How to Make a 3D Timeline

By Darrin Koltow

CAD (computer aided design) programs can be used to create 3-D timelines.
i 3D image by Eagle from

Making a 3-D timeline is an excellent introduction to using computer aided design (CAD) software, and also a way of producing an effective teaching tool. You can approach this project in many ways, but learning some essential CAD functions will help you regardless of the approach you ultimately take. One set of functions is that for moving around in 3-D space, which you'll use to evaluate your timeline model. Moving in 3-D space can be broken down into the actions of panning, zooming and rotating. These actions are easier to visualize if you think of the movements that a cinematic camera operator performs.

Make a printed 2-D timeline using one of the web applets listed in this article's Resources section.

Alternatively, draw a timeline on any flat medium that you're comfortable with. Such media include posterboard, paper, chalkboard, and digital paint programs. Get tips on making effective timelines from the links in the Resources.

Either scan or take a digital photo of your timeline, and then save the photo in a common graphics format such as JPEG, PNG, or BMP.

Open your CAD program and create a plane object whose size matches that of your digitized timeline photo. For example, if the photo measures 2400 by 3200 pixels, make the plane 2400 by 3200 units.

Run your program's material editor, which is a set of tools for creating textures and colors, and applying them to 3-D objects.

Create a new bitmap material type, which is a digital wrapper or coating that you can wrap a 3-D object in, to add texture to the object.

Assign the timeline photo to the bitmap material. You can now see your timeline in the material editor's gallery. This means the timeline is ready to be assigned to a 3-D object.

Apply the timeline bitmap to the plane object. Notice that the plane now displays the timeline.

Adjust your viewpoint to display the timeline at its best angle: Experiment with the orbit, zoom and panning tools of your CAD program until you're satisfied with the timeline's appearance.

Alternatively, you can use the following tip to create an aesthetic point of view: Move to a viewpoint directly in front of the timeline. Apply the orbit tool to move a short distance toward the timeline's left end. Use orbit again to move a short distance upward, to just above the timeline's top edge.

Run your CAD program's render tool to produce a high-resolution image of your completed 3-D timeline.