What 3D modeling software allows drawing over photos?


Sr Member
Hi guys, in my quest to complete my smaller scale 5-footer Falcon build I have been thinking a lot about having some parts 3D-modelled and 3D-printed instead of scratchbuilding them. So recently I took up a short course on Solidworks and it doesn't quite meet my expectations in that you cannot import a photo into it (if that's the right term) and draw over it, which would help a great deal, I suppose.

I also thought about the option of having the parts 3D-scanned, then 3D-printed at a smaller scale as opposed to have to learn 3D modeling, but then I'd have to have every part in that case, which will turn out to be more expensive in the long run.

In your experience, what is the best software to allow importing a photo and drawing over it to build a 3D model?

Here's an example of a part:






Unfinished scratchbuild: 3D modeling really looks promising for parts such
as these, as it will be easier to correct errors if you make a mistake, and easier to create versions too.


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Hey - I have Solidworks and it does have the ability to import a sketch (could be photo) and place it on a plane - then you can sketch over it. If you have the isometric views or your photos are at 90/180 degrees that is best.

The steps to insert a sketch are:

1. New Document (part)
2. Select Plane (front)
3. Go to 'Features'
4. Reference Geometry
5. Create new Plane (.10 behind) - which will be Plane 1
6. Select Sketch (on this new plane 1)
7. Then select Tools - Sketch Tools - Sketch Picture
8. Window opens to select picture from your computer
9. Select Picture - Now is tricky part
10. Center/align picture at the appropriate scale. you can reduce it to % transparency as well if you want.
11. Exit Sketch
12. Select Front Plane and begin layout. As your sketch is behind this plane you can see your lines, etc.
13. You can repeat this for the other views.

If you want help I can send you an example file.

I also run a 3D printer and make all sorts of stuff if you are interested in learning more about that. You can ping me at: bob.steiner@gmail.com



Well-Known Member
3d scanners are a bit tricky as the results can be not as precise as one thinks. I've used the Next engine 3d scanner and it would require extensive clean up. Perhaps this part already exists in cad form?


Sr Member
Any software worth it's salt can project an image onto the 3D plane, including solidworks. FWIW, i'd stray away from having something scanned unless you've got some moderate 3d experience. The clean up on some models can be pretty daunting. Get some more practice in or else you'll just end up frustrating yourself. Especially with that kind of project, I'd rate that as intermediate to advanced on the skill scale of modeling; depending on accuracy of course.


Well-Known Member
Yeah, pretty much any 3D program has a way to use an image directly for modeling reference.

And with something like that you could create it pretty well without scanning.


New Member
If you are a certified Solidworks user you can go to Solidworks 3D content central you can download a simplified solid model that someone made from the Ertl Model. It lacks a lot of detail so I am considering making my own for fun. I am sure I will be done in less than 10 years ;)

I am trying to decide what Scale to do full Scale or one of the set model scales
It looks like this:


Hmm, it has almost not detail at all but its still cool for being free
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Darth Pinhead

Active Member
Raster image is the term you're looking for (Typically used in design software). The other format you'll find are vector. You can Google for the differences between the two types. At any rate, you can insert raster images into Solidworks. There is also a pretty neat tool you can try to use called Autotrace (Never used this particular add-on, but something similar many years ago in Freehand). Take note: it may still get quirky and require a bit of cleanup, so it will probably be best if your photos have a clean background.

Auto Trace raster images in SolidWorks - YouTube

You also have another option if you have enough photos from different angles, etc., which I've yet to see anyone try, which is using AutoDesk's 123D software (Personally been wondering if I could upload screenshots from a movie and do it that way, but haven't looked into it far enough). You can read up on it, here:

Autodesk Catch: Make a 3D print of anything | ExtremeTech

And here's the site: Autodesk 123D - 123D Catch turn photos into 3D models


Sr Member
Thanks for all the great info, guys! Thanks, Roboto and Dark Pinhead - very useful info. I guess my solidworks instructor never had to use the feature so he never knew about it even with years of experience in the auto industry. Truly, a tool is what someone needs it for. I needed it to reverse-engineer from photos - he needed it to draw from scratch.

Oh, and thanks everyone for the tips about 3D scanning - that was one option I was just about to take - now I know it has its limitations.


Well-Known Member
Do you guys have any suggestions for mac applications that do that?

I use Solidworks on a Mac by running Parallels. It works very well on my new iMac.

Additionally, I would recommend using modo 701 in conjunction with Solidworks, as Luxology (the modo software company) offers an add-on you can purchase to swap models between Solidworks (a solid modeler) and modo 701 (a surface modeler). See here for more details: Luxology.com :: modo for Design

The above workflow is extremely helpful for me as I can create a physically accurate and mechanical parts and then bring it into modo to use their sculpting tools to add 3D texture and even rapidly apply mechanical mumbo jumbo such as this stuff: Luxology.com :: Model Bashing Kit

Hope this is helpful!


Well-Known Member
I use the PictureFrame command in Rhino 3d v5 to great effect, I think v4 (and maybe earlier versions) support it also. The imported pictures/drawings you import become actual geometry, too (flat planes) that you can modify easily to scale the image to known dimensions.


New Member
Great information in this thread. I've never used Solidworks - mainly used sketchup, strata and other basic consumer level programs.

I've seen people do photo build ups in Rhino as well - but have not yet tried that either.
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