Chapter 2:
3D and AR Basics: A Quickstart Guide for IT Teams

The first chapter of this three-part guide covered how to develop a roadmap for 3D and AR adoption. In this chapter, we’ll provide IT teams with an overview of the technical basics of 3D and AR technology. This will help you understand which features and specs are important when choosing solutions to implement your 3D and AR roadmap.

We’ll start by reviewing the key features of 3D itself, including geometry, materials, file types, and file sizes.. Then we’ll look at web viewers who view 3D files online, clearing up some common misconceptions that can inhibit effective adoption.

3D Basics

Fundamental 3D basics include:

These factors enable you to deliver 3D images to customers over the Internet that combines maximum quality with minimal wait times. Managing these variables effectively can make a decisive difference in customer satisfaction and sales results.


You can think of the geometry of the model as the structure. It is almost like the mesh of a topiary that plants grow on. The geometry of a 3D model is made up of small triangles or squares called polygons. The more polygons that exist in a model, the larger the file size and the more processing power it takes for a device to render the model. Ideal polygon counts for consumer facing applications are generally under around 100k polys although certain platforms may have harder limits like 40k.

3D Materials

Realistic 3D representations of physical materials such as fabric depend on a graphics method called Physically Based Rendering (PBR), which mathematically adjusts lighting effects to simulate how light bounces off different physical objects. Some materials reflect more light, while some absorb more.

PBR effects come in two forms: pre-rendered and real-time. Pre-rendered images retain high quality, but the compromise is that they can take excessively long to render or download, making them unsuited for rapid sharing with customers.

Real-time PBR simplifies effects for faster rendering and delivery on any device. This enables PBR to be used for practical eCommerce applications.

3D File Sizes

3D file size can challenge IT teams to deliver customer usability. Presenting problems similar to those experienced in the film industry, where graphics play such a central role, 3D users deal with enormous files (hundreds of megabytes or even gigabytes) which often are not interoperable. This can be a significant issue when looking to scale the use and distribution of 3D across your organization.

In the film world, proxies were developed so that users could work on lighter versions of files, where alterations would then be reflected in the original. With 3D, we use a similar strategy for file optimization.

3D optimization works on the principle that the faces of 3D shapes can be divided into 2D polygons such as triangles. Adjusting the number of polygons adjusts complexity, resolution, and file size. This enables files to be transformed into more manageable versions for online delivery and display purposes.

It’s important to note that file size isn’t just an issue for adding 3D to places like eComm and B2B selling tools. Having light 3D files is also important for internal design reviews so that teams can easily share web-based 3D models with multiple stakeholders.

3D File Types

3D file formats divide into proprietary formats, specific to a particular platform, and open-source formats, which can be used in their own right or as mediums for converting between proprietary formats. Some of today’s most common formats include:

  • glTF (Graphics Language Transmission Format), an open-source format that comes in .gltf and .glb extensions and is becoming a popular standard for 3D shopping
  • FBX (Filmbox), a proprietary format owned by Autodesk, popular for animation and as an exchange format between other formats
  • OBJ, a format that may be used in open-source or proprietary forms, helps store shape, texture, and color information for applications such as 3D scanning but not for animation
  • USD (Universal Scene Description) and USDZ (USD zip file): developed as a proprietary format by Pixar and Apple and later released as open-source, used for AR applications on iOS devices
  • STL (stereolithography): an open-source format used for 3D printing
  • STEP (Standard for the Exchange of Product model data) or STP: an open-source format used for engineering and defense industry applications
  • COLLADA (Collaborative Design Activity), .dae(digital asset exchange) extension: An open-source format originally developed by Sony and later taken over by the nonprofit Khronos Group, COLLADA was once popular for physics applications but has been superseded by glTF.

Which format to use depends on considerations such as your purpose and the software you and your collaborators use.

Common Misconceptions About Web Viewers

Web viewers are apps that enable 3D files to be viewed by website visitors in a form that looks realistic to the human eye. They are a critical component for scaling 3D across an organization. However, some common misconceptions surround them. Here are a few:

“They are expensive.”

Actually, web viewers aren’t expensive. Free versions are available, as well as cost-effective premium versions.

“We can build it in-house.”

Technology is changing rapidly, and outdated viewers may not work with new 3D model standards.

“They’re all the same.”

All 3D web viewers are not the same. Some have functions like annotations which allow users to comment directly on the 3D model and link to a unique user profile. Others are customized and don’t meet the Khronos Group standard, which means your files may look different in the web viewer than in other applications.

Essential features to look for in a web viewer include:

  • Whether your web viewer needs to function as an iframe (which pulls the webviewer from an external location) or a JavaScript (which can be installed locally and allow you to load 3D models from anywhere)
  • Lighting controls allow you to adjust the lighting relationship between the web viewer’s content and its surrounding environment
  • HDRI (high dynamic range image) maps are used to store data representing realistic lighting effects
  • Bulk edit functionality, allowing you to edit multiple items at once rather than trying to adjust lighting for individual items, an approach that can become prohibitive at scale

Look for the features most relevant to your technical and business needs.

Now that you’ve had a crash course on 3D and AR technology basics, you are ready to learn about the benefits of 3D and AR for fashion marketing teams.