I’ll admit it—I simply can’t draw. Stick figures push my creative limits. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found that creating 3D objects and dioramas is actually easier in Microsoft’s Paint 3D than drawing two-dimensional art in Microsoft’s legacy Paint app.
Though it shares a name, Paint 3D isn’t really like the familiar Microsoft Paint app at all. Paint 3D’s entire purpose is to create fun, cartoony 3D objects and scenes—and share them. A major part of Paint 3D’s appeal is the Remix 3D community, where you and other members can import, edit, then share digital objects and ideas. Another is the awesome Magic Select tool which functions as a free Photoshop-like editing tool for 2D and 3D content. Don’t forget about the new Mixed Reality Viewer app, either!
You may not have seen Paint 3D yet—but if you haven’t, make it a point to! Microsoft first launched the app in conjunction with the Windows 10 Creators Update, shipped with the Creators Update last year, and it now plays an even more important role within the Fall Creators Update—as both a tool for 2D, 3D, and mixed-reality content. You can do a ton with Paint3D, so make sure to use our table-of-contents links to jump to what interests you most. Let’s go!
Getting started: Know what you want to do
You can accomplish three main tasks with Paint 3D: constructing your own 3D objects, placing them within a scene, as well as using Paint 3D’s Magic Select tool as either a 2D or 3D editor. Remember the dioramas you made in elementary school? That’s Paint 3D in a nutshell.
Microsoft’s current version of Paint 3D ditches the somewhat confusing introduction it had before and tosses you right into the deep end. No worries—we’ve devised a better grand tour ourselves. Click the big New button and let’s dive in.
It’s not immediately obvious what you’re looking at the first time you open Paint 3D. A white space sits on a very faint grid at the bottom of your screen. Is this a workspace? A window? No, it’s the Canvas, a flat, 2D digital backdrop to your scene. You should see some familiar painting tools to the right. Try clicking the crayon, then drawing a wavy blue line across the bottom of the Canvas. Aha! This could be an ocean background to a nautical scene.
The Canvas, in fact, is the only 2D object in Paint 3D—it’s just a plane, with no actual depth. As you’ll quickly learn, Microsoft has its own ideas about how you should proceed, and they’re not always in line with how you’ll want to do things. In fact, even though the Canvas will probably be the first thing you interact with (or delete), the Canvas tab is fifth in the row of icons at the top of the screen. But you’re not here for 2D, are you? Click the cube-shaped 3D Objects icon to open up the 3D screen.
3D object creation: the meat of Paint3D
Creating and manipulating a simple, primitive 3D object is relatively intuitive, just like it is in the traditional Paint app. Click on an object in the menu on the right—a cone, for example—and left-click it into existence. You can resize it any way you’d like.
When you release the button, a box will surround the object, with four circle-shaped handles. Three of the handles will rotate the cone in space. The fourth (at the 9 o’clock position) will pull or push the cone closer to or away from you. If you choose to paint it another color, you may see the Sphere icon appear afterwards. This allows you to rotate the object to inspect it, but it should snap back to its original orientation once you’ve finished. (If you’re confused, clicking the question-mark-shaped help icon in the upper-left-hand corner will walk you through the process.)
You’ill quickly discover that you’ll be wrestling with Paint3D’s interface as much as anything else. With one 3D object in play, rotating it is no problem. With two, you’ll need to start thinking about how they’re oriented relative to one another.
Think about a snowman, for example. You’ll need to create at least three spheres, aligning them next to each other. Objects don’t deform when pressed together, so you may end up with spheres inside spheres, overlapping one another and hopefully hidden from view. You’ll quickly learn that the Select all button allows you to rotate your entire 3D scene as a whole, while multiselecting (Ctrl-click) or grouping objects together (like your three-sphere snowman) is essential for keeping your scene or object organized.
A large part of creating 3D objects or scenes, though, is simply making sure they’re all properly aligned. You’ll need to check along all three axes, rotating this and that to make sure everything looks sharp. Occasionally, objects seem to “stick” slightly when they’re aligned vertically, or touching another object, to help you out. This didn’t happen consistently. Expect a lot of trial and error to make things just so.
Don’t despair, though. If you do mess up, Microsoft took one awesome feature from its OneNote UWP app: Replay, now called Time Machine. Time Machine literally records almost every change you’ve made to the scene and allows you to scroll back through time, finding the place where it all went south. Don’t forget about this: It’s invaluable!
If you’re creative, assembling a scene with just a combination of primitive objects is simple enough. (We’ll get to decorating them in just a moment.) But there’s one other really nifty feature that Paint 3D offers, and that’s the 3D Doodle.
3D Doodle brings a sense of fun to Paint 3D
One of the real weaknesses of 3D Paint is that there’s very little room for flexibility. At this point, you can’t draw a spiral, for example, or even something like a pyramid. Nor can you deform a cylinder, twisting it to resemble a snake. (When we asked about it, a Microsoft representative said there are no specific plans for this yet.) The 3D Doodle partially makes up for this, inflating 2D sketches into 3D.
The easiest way is just to try it: under the 3D objects tab, click the right-hand, “soft” 3D doodle. Left-click the main workspace, and then draw a puffy cloud shape. When you’ve completed the shape, Paint 3D will inflate it to something that looks like a pillow, which you can expand, shrink, flatten or puff out. A “hard” version of the 3D doodle takes the rounded edge of the “soft” doodle and makes it a straight line. (Think of a star-shaped skyscraper.)
Painting with Stickers and Text
Whether you paint your objects or scene before assembling it is up to you—there are advantages to both approaches. When it comes to decorating your objects, you have three primary options: Tools, Stickers, and Text.
Painting an object within Paint 3D is relatively straightforward. Within the Tools sidebar, you can select a color as well as different texture options, including matte, gloss, and dull or polished metal. (The latter two reproduce gold, copper, and other metallic effects really well.) The paintbrush looks like it slops a thin layer of 3D paint over the object, and the other paint tools are equally sophisticated.
Stickers, though, are deceptively powerful cosmetic tools. By default, stickers work as a texture that automatically maps to the 3D surface, which is a great way of adding details, like eyeballs, that you’d normally have to paint by hand. In fact, there’s a whole bunch of eye, ear, and glasses stickers in Stickers, under the Smiley Face tab. If you slide the sticker over the 3D model and resize it, you’ll quickly grok how it all works. Press the Stamp icon (at the 3 o’clock position) to apply the texture, and adjust the opacity to suit your liking.
Even better, Microsoft has also provided textures like sand, bark, and rocks to make your 3D scenes more lifelike. Use them.
Stickers are so powerful that I would even recommend them over the Text tool. Text does two things: It creates floating 3D text that acts as a 3D object, and it also should allow you to etch 2D text onto an object. I say should, however, because so far I haven’t been able to make it work. An easy workaround is to take Paint (yes, the normal Paint app) and create a small square with your text inside it, then save it as a normal image file. Paint 3D allows you to import image files as stickers, so it’s almost easier to do that than wrestle with the Text option.
A couple of other tab options almost seem like afterthoughts. The Canvas tab allows you to make a couple of limited tweaks to the Canvas, and the final Effects tab just applies different-colored lighting options. I expect those to be fleshed out a bit later on—none of the 3D objects cast shadows, for example.
The best thing? The Remix 3D images you can borrow and share! Keep reading.
Microsoft’s 3D cheat sheet: Remix 3D
Learning how to orient, resize, and paint 3D objects within Paint 3D is essential. But Microsoft also provides a massive storehouse of pre-rendered 3D art on its community site, Remix 3D, to populate your scene without spending the time to create your own objects. Once you’re done creating a 3D object or scene, you can share it on Remix 3D, of course.
In the upper-right corner of the Paint 3D app is the Remix 3D icon (which looks rather like the Share icon in Office). Click it, and a sidebar opens, opening the Remix 3D doors. Remix 3D provides a virtual Board for bookmarking objects you might want to reuse, but the most useful feature is right at the top: a search box, where you can search for items like “pine tree” or “treasure chest.” There’s quite a lot to choose from.
Each object has a Download icon under it, which will open the object inside Paint 3D, or you can save it to your Board.
Don’t go hog-wild, though. What Microsoft doesn’t tell you is that each 3D Paint scene has an upper file-size limit: 64MB at this writing. Most of the custom art inside Remix 3D is made with professional 3D modeling tools, so not surprisingly each object can quickly consume your file allotment. Just one robot head in Microsoft’s “build-a-bot” collection required 14MB.
Paint 3D allows you to upload your creations to Remix 3D, but you can also save them within the app or even export them as 2D or 3D files. It’s up to you: are you creating a 3D object, or a 3D scene?
Use Magic Select as a 2D or a 3D edit tool
If you’ve used Photoshop, think of Magic Select as the Magic Wand of Paint 3D: a tool to intelligently guess which part of an image you want to extract and paste somewhere else. It’s both constructive and destructive: You can snip out an unwanted bystander from a photo, and Paint3D will “fill in” the background. Magic Select “knows” where the unwanted object ends and the other begins, so everything looks nice and neat.
You can use Magic Select as a tool for either 2D or 3D content, but I’d encourage you to use it in 2D mode, then import it as a 3D texture if you want. Here’s how.
Go to the Settings menu and turn off Show Perspective. This puts Paint 3D in a 2D mode, much like traditional paint. Then open an image file. Essentially, this will fill the entire canvas with the image.
Once in the Canvas tab, select what you want to remove with the Select button. (Select creates a rectangular box, but don’t worry about making your selection too precise.) Then press Magic Select.
Magic Select will make its “best guess” as to what part of the scene you want to select. Two tools will help you fine-tune it: “Add” and “Remove”. Just click one or the other and select the appropriate area. Magic Select usually does a great job, though tufts of hair (through which the background can be seen) defeat it.
Once Magic Select selects what you want, you can take the cutout and “pull” it out of the scene. If you do so, Paint3D will make another intelligent guess and “fill in” the background. But if the cut-out image is what you want to keep, you can simply CTRL + X (Cut) or CTRL+C (Copy) it to somewhere else; as a texture you apply to another Paint 3D object, or maybe just as another 2D image within Paint, PowerPoint, or something else.
It’s silly that this great tool isn’t part of the generic Paint app, but you can still save your creation and make additional edits with Paint or other apps.
Paint3D, part of Windows 10’s Mixed Reality Viewer
At one point, Paint3D was seen as a gateway to Build 3D, an app that would allow you to 3D print your creations. Within the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, Build 3D is gone, as is the View3D viewer. Instead, Microsoft wants you to combine 3D content and the real world in a new way: via the augmented-reality Mixed Reality Viewer app and photos.
Mixed Reality Viewer is Microsoft’s take on augmented reality. Using a Windows tablet with a rear camera, Mixed Reality Viewer shows you what the camera “sees”: a desk, perhaps, or a hallway. If you’ve saved a Paint 3D object, you can then “drop it into” your scene, and rotate and resize it anywhere you’d like. (You can use 3D objects from Remix 3D, too.) Mixed Reality Viewer is smart enough to recognize a real surface and use it as an anchor point for the 3D object.
It’s not wholly intuitive. You’ll want to either open Menu > Open for the appropriate 3D object, or look for one within Remix 3D. The “Mixed Reality” tab within the center of the screen then opens the augmented reality camera. Ignore the Controls controls, as they assume you have a mouse tethered to the tablet. Instead, place objects by double-tapping the point where you want them anchored, and resize them by pinching and zooming. Then take a photo, and save virtual reality on top of reality.
If there’s any drawback, it’s that you need cooperative subjects. Since you’re adding 3D objects in real time to a live scene, getting kids to hold still while you add a rampaging dinosaur to the scene can be a challenge. Still, the results can look fantastic.
Make no mistake about it: Paint 3D is a lot of fun, more than I ever thought it would be. Simply by getting creative with features like the 3D Doodle and Stickers, I was able to create a simple scene that I was rather proud of. How did I do it? I’ll walk you through it in the attached video.