Turn Photos Into 3D Models With Autodesk 123D Catch [Currently Only Windows]

autodesk 3d modelsWith the 3D printing revolution officially under way, the problem remains of how to get actually get a digitized 3D representation of something. You could start from scratch, using something like Google Sketchup Design & Build 3D Virtual Buildings & Objects With Google SketchUp Google SketchUp is the backbone modeling program for Google BuildingMaker, which allows graphic designers to submit building designs to Google to be added to the official Google Earth imagery. Read More , but I’d be lying if I told you it’s easy to create anything reasonably complex. Instead, it would be great if you could just take some pictures of a real life object, then somehow auto-magically transform that into a 3D model.

Magic – meet reality – in the form of Autodesk 123D Catch


123D Catch is just one of a range of free software from the CAD and modelling powerhouse Autodesk, and though I may take a look at the other apps at a later date, today we will be looking specifically at just 123D Catch.

The app takes a selection of photos of an object – the more the better – finds identical points and dinstinguishing features between them, and merges them all together to create a fairly accurate, realistically textured, manipulable 3D object.

Getting Started

To download, you’ll need to create a free account at Autodesk. The social network buttons make this easy though. Right now, the app is Windows only, but iPad and web versions are on the way.

autodesk 3d models

To learn the process, it’s best to use the sample project that comes with 123D Catch. Open the app, select New Photo Scene, and select all the photos in the Program Files/Autodesk/123D Catch/sample_project/ directory.

autodesk 3d models free

Click Compute Scene to start the magic. The first time, a popup will ask for your name and email; the newsletter is optional though. Your images are then uploaded to remote services in the cloud (ignore the bit that says “Photofly” – this was the old service that Autodesk bought and renamed, and customizing that was overlooked). You can choose to have the service email you when your render is complete, or just sit and wait. About 20 minutes to an hour is realistic.

Note: I experienced disk access issues on Windows 7. Running the app ‘as administrator’ solved this.

When complete, your 3D scene will be built and opened in a basic 3D editor.

autodesk 3d models free

Navigating & Editing

To move around and check out the scene and model, use the group of 4 blue icons. Your mouse wheel can be used at any time to zoom and pan, but for rotation you’ll need to use the 3rd icon in this group.

autodesk 3d models free

To crudely cut bits of the model out, use the basic selection tools and right click -> delete. This app isn’t designed to be a full 3D editor of course; these tools should only be used to cut out bits of the background in the scene. For finer control, exporting the 3D model to a full modelling application is needed.

autodesk models

Tips For Good Models & Limitations

On your first attempt, you may end up with a blurry mess or nothingness; or you may just get a render error. To avoid this, there’s a few things you can do:

  • Use a fixed exposure and focal length – camera-phones will often auto-adjust exposures for each shot. Taking pictures on an overcast day or somewhere with fixed light (in a studio, for example), will help; or simply use the exposure and focus lock on your camera. To do this on the iPhone, hold down on a focus point – you should see the text AF/AE lock now appear at the bottom of the screen (this, and more iPhone tips in our free, downloadable iOS5 guide A Complete Beginner's Guide to iOS 11 for iPhone & iPad Here's everything you need to know to get started with iOS 11. Read More ).
  • Don’t perform any editing on the photos themselves – no cropping – just keep the camera in a fixed orientation, and give the app good quality, consistent shots.
  • To help stitch photos together, add additional reference points – color squares to a blank wall for example –  or anything to increase the complexity of the scene. If everything looks the same, it will be impossible to figure out which points match.
  • Transparent, reflective or overly glossy objects won’t capture.
  • If you’re capturing humans or live animals, make sure they absolutely don’t move an inch!
  • Check if manual stitching is needed by scrolling through the photo browser at the bottom of the main screen. If you see any that are greyed out with a yellow warning sign on them, you can attempt to manually stitch them into the scene. Rather than explaining this in text, this tutorial from Autodesk explains the process rather well I think.

Be warned that restitching will mean the entire project needs to be recalculated in the cloud. You can re-stitch more than one additonal photo for accuracy though – just close the stitching interface and select another photo – your points will be saved.

You can also launch multiple copies of the app if you wish to work on more than one at a time!


These were taken with my iPhone, on a fairly dull day. I placed the Balinese demon thing (?) on a table with enough room to walk around, and used a block of wood as an additional reference point.

autodesk models

I also added a few of the unused photographs in by manually stitching.

autodesk models

I think the results are pretty amazing really, and if you really put some effort in you could potentially produce a pretty exact 3D replica model – Autodesk also offers 3D printing services for your models.

autodesk 3d models

The app is completely free, and I’ll be taking a look at some of the other apps in the suite another time.

What do you think of 123D Catch? Have you had much luck creating models, or are you having trouble making them stitch correctly? We’d love to hear from you if you tried with a room, or maybe a person!

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  1. Anonymous
    October 8, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    do you know any other software that i can open the models because i want to add some sentence when you touch the place on the model

  2. Zac
    October 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Having a unknown error, occured during upload, ran as admin also.

  3. Kp Rao
    September 1, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    every one see their statues

  4. Ben
    July 31, 2012 at 4:41 am

    Do you know by any chance, if they are considering to realize a version for mac?


    • muotechguy
      July 31, 2012 at 7:46 am

      Not as far as I know.

  5. Gian Singh
    July 17, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    this is really damn cool.

  6. Mark Summe
    July 12, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Looking for someone with experience using this software to translate pictures of people to 3d models for work on repeat projects, any ideas where I should look?

    • James Bruce
      July 13, 2012 at 8:18 am

      Probably best to ask this on the 123D suport forums - I'm sure you'll find a few people there willing to help. I would say ask on the Answers forum here, but it's a bit too specialised perhaps.

      • Mark Summe
        July 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm


  7. Michael Penney
    June 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    What formats can you export the model in?

    • muotechguy
      July 2, 2012 at 11:37 am

      DWG, FBX, RZI, OBJ, IPM, LAS . I have no idea what anything other than OBJ is though, hope you understand it!

  8. Kelvin Zhang
    June 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    By any chance does this work with pictures of humans?

    • muotechguy
      June 2, 2012 at 7:47 am

      Yes it does, but they have to stay reeeeeeeeaaaaaalllllly still.