4 Steps to create a 360 VR illustration / painting in Photoshop (with pictures)

EDIT: This is our outdated method, we wrote a better modern tutorial here: Creating VR Illustration with Photohop CC 17 & 18 See ya on the other side!


For months, I’ve been researching a perfect way to create 360 virtual reality illustration, and I realised that there not much of decent tutorial out there.
So I am humbly sharing my approach on attempting the 360 degree art.
This tutorial is meant for Artists and Designers with basic knowledge of illustration, if you are new to digital painting or concept art this demo might not be as helpful.

The 360 Mapping Method


One of the most common method to create a 360 degree environment is by using Skymap or Cubemap and map it on a 3D cube. This method was widely used for Game Development in the early days. However, the method I am sharing today is using Equirectangular Image which looks something like this:

Image above from http://photo.stackexchange.com/questions/73481/how-can-i-edit-equirectangular-images

Entering 2016, I realised that Equirectangular Image is now a common format for Youtube or Facebook to recognise as a 360 degree image. There are more platform than ever in displaying 360 art now. Algorithm in these platform process your Equirectangular Image and unwarp it into virtual sphere for 360 degree effect. We are not learning to paint our artwork on a curvature template, instead we are going to convert the curvature image into proper perspective image for easy painting.

Once you master the concept, you can create your very own Virtual Reality concept art!


Painting Software – I will be using Adobe Photoshop CC in this demo, I believe the same idea can apply to any version of Photoshop.
Equirectangular Conversion -The best plugin (that I’ve tried far) for these conversion is Flexify 2. I am using the trial version. This software can do variety of panoramic conversion, but for our case we only need Equirectangular to Horizontal Grid.
360 Preview – As a Motion Graphic designer, I am no stranger to Equirectangular Images. I often used it for my 3D production in Cinema 4D. If you wish to preview your 360 degree artwork during the production, you may try pannellum.org or simply upload your artwork to Facebook .

Step 1: Convert an Equirectangular Image to a Cubemap


Prepare yourself an Equirectangular Grid like one below and begin converting it into Cubemap.

Image above from http://www.flickr.com/photos/dmswart/26363697850

Begin converting the Equirectangular image using Flexify.


Unfortunately Flexify 2 is not made for this purpose, upon conversion you will find these empty white spaces on both sides of your image, these white spaces may create a lot of troubles in future steps, so get rid of them by trimming the spaces.


Step 2: Paint something on the Cubemap

Now you have a proper grid that are painting friendly, you may now begin to work on your magic!


SOME TIPS: Create a guide at the edge of each cube. Every time you draw something across an individual Cubemap, re-imagine your perpective into a new single point perspective. Always sees every Individual Cubemap as a new single-point-perspective-grid. Here is a simple gif that helps you to understand what I meant:


SOME MORE TIPS: During the sketching stage, I exported the artwork into Equirectangular Image ( which I am sharing how in the next step ) and preview it in 360 VR mode with Cinema 4D by adding the Equirectangular Image as texture to a sky object. I came back and forth between both software countless time to ensure the 360 illusion is perfect.

Take your time to get use to the perspective confusion, once you got a hang of it, everything will progress smoothly like a T-rex running on butter.

Step 3: Convert the Cubemap back to Equirectangular Image


Begin converting your Cubemap back to Equirectangular Image that are virtual reality 360 friendly.


Trim the top and bottom white craps to achieve a perfect 2:1 aspect ratio for your Equirectangular Image.


Step 4: Edit the Metadata


Now your artwork are fresh from the oven and ready to upload to you preference Virtual Reality platform. In order to trick those platform to recognise your artwork as 360 Equirectangular Image, we will edit the metadata of the image itself.


Basically, you simply download this XMP Template and edit the metadata under file info in photoshop:

Detailed steps were perfectly described in Topher Mcculloch’s blog

Complete: Your Illustration in 360

That’s it, if you made it this far without confusion, please give yourself a cookie because you are obviously an advance user.
Check out the the completed 360 illustration of this demo here:

Send me me your artwork, I’d love to see how you inspire from this article!

Let’s have some discussion in the comment below if you have better method or ask any questions. Cheers guys, let’s just keep creating awesome work.

44 thoughts on “4 Steps to create a 360 VR illustration / painting in Photoshop (with pictures)”

  1. Hey Lai,
    Thanks so much for this amazingly simple tutorial! I’ve been wanting to make a vr illustration for a while,
    and I’m so glad I found your post, or I would have just given up. After having made one that actually works,
    I’m pumped to make more!
    -19 year old art student

  2. Great tutorial. Here’s my entry. I found that some parts are easier to create in cube projection mode, as you suggest, but other parts are easier in equirectangular mode.
    I also noticed that, while it requires you to upload an equirectangular image, the image displayed by Facebook is actually an array of cube projections.

  3. Hi! Thank you so much for writing this! I was wondering if you have tips on getting it onto a google headset? I can publish to facebook but I really want to see it through something like Google Cardboard. Struggling to do this, any help would be awesome!

  4. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who was doing a little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me dinner due to the fact that I found it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this subject here on your website.|

  5. Hey! What are the measurements for the rulers? I am new to photoshop, so I don’t know if im asking a stupid question… Is it in inches? and what are the dimensions? Thank you!

  6. Hello! I really like your tutorial and it helped me a lot to create my own work. I’m writing ask if i could translate your tutorial to Chinese and re-post it to Weibo.com for non-commercial use..I’ll keep all your links and credits if you think it’s ok~

  7. Thanks for the tutorial, you’re saving my life.
    I’m from Venezuela and I do not speak English, I’m using the Google translator so please excuse the grammatical mistakes. All perfect except that my Photoshop (CC 2015.5) does not recognize the flexify plugin, I have searched tutorials on how to install it correctly but I have not managed to get the program to recognize it. Please help me! Many thanks.

  8. It’s the first tutorial I find in which it is suggested to work on a cubic map: this was my idea all along, you beat me to actually publishing it in a tutorial πŸ™‚ thumbs up for the result! I’ll publish my own tutorial and results soon, and I’ll make sure to link to here.

  9. Thank you so much for the tutorial!
    But if there’s any chance I can make this in Adobe Illustrator? Because I recently draw in Illustrator and I don’t really best friend with Photoshop when it comes to drawing. I hope you read and respond my comment.
    Thanks πŸ™‚

  10. Loving this! It’s so helpful. I am getting stuck in one spot: changing the metadata. I downloaded the .xmp, and imported the template into the raw data area, but Facebook still isn’t recognizing it as a 360 photo. Any tips or tricks for me?

  11. Great stuff. Nice and Simple. I need a crazy good website. Does that interest you? Cheryl Ng recommended you. If she recommended you, you must be good.
    If so, call me on 0178971966. David Duffin.

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