What is the difference between 2D and 3D?

3D Graphics

Graphic design forms part of our daily lives. Whether in advertisements, magazines or websites, there is not a single day that goes by without seeing computer graphics. The graphics that we see everywhere can be split into two categories: 2D and 3D. In this article, we will take a look at the differences between these two different types.

Characteristics of 2D graphics and the most popular software programs

First of all, 2D graphics are made up in two dimensions, more specifically the vertical and horizontal axes. It’s the same as when you draw on a sheet of paper, but in digital version. Many software programs allow us to create 2D images.

The most well known is definitely Photoshop, which has many different functions. With Photoshop, you can edit an image and perform several types of image retouching, such as erasing or replacing an element or changing colors. You can even draw with Photoshop. However, Clip Studio Paint is more suitable for drawing, with an interface that is quite similar to Photoshop. Illustrator is another Adobe program allowing you to create vectored images, which are often used for logos or banners. Software programs such as InDesign and Affinity Publisher are used mostly to create magazines or brochures.

Although these software programs have different functions, they all have something in common: they work on two axes.

Characteristics of 3D graphics and the most popular software programs

So what about 3D software? First of all, 3D computer graphics must be three-dimensional, with the X, Y and Z axes representing the vertical, horizontal and depth dimensions. Depth is the aspect that distinguishes 3D computer graphics from 2D. 3D modeling software are often more complex than 2D softwares because they have to master this aspect of depth.

The best-known software are without a doubt ZBrush, Maya, Blender, 3Ds Max, SolidWorks. Just like Photoshop, Illustrator, Clip Studio Paint and Indesign, each one of these 3D software has a different set of characteristics. ZBrush is normally used for the creation of organic figures such as human beings and living creatures. Blender is a free but very powerful software that even has rendering tools and a function to create animations; SolidWorks specializes in the creation of mechanical products.

Even if the final result may look similar depending on the rendering and perhaps even using the same tool such as the graphics tablet, there is a big difference between 2D and 3D computer graphics.

Using 2D and 3D

Whether you use 2D or 3D depends on your objectives, preferences, and artistic skills. Some artists are great at both, but someone who is not good at drawing may be good at sculpting, in the same way that a bad sculptor can be a decent drawer.

Benefits and drawbacks of 3D and 2D

One practical aspect of 3D modeling is that you don’t need to create a perspective, and this is because the algorithms automatically calculate it. When you manually draw something, you have to calculate and create perspective yourself. When it comes to 3D, the software also calculates light and shadow and can be adjusted if necessary. In 2D, everything has to be drawn. However, 3D modeling requires more time than 2D since it has a 360-degree perspective. This means that you have to create everything, even the parts you cannot see. This is not the case for 2D models.

3D modeling also takes more time since it needs texture. After the modeling process, you need to add texture and use a material (for example, metal, glass, clay, skin, etc.). This information is called “Map” and there are “Texture Map”, “Normal Map”, “Bump Map” and “Displacement Map”. Texture Map, for example, contains information pertaining to color. Normal Map affects the light. Bump Map contains information about the geometric height. Displacement Map allows you to add details to the surface of a model. The work is still far from being finished, even after applying textures, because a 3D model must then be rendered. To get better results, rendering engine software such as KeyShot, Marmoset Toolbag, or Arnold is necessary.


We have seen the main differences between 2D and 3D, but there are many other things that 3D is capable of such as virtual reality and 3D printing. 3D models are used in these relatively recent technologies and thus increase the potential of human creativity.