are many vector design software out there (example of these include Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, Corel Draw, Affinity Designer, Vectr, etc).

I had recently cancelled my Illustrator software and was looking for an alternative when I came across Affinity Designer.

Adobe Illustrator file imported into Affinity Design (left) svg file imported into Fusion 360 and extruded (right).

I decided to give this workflow a try with Affinity Designer. I recently had my logo redesigned and wanted to 3D print it. The logo was designed in Adobe Illustrator but I was able to import the AI file into Affinity Designer and export the svg file. I then imported the svg file into Fusion 360, extruded it and 3D printed it. Easy peasy.

In the video below I go over the entire workflow.


Looking to get started with Fusion 360? Check out my Quick Start Mini Series. Free for a limited time. I created 7 beginner designs that I walk you through to quickly and easily get you up and running with Fusion 360.

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