“That which we perceive is not of the world, but of the brain’s model of the world.”

This quote from Chris Frith makes sense when you realise how successful 3D drawings can mislead and distort our perception.

And yet, representing reality in all its dimensions on only a flat surface is not that easy when you start drawing, yet it is fundamental to many different types of art.

  • What are the best techniques for drawing in 3D?
  • How can you create the illusion that a drawing isn’t flat?

In this article you’ll find techniques for drawing in perspective and mastering anamorphic art, and learn to draw various models realistically–and why not try it out using a 3D pen?

What is a 3D drawing?

What is the difference between a 2D and a 3D drawing? Well, the answer is pretty simple.

When we draw in 2D (two dimensions), we produce a sketch on our paper with no sense of volume. All that is really taken into account is the width and height of our object. But when we draw in 3D, we include a third dimension: depth.

It’s stating the obvious to say that drawing in 3D makes a drawing more realistic, considering that it’s more faithful to the small details that the eye observes in reality. It copies reliefs and distances, and keeps the same proportions as in reality, for instance when drawing a face.

From putting into perspective to grasping optical illusions, 3D drawing takes various forms and requires strong competency in drawing.

  • How do artists completely master these drawing techniques?
  • How can you give the illusion that a flat drawing jumps off the page?

The first thing you need to know for creating volume in a drawing is how to draw in perspective.

How do I Draw in Perspective?

Perspective is the technique which allows you to draw an object in space in three dimensions. The drawer takes into account the depth of the scene and reproduces the object as it is perceived from their own point of view.

Learn to draw in perspective
Learn basic techniques to mimic reality. (Source: VisualHunt)

Cavalier perspective consists of giving an object volume by adding a structure of parallel lines. This is a type of drawing that we predominantly find in geometry to represent a cube, for example.

Linear perspective is often used in drawing. In order to create a good linear perspective, we generally concentrate on these two elements:

  1. A horizon line
  2. One or more vanishing points.

From these elements, by drawing lines we can create a grid that will work as visual guides for drawing the various parts of our scene.

There are many different types of linear perspectives, which helps the drawer create depth and volume in their work:

  • Frontal perspective: the eye is facing the scene front-on. The drawing is based on the horizon line at eye level, and all the lines meet at one sole vanishing point.
  • Oblique perspective: we see this in two directions. The composition has two vanishing points. This type of perspective uses two vanishing points, allowing you to draw cubes and other geometric shapes by taking into account their real shape and depth.
  • Aerial perspective: here we take into account all the dimensions of the object by working on its representation with three vanishing points. This is the most realistic perspective, predominantly used in architecture to represent furniture, for example.

Mastering drawing in perspective is necessary to create a realistic drawing and give it volume, such as drawing a hand for example. Drawing in 3D is not about improvisation. You need to really use your eyes and take in the proportions of your object as faithfully as possible. Representing characters or objects by properly observing the effects of depth is crucial for great 3D drawing.

Get to grips with the different perspective techniques
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa is an example of the atmospheric perspective technique. (Source: VisualHunt)

Some artists use another type of perspective as well: atmospheric perspective.

It could be compared to a camera and its focus. This perspective is based on impressions. This means that whatever is in the foreground is drawn in a clear and precise way, but the more you look in depth, the more the details are unclear. Some artists also play on colours and gradients as well to create this effect of depth: the cooler the colours, the less precise the details of the scene.

This is a technique developed and used by Flemish painters of the 15th century, but it is also seen in the work of Leonardo da Vinci, notably in the Mona Lisa.

How Do I Create an Optical Illusion Effect in a Drawing?

Those who master the art of drawing in perspective achieve an even more impressive result in their work. The objects seem to literally jump of the page and come to life.

When a drawing is successful it gives the impression of coming to life and really takes on three dimensions. It’s a great start for designing an eye-catching company logo too!

This impression is an optical illusion, which is only noticeable from one specific angle. When you look at an anamorphic drawing you have to look at it a certain way in order to see the result in 3D. From any other angle, you’ll only see a distorted image.

How Do I Create a Picture that Jumps off the Page?

Let your artwork step off the page
Learn to bring your drawings to life with some simple techniques. (Source: Abi Skipp on VisualHunt)

You need to learn the right technique. It’s not only necessary to know how to distort an image correctly, but for the result to be really realistic, you also need to master basic drawing techniques. There are quite a few steps to get from the first sketch to the finished piece. You will to know how to draw each detail of your subject, and also how to paint or colour your drawing for effect.

To create an anamorphic drawing, you’ll need to distort the image that you wish to represent on paper. The main techniques that will help you draw an anamorphic image are:

  • Use a camera to capture your object in a photo, which you can print or display to help you sketch it accurately
  • Use computer software to distort the object that you wish to represent so that you can draw it easily
  • Use a grid system to draw the object in its correct proportions
  • Cut out part of the outline of the drawing to reinforce the 3D impression
  • Use multiple sheets or fold a sheet to achieve the desired volume effect

Many artists have been able to master the art of anamorphic drawing, such as Leon Keer and Kurt Wenner. You can sometimes even come across 3D art on the ground or on walls in public spaces. Many street artists produce striking realist pieces.

Between gaping holes in the middle of the pavement and sharks protruding from the road, there are many performances from artists such as Edgar Mueller and Julian Beever, for example, that are really impressive.

You could even use this technique to design your own tattoo!

A Selection of Tutorials to Learn 3D Drawing

To train yourself up in 3D drawing, it’s important to master the basic drawing techniques. You can practice really easily thanks to the huge range of online tutorials that are available online, with step-by-step guides to help you improve you sketches and create a realistic 3D drawing

You will find tutorials for all different levels, whether you are a total beginner or an experienced drawer.

Among some of the easiest things to draw, this clever tutorial shows you how to draw a Rubic’s Cube in 3D, giving the impression of levitating above the paper. This well-explained guide will familiarise you with the basic techniques, which you can then transfer onto other objects:

The following video reveals the secret for drawing a 3D open door. You’ll see how, by cutting the bottom of the paper, you can create a really realistic effect:

Here, you will discover how lines can help create volume. In this instructive video, you will learn to draw a half-sphere in 3D. With the same principle, you will also be able to draw other 3D objects such as hands:

More experimental artists could try a 3D drawing of a great white shark, which seems truer than life thanks to this video:

Design Software to Help with 3D Drawing

There are lots of different types of 3D software. Used for all sorts of purposes, they allow you to create synthesised three-dimensional images.

From 3D architecture to 3D modelling to 3D animation, the design industry has so many options for creating things in three dimensions – today, 3D is everywhere. It is even exceeded by augmented reality and 4D cinema. With 3D modelling software, creatives can now even use 3D printers to realise their designs.

As an amateur designer, you can easily find some free design software to use. Software is generally fairly intuitive and simple to use, allowing you to familiarise yourself and experiment with three-dimensional vision.

  • Which design software should I choose?
  • What is the best software?

That all depends on your needs. You can use 3D design software online or opt for one that you download to your computer. Here are a few examples of 3D software you could use:

  • Photoshop: an abcolute essential for all graphic designers, it offers infinite possibilities for design, very much like Adobe Illustrator.
  • Krita and Artweaver: these are also great programmes for design which both have their own advantages.
  • Google Sketchup: perfect for 3D modelling, this software was initially built for architecture and interior decoration.
  • Blender: this 3D modelling and animation software is one of the main points of reference for experts.
  • Autocad: this is one the most used platforms for creating 2D and 3D designs.
  • Manga Studio EX: perfect for creating 2D and 3D cartoon or manga art.

3D Drawing: The Best Apps!

If you want to learn to draw in 3D, there are other interesting tools at your disposal: tablet or smartphone 3D drawing applications.

They will accompany you everywhere, all throughout the day. It’s therefore really easy to improve your drawing skills and techniques when you have a spare moment, be it in your lunchbreak or on your commute to work!

On your phone or tablet you’ll be able to learn to draw volume in order to achieve a realistic 3D effect.

3D drawing is one of the most popular drawing techniques. Whether you want to become a professional or simply improve your skills for fun, you’ll easily find the perfect for you.

Here at Superprof, we’ve selected some of the best apps for you which offer great guidance and techniques. From 3D modelling to learning to draw in realistic perspective, there is an app for all tastes and all ages!

Explore your app store to find step-by-step tutorials
To learn 3D drawing simply follow the steps in this app! Source: play.google.com
  • Learn to Draw 3D, to progress at your own pace

This app is accessible for younger ages, starting from the age of 8 up. It’s a clear app for helping you learn to draw in 3D and easily create optical illusions.

The app is pretty well made and easy to use. You can choose a 3D drawing model and then discover all the different steps to reproduce the image yourself. A simple but effective app for understanding the essential steps of 3D drawing at your own pace.

  • How to Draw 3D and Illusion, videos dedicated to 3D drawing

This app is also really great on a pedagogical level, teaching you to draw in 3D with its tutorial videos. The app actually gathers all the best YouTube tutorials on the subject, so you get the best drawing lessons for kids possible. It’s especially useful when you can’t find good online tutors yourself and want drawing lessons for beginners.

The app is updated every week so that you can discover loads of new videos and techniques at the click of a button!

  • Tilt Brush, virtual reality 3D drawing

Drawing in 3D just got even more exciting thanks to Tilt Brush, an app which lets you pain in 3D space with virtual reality. Even though it’s not an app strictly for learning 3D drawing techniques on paper, it’s still a great tool for discovering different, creative ways to work in 3D!

With a virtual reality headset, you can let your imagination take free rein and create 3D art in a virtual world.

  • Leopoly, to create 3D characters

Available on tablets and also on your PC, Leopoly is an app which allows you to create 3D characters and modify them exactly to your specifications thanks to the numerous tools at your disposal.

This is an app that all animation and comic fans will appreciate, helping you to design and bring to life your very own characters!

  • Tinkercad, 3D design for beginners

Tinkercad is an Autodesk app which also offers a wide range of design software for professionals and amateurs alike. Tinkercad makes 3D drawing simple with an easy-to-use display – making it an essential for 3D designers!

The app is based on shapes that can be assembled to build up your designs. Anyone can bring their creations to life with the 3D printing feature, so now you don’t have to be an expert to get creative with 3D modelling.

  • Tinkerplay, perfect for kids!

Autodesk also offers Tinkerplay, a really popular modelling app for children as it allows you to easily create 3D characters and creatures. You start from a basic model, which you can personalise by experimenting with the different elements and features. You can then print or order your 3D characters. It’s the perfect app for a lively imagination

Which Pens Should I Use for 3D Drawing?

Because 3D drawing also entails virtual reality, 3D printing and 3-dimensional writing, it’s impossible to talk about the subject without mentioning 3D pens.

So what is a 3D pen?

It’s an innovative tool which operates on the same principle as a 3D printer. The 3D pen allows you to write and draw in 3 dimensions with its simple function: the pen heats the plastic, which cools when released onto a support. This means you can create 3D structures really easily and quickly.

You can use an object to help you draw contours in 3D, build parts and assemble them, or simply let your imagination run free!

A 3D pen can contain one of two types of plastic: ABS or PLA. The choice of plastic that you opt for is important for different types of projects.

  • ABS is a material that cools instantly, so it’s ideal for 3D drawing. It’s a plastic made from petroleum, which allows you to easily create different shapes which will hold their structure well. You can make all sorts – straight and curved lines, spirals, and geometric shapes. It’s also very useful for 2D writing creations that you can peel off and use as you wish.
  • PLA cools less rapidly, taking longer to solidify. PLA is mainly composed of starch and natural materials, and is biodegradable. It is better suited for 3D writing as it adheres well to a support, such as cardboard, metal or ceramics. It’s useful for drawing 2D images that won’t peel off.

How do I choose a 3D pen?

Bring your designs to life with 3D printing
Browse the market for the perfect 3D pen to suit your needs! Photo credit: yourbestdigs on VisualHunt.com

Unlike 3D printers which are only available to particular groups of people, 3D pens appeal to a large demographic because they are affordable and accessible.  

Both amateur and professional artists are intrigued by the idea of 3D drawing, and it amuses children for hours – it’s the perfect hobby for those who love building and realising their designs, providing infinite opportunities for invention!

The first 3D pen was the 3Doodler. Today it’s in its third generation, and this latest version is more precise and reliable than ever, at an affordable price.

There are many different models of 3D pens today. They are available at all prices, with varying choice depending on your personal needs and expectations. There are a few elements to take into account when making your choice, such as:

  • The design and weight of the pen: this is an important element to facilitate the handling and accuracy of your 3D drawing.
  • LCD display: another important point when using a 3D pen is monitoring its functions, such as the pen’s temperature. The temperature makes it possible to experiment with the effects of the plastic.
  • The price: obviously, your budget will influence your choice of pen, but this will also affect the quality of pen that you will look for and afford. You can find 3D pens for less that £50, but they aren’t always the best quality.
  • The brand: among the field of big names in the world of 3D pens, the mentionable ones are 3Doodler, Lix pens, Yestech 3D, 7tech 3D and GENESIS.

Tips for Easy 3D Drawing

Whether you love new technologies or you prefer putting pen to paper the old fashioned way, you can quickly progress with drawing if you take some online classes!

You could learn to draw all sorts of objects such as buildings, hands, or faces, or even create your own comic book.

You will benefit so much from the advice and experience of an expert drawing teacher, who will help you master the art of drawing in perspective, 3-dimensional drawing and realism.

But taking online art classes is not enough to completely master the techniques of three-dimensional drawing. You will also have to acquire specific skills, which can only be done with patience and through regular practice in your own time.

To become a real expert in 3D drawing, start by following these tips:

  • Practice lots of varied drawing exercises so that you can work on the effects of perspective and volume.
  • Learn to observe and draw the small details of you object for a realistic result – after all, 3D drawing is based on technically accurate and realistic reproduction of an object. To successfully draw 3D images, whether on paper or a tablet, it’s essential to master the basics of drawing (such as proportions, light and shadow, perspective, details).
  • Practice regularly to make it second nature. Carrying a sketchbook around with you is a great start to incorporate drawing into your everyday life.
  • Get inspired by artists and pieces that you love, and watch online tutorials to learn how to draw just like them.

So are you ready to start 3D drawing? Grab your pencil or charcoal and don’t forget your rubber…or your tablet!

Find tutors for drawing lessons throughout Australia on Superprof:

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.