3 D . T Y P O G R A P H Y

Setting type in 3D is not the same as making phony "3D" type that is really only beveled and shaded. Setting type in 3D is placing words creatively along the Z axis--words that appear to advance, recede, or float around in space.

In any stereo 3D image, the effect is produced by variation in the distance between homologous objects as seen by the left and right eyes. In this, words are like any other object. If the letters of a word are to advance or recede, the relative distance between homologous letters as seen by the left and right eyes will either increase or decrease along the length of the word.

In short, the 3D word seen by one eye will be longer or shorter than the word seen by the other eye. Typographically, there are three ways to achieve this, each with a different result. They are (1) Stretching, expanding, or in typographic terms changing the set width; (2) Letterspacing or kerning; (3) Skewing.

The examples below are to be viewed with red-blue glasses, red on the left. The descriptions refer to Photoshop, where the left-eye image (which appears cyan) is in the red chanel, the right-eye image (which appears red) in the blue and green channels.

1. Stretching

The type in Example 1A was set as black in Photoshop in RGB mode. Then the red channel (left eye image, appears cyan) was stretched very slightly to the right. Just a little stretching adds up over the length of the word, and produces a dramatic effect. (In typesetting and page layout programs like Pagemaker and Quark, the same effect is achieved by increasing the set width for the left-eye image to about 103%, or to taste.)

Example 1A: Stretching.

In Example 1B, the red channel (left, cyan) has been condensed in letters "T" through "o" and stretched in letters "r" through "y"; the g is unchanged. The result is a flying wedge.

Example 1B: Flying wedge.

2. Letterspacing

The type in Example 2 was set as usual in RGB, then deleted from the red (left, cyan) channel and replaced with the same word letterspaced 1 percent. Note the difference between this and the previous examples. In this example, because the letters seen by each eye are the same width, they appear to be twisted perpendicular to the plane on which the word advances.

Example 2: Letterspacing.

3. Skewing

The type in Example 3 was set in black in RGB mode, then skewed into a trapezoid. The red channel (left, cyan) was then further skewed in a paralelogram, the bottom edge shifting to the right.

Example 3: Skewing

: Oh, Boy! 3D Type! :

Example 4 mixes Caslon regular and Caslon oblique letterspaced.

4: Caslon regular (red, right) and Caslon oblique (cyan, left).

In Example 5, RGB was disorted with a radial displacement map (10 horiz, 0 vert); then the red channel alone was displaced again the same amount with the same map. To see the displacement map used, click here.

5: Filter > Distort > Displace

The example below was done in Freehand, which allows skewing type along a curve. (The curve becomes invisible.) Identical type and curves were joined for each eye, and stretched afterward; thus the curve is distorted the same as the type, and so is also 3D.

6: Type skewed along curves.