The difference between 360° photography and “real” 3D product representations.

When people talk about 3D product representations, they often confuse it with 360° photos. This seems obvious, as both representations allow a more detailed view for the user of an online shop. They even use the same phenomenon to convince customers to buy a product or more of it. Still there are huge differences when it comes to explaining product functionality and the increase of online interactions. To increase the knowledge of these two types of visualizations, this article will show the main commonalities and differences of 360° photography and "real” 3D product representations.

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With modern techniques, both 360° photos and 3D product representations can be presented in a photorealistic quality. This is indispensable in branches, where looks are the focus. The most obvious example for this is the fashion industry.


Both techniques allow users to zoom in to a specific detail or characteristic. While 360° photos mostly have a predefined zoom via hover, there are examples of infinitely variable zoom (Example from This is also used by 3D product representations and allows the user to exactly see the product section which is the most interesting for him/her.

Predefined viewing angle

The criterium of a predefined point of view is one of the main differences between 360° photography and 3D representations. While 360° photos are like a video, where you can scroll back and forth, users are not able to turn the product the way they would do in a brick and mortar store. That’s why 360° photos are often supplemented by more photos showing the product from above and below. 3D on the other hand enables users to turn the product in any way they want.

Interactive Triggers

Another main difference is that 3D product representations allow users to interact with the product proactively. 3D product representations mainly use two different additional interaction triggers: Rich Media Annotations and Animations. While annotations are often used in classical photos (like in this great example from Native Instruments) they also take place within 3D product representations. This allows users to get detailed information about specific characteristics of a product at the exact point where this characteristic is met. In addition, Animations enable sellers to simulate all functions. Multi-Level Animations can be used as step-by-step- guide to best explore the product, it’s functionalities and special features. This enables an additional experience for users.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

360° photos need to be cropped to create suitable models that they can use for virtual reality or augmented reality applications. The resulting models retain the lighting and shadows exactly as the original photos. This leads to product models appearing unnatural or strange in sceneries. With 3D product representations, sellers can adjust lighting for realistic representations in Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Use Cases.

VRxs Table differences 360 and 3d

“3D product visualizations are the closest you can get to brick and mortar-feeling in digital channels”

Future Applications and Use Cases

The web is becoming 3D. With Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore the time has come for totally new user experiences. The chances for the e-commerce industry are enormous. Shops can now clearly differentiate themselves by enhancing the shopping experience with new technologies. Virtual Wardrobes, virtual product simulations and the nearest you can get to a haptic feeling in a brick and mortar store will make online shopping more efficient.