One of the foundations of our creative process at Zappar is to avoid thinking of AR as a box to be ticked - it's all about focusing on creating high quality content. But when you start out crafting your own projects, achieving this focus can be harder than it sounds. After all, one of the most exciting things about AR is the technology itself, so the initial process of incorporating a digital layer to the world can feel like it’s 'enough'.
But as AR technology becomes increasingly normalized, it’s clear that a professional grade AR experience that really clicks with people is all about an engaging user experience and powerful storytelling - and that means using high quality assets which your users will love interacting with.
That’s not always easy - there are a staggering range of options available, not to mention a wide array of prices and levels of quality. So I’ve sought the advice of my creative team to give you a comprehensive list of our favourite assets, where to find them and how to integrate them to take your AR projects to the next level.
Sketchfab integration brings a huge library of 3D content directly into Studio 6
The best 3D assets for your AR projects
Grab your users' attention with explorable 3D content. User experience is key, so let's explore how to easily source and import content into ZapWorks Studio 6 that brings the 'wow factor' while loading swiftly on mobile devices.
Sourcing 3D models for AR
It’s little surprise that the majority of the most popular AR experiences we create at Zappar feature 3D models. They are one of my favourite ways to leverage AR because of the interactivity and immersive nature of the end result - your user is no longer a passive viewer of your end design, they can now ‘meet’ your creation in the real world.
That’s why I’m so excited about the recent integration of Sketchfab into ZapWorks Studio 6, as it enables my team and our AR creator community to access hundreds of thousands of high quality 3D models without leaving the toolkit. The ability to easily import 3D models directly into projects is a real time saver and the fact that so many models are available under the Creative Commons 4.0 license means it hits a flexible balance between ensuring creative credit is given and ease of use.
“Sketchfab integration has made rapidly designing levels, well...even more rapid! I'm able to create full blown, high detail level prototypes with placeholder assets in minutes.”
- Deimantas, AR Developer, Zappar
More broadly, an important thing to keep in mind when picking your 3D models is optimizing your project for a wide audience. Remember that people will often be accessing your work on a wide range of devices and in all sorts of contexts. High quality 3D models can be pretty weighty, which can affect device performance and lead to big download packages sizes, which can be a major barrier to entry for users using mobile data or older smartphones. I’d recommend giving our article about optimizing your AR experience a good read to inform your 3D model choices - to quote my colleague Chris, our Senior AR Developer, “users care about good content, not poly counts!”.
Our project in collaboration with Shackleton Whisky had a 3D model of a historic boat as its centrepiece, celebrating the brand's heritage and wowing users
Below is a list of websites that we often use to source 3D models for projects. You may need to use a 3D model editor such as Blender (free), Maya or 3Ds Max to make sure that your models work correctly in ZapWorks Studio. For further information about importing 3D models, check out the documentation.
Recommended websites for sourcing 3D models:
“AR also has the potential to make some elements of 3D modelling feel more natural – for example, a more direct sculpting process. We also expect AR, much like VR, to become more popular among concept artists – any new medium is bound to create new forms of art and creativity.”
- Dalia, CG-Trader, from her Zappar Q&A
The best 2D assets for your AR projects
These are the building blocks of your AR experience, spanning the all-important tracking image that will compel your users to scan and interact with your experience, right down to the video content, UI and fonts. Together, these heavily impact the mood and overall aesthetic of your final product.
Sourcing imagery for AR
The Tracking Image is one of the most important components of your AR experience. Think of it as a gateway to your work - if your design fails to entice the user to Zap the code, then they will never get the chance to dive into the incredible content you have built. This calls back to the classic example of how a copywriter’s work interplays with an art director in advertising. If the art director hasn’t done their job properly, no one will take the time to look at the copywriter’s carefully crafted prose!
A good tracking image needs to be more than just attractive - it needs to be optimized for detection to unlock a stable AR experience
When it comes to sourcing 2D assets, it’s best to be working from a well thought out concept. A designer (particularly if they’re working solo) may be responsible for putting together the target image and the UI, so it’s cheaper and more efficient to be matching imagery to your established artistic vision rather than having to experiment on the fly. Of course, this will often mean seeking imagery from a diverse range of sources, so be sure to check that your assets match the criteria laid out in our documentation for importing into Studio - you may need to do some tweaks in Photoshop.
User experience should be at the front of your mind when putting your Tracking Image together - so be sure to explore our team’s advice on designing intuitive UI/UX for AR and think about how to integrate a compelling call to action into your imagery. When I’m working on a new AR experience, I’m always re-focusing back to the fact that your potential users will not interact unless they know how to and why!
Recommended websites for sourcing imagery:
“OpenClipArt is a fantastic repository of really simple public domain graphics, with things like common shapes, primitives, and images that save me a few minutes throwing them together myself”
- Jack, AR Developer, Zappar
Sourcing icons for AR
Making use of icons is a really great way to make your product as accessible as possible. My team at Zappar HQ are often creating AR experiences for diverse, global audiences and utilising icons cuts down on the use of text and lowers the language barrier for users.
Our work with Rovio on their Angry Birds AR experiences utilises simple, fun icons which users find intuitive to use.
There’s a whole world of stylish options out there so it’s worth digging around a variety of sources until you find icons that match your project’s aesthetic as closely as possible.
Recommended websites for sourcing icons:
“I like Octicons as it offers a large range of icons under MIT License. Being on GitHub, they're open source, open to improvements from others and open to everyone. I find them all super-useful when I'm trying to deal with users' input.”
- Deimantas, AR Developer, Zappar
Sourcing buttons for AR
Buttons are such a fundamental part of a truly effective AR project and have a huge influence on both the aesthetic and user experience. It’s important to pick a clear and consistent button style that’s inkeeping with the art design of the rest of your project - users should never feel that a button’s purpose is ambiguous.
It’s something explored further in my previous blog on user experience that I’d recommend you digging into (and not just because I put it together!).
Recommended websites for sourcing buttons:
Sourcing fonts for AR
When working with brands, choosing the right typography is a huge part of ensuring that your AR experience communicates their sense of personality and fits into the agreed upon aesthetic for the project. In these cases, it’s common for a font to have already been sourced, of course. But when working on a personal project, I strongly recommend sticking to a clear and robust font that will render clearly on a mobile device. And of course...avoid Comic Sans!
Our W in a Box connected packaging utilised the brand's playful in-house font.
Recommended websites for sourcing fonts:
Sourcing video for AR
One of the most powerful ways to connect with your audience using AR is through the use of great video. With my work, getting to collaborate with our in-house Videographer, Matt, is a huge help on projects - so be sure to check out his blog on making the absolute most of video in your AR experiences. In Studio, for example, we love using Video in the 3D view - it’s a really special way to display content that users love to engage with.
In Designer, a good tip is to use the first frame of a video as the Tracking Image. Triggering the rest of the image to play when the zapcode is scanned gives the effect of the image ‘coming to life’. It’s awesome, easy to implement and really represents one of the most straight-up but visually impressive elements of AR!
While simple to implement, the effect of a 2D image springing to life remains one of the most popular and effective demonstrations of AR's transformative properties.
When it comes to video editing software that will help you to get the most out of your content, it’s highly competitive and very much down to your own skill level, budget and simply what ‘clicks’ with you - Final Cut, Premiere, and Lightworks are all packages different members of Zappar use.
But remember - be careful to check the licensing restrictions (or lack of) on the videos you select. Many of the options available are CC licensed or rights-free but many are not, so be sure to support your fellow creatives and give appropriate credit when requested, particularly if its for a commercial project.
Recommended websites for sourcing video:
The best audio assets for your AR projects
The impact of audio on your AR experience shouldn't be understated. While working with some limited restrictions in terms of mobile device audio quality, the music, background ambiance and sound effects you choose go a long way in establishing the users' immersion within your project.
Sourcing audio for AR
Audio is an instrumental part of your overall AR composition that can really add depth and emotion to the final experience. From exciting sound effects that reward your users for interacting, to background music that shapes the mood, audio adds a level of depth to your project. So making the right decision on the audio for your experience can be a big factor in building a connection with your end users.
Audio was a big part of the AR-connected Layered Report, balancing atmospheric music and clear speech
To get the most out of your audio, you may need to make use of popular editing tools such as Logic, Cubase or Audacity. It’s also worth exploring our recommended audio specs in our documentation for guidance. Optimizing your audio isn’t just about keeping your package size relatively small, it’s also about maximizing quality in-line with common mobile devices.
Recommended websites for sourcing audio:
- Premium Beat
- Orange Free Sounds
“Freesound is an entirely community driven sound directory, which means over the years a collection of sounds has been built up for all kinds of bizarrely specific purposes. With a little bit of searching, I've been able to find basically anything I need under a CCO license.”
-Jack, AR Developer, Zappar
I really hope you find the recommendations from myself and the team useful. The options can be bewildering, but with so many being free, it’s a great opportunity to experiment and find the right fit for your work. There’s a fantastic community of AR enthusiasts and ZapWorks users over on our Forum who, together with our support staff, are always on hand for suggestions, feedback and discussion when it comes to sourcing assets. Don’t forget, there’s also a wealth of documentation for ZapWorks available for free, with plenty of video tutorials and step-by-step walkthroughs to help you put your newly sourced assets through their AR paces.