Publishing 3D models in your journal article

Researchers are increasingly making use of 3D modeling as a professional tool. Aside from their primary research use, these models are visual and can give you a unique way to engage with your audience. You can publish your 3D models using Sketchfab in selected Taylor & Francis Online journals.

What is a 3D model?

A 3D model is an image created using software that appears to be three dimensional. It is used to represent a physical 3D object. 

Why are 3D models important?

3D models support better understanding as readers can visualize the subject matter. 3D models in science can be particularly effective, for example modeling complicated concepts. 

Publishing in 3D offers readers the opportunity to interact with your data in a new way. The inclusion of an integrated 3D model enables a much richer interaction with the subject material that really resonates with the nature of the research.

Vector illustration of a character wearing blue, holding a laptop in one hand, and other hand in their pocket.

From an impact perspective, the inclusion of a relevant 3D model can provide a completely independent access point to your research. This opens up the potential for engagement beyond traditional academic communities, offering a highly shareable visualization that is accessible to the wider public, practitioners and non-English language speakers. 

A link to your article will be associated with the 3D version of your model, hosted on an online platform. This can increase the discoverability of your research and allow anyone who is interested the opportunity to learn more. 

What are the benefits of open access publishing

There’s increasing pressure on researchers to show the societal impact of their research. Open access can help your work reach new readers, beyond those with easy access to a research library.

Publishing tips, direct to your inbox

Expert tips and guidance on getting published and maximizing the impact of your research. Register now for weekly insights direct to your inbox.

What is Sketchfab?

Taylor & Francis has recently partnered with the online 3D viewing platform Sketchfab. This has now enabled us to embed a new interactive 3D viewer within our online journals.

The viewer is fully integrated into Taylor & Francis Online and so it does not require the reader to open a new window or navigate away from the main body of the article to interact with the 3D model. Taylor & Francis is the first major publisher to incorporate 3D models within the HTML version of online journal articles.

You can now use this facility to publish your project’s 3D outputs just as you would any other form of data (e.g. tables, charts or illustrations).

3D model in article
Screenshot of a Taylor & Francis online journal article making use of the 3D capability (Herman et al. 2018).

Any 3D outputs published with Taylor and Francis Online will also be available to view via the Taylor & Francis Sketchfab page, offering an additional route to reach the people who will be interested in your work.

Sketchfab example
The same model as it appears in Sketchfab (Taylor & Francis, last accessed 11/06/2019).

Getting started with 3D models

For more information on publishing 3D content please see the journal’s Instructions for Authors on Taylor & Francis Online, or if the journal in which you are looking to publish does not currently support 3D publishing then contact the academic journal Editor and let them know that you would like to make use of this capability.

There’s a full list of the Taylor & Francis journals that currently support online 3D publication, along with links to their relevant Instructions for Authors pages below.

If you’re looking for some advice on building 3D models, then the best practice guides are a great place to start (see links above). For more specific advice, the Sketchfab Blog publishes useful articles and the Sketchfab Forum is an active community of modelers (both professionals and amateurs) with threads that often relate to specific 3D applications or subject areas.

Vector illustration of a large open laptop, with four puzzle pieces that are blue and pink on the screen, and three characters stood around the laptop pointing at the puzzle pieces.

How to make the most of publishing 3D models

1. Follow best practice

There is an increasing number of ‘best practice’ guides and guidelines available. These are frequently tailored to a specific field so relevant professional bodies are often a good place to start. For example, both Historic England and Historic Environment Scotland have put together detailed guidance on the use of 3D modelling and geospatial imagery in heritage and associated fields.

2. Try to be as transparent as possible

No matter the method you use to build your models, or their primary purpose, it is essential that the reader can be confident in their accuracy. It’s therefore good practice to specify the hardware and software that you used along with a basic workflow of any important processes that may have impacted on the final output.

The London Charter is often used by cultural heritage professionals working with computer visualizations and 3D models and lays down a concise framework regarding documentation of methods and practice.

It is especially important to clarify whether your model has been optimized for publication. That way your readers will not equate a reduced visualization with the actual output of your work.

3. Think about the way you present your models

  • Consider the purpose of your model.

Are you trying to show the results of a specific metric test, present an artifact for comparison, or exhibit a reconstructed building or interior?

Different uses will need differing methods of presentation. Have a look at other Sketchfab users via the ‘explore’ tab, such as archaeology and heritage focused Getinsitu, for some ideas on how to present different model types.

Some level of formatting will likely be possible within the software you have used to build the model, but it might also be worth refining your model in a separate package such as Meshlab or Blender. Both are free to use and open source but there are also lots of paid options available such as ZBrush.

  • Make sure you clearly caption your model.

As you would any figure, clearly caption your model, to allow users to get the most out of their interaction. For instance, pointing out features or specific points that might not be at first evident.

Vector illustration of a character wearing grey, holding a pink megaphone in their right hand.
  • Consider adding a scale bar.

 It is sometimes difficult for people who are not familiar with the object or structure to visualize its relative size. As this is not always straight forward, you could alternatively describe the scale in the model’s caption. For example, give the object or building’s total length.

You can also use Sketchfab to visualize more conventional data, as has been done by mjlegg for population density and by for seepage velocity.

4. Get the word out

You have produced an engaging and accessible digital output, so get the word out.

  • Share a link on social media. Direct people to your model’s Sketchfab page (where there will also be a link to your article). Have a look at the post on using Twitter to share your research for some more tips.

  • Add a video clip of your model or even a still image, this will help to gain people’s attention.

  • Find out about the other approaches you can take to promote your research article.