Draw Text as 3D Objects with OpenGL

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Draw Text as 3D objects with OpenGL

There are a couple of functions in WGL (Windows Graphics Library) which can be used to draw text as nice 3D objects in OpenGL. There is a well known example at NeHe. However, this is not portable at all, and since I'm using Qt anyway, I was looking for a way to have this done with Qt. I was surprised that there was no such function already available within Qt, but then I stumbled across this example on Stackexchange that got me started.

Before I get to the code, some drawbacks of this example:

  • It uses the fixed-function pipeline. (GL_QUAD_STRIP's and DisplayLists). Im sure this can be done in a "more modern" way with VBO's, but my OpenGL knowlegde is not yet at that level.
  • it relies on GLU for polygon tesselation. There might be better alternatives around or even some within Qt.
  • No real character set (or even UTF) handling. It only uses the first 256 characters.
  • side effects on the matrix.

The example uses QFont to get the font outline for each character (glyph). The basic idea is to create two flat outline-polygons for the front- and back-"plane" of a glyph and then create the "wrapping" in between the front- and backplane. Although it seems more difficult at first, it was pretty easy to create the wrapping in between the two outline-polygons with GL_QUAD_STRIP. The tricky bit was the polygon tesselation of the glyph outline, because the glyph-polygons are not concave and may have one or more holes. I'm using the polygon tesselation facility available in GLU.

The text3d class can be subclassed by a GLWidget or GLWindow object. There are only 2 functions required to draw text: initfont() and print(). The initialization of the font cannot easily be done in the constructor, because the contest is probably not initialized during construction. Therefore the initfont().


  1. include <QOpenGLFunctions>
  2. include <QString>
  3. include <QFont>
  4. include <QFontMetricsF>

class Text3D { public:

void initfont(QFont & f, int thickness); // set up a font and specify the "thickness"
void print(QString text); // print it in 3D!


void buildglyph(GLuint b, int c); // create one displaylist for character "c"
QFont * font;
QFontMetricsF *fm;
float glyphthickness;
GLuint base; // the "base" of our displaylists


The implementation file: text3d.cpp

  1. include <QFont>
  2. include <QList>
  3. include <QPainter>
  4. include <QOpenGLFunctions>
  5. include <QChar>
  6. include <gl/GLU.h>
  7. include "text3d.h"

typedef void (__stdcall *TessFuncPtr)(); // defintion of the callback function type

Text3D::Text3D() // nothing special in the constructor

: glyphthickness(1.0f)
, base(0)


The initialization just loops through the first 256 char's and calls buildglyph() for each of them. void Text3D::initfont(QFont & f, float thickness) {

font = &f;
fm = new QFontMetricsF(f);
glyphthickness = thickness;
if(base) // if we have display lists already, delete them first
glDeleteLists(base, 256);

base = glGenLists(256); // generate 256 display lists

if(base == 0)
qDebug() << "cannot create display lists.";

for(int i=0; i<256;+i) // loop to build the first 256 glyphs

buildglyph(base+i, (char)i);

} The print() function uses glCallLists() to "interpret" a complete string. See below how the char-by-char advance works. void Text3D::print(QString text) {

glPushAttrib(GL_LIST_BIT); // Pushes The Display List Bits
glListBase(base); // Sets The Base Character to 0
glCallLists(text.length(), GL_UNSIGNED_BYTE, text.toLocal8Bit()); // Draws The Display List Text
glPopAttrib(); // Pops The Display List Bits

} At the beginning we need to set up both, the tesselation and the display list. void Text3D::buildglyph(GLuint listbase, int c) // this is the main "workhorse" function. Create a displaylist with

// ID "listbase" from character "c"
GLUtriangulatorObj *tobj;
QPainterPath path;
path.addText(QPointF(0,0),*font, QString((char)c));
QList<QPolygonF> poly = path.toSubpathPolygons(); // get the glyph outline as a list of paths
// set up the tesselation
tobj = gluNewTess();
gluTessCallback(tobj, GLU_TESS_BEGIN, (TessFuncPtr)glBegin);
gluTessCallback(tobj, GLU_TESS_VERTEX, (TessFuncPtr)glVertex3dv);
gluTessCallback(tobj, GLU_TESS_END, (TessFuncPtr)glEnd);
glNewList(listbase, GL_COMPILE); // start a new list
gluTessBeginPolygon(tobj, 0 ); // start tesselate
// first, calculate number of vertices.
int elements = 0; // number of total vertices in one glyph, counting all paths.
for (QList<QPolygonF>::iterator it = poly.begin(); it != poly.end(); it)
elements= ('it).size();

Now it's ready to tesselate the "front plate" polygon.

GLdouble vertices = (GLdouble ) malloc(elements 3 * sizeof(GLdouble));
int j = 0;
for (QList<QPolygonF>::iterator it = poly.begin(); it != poly.end(); it+) // enumerate paths
int i = 0;
for (QPolygonF::iterator p = (*it).begin(); p != it->end(); p) // enumerate vertices
int off = j+i;
vertices[off+0] = p->rx();
vertices[off+1] = -p->ry();
vertices[off+2] = 0; // setting Z offset to zero.
gluTessVertex(tobj, &vertices[off], &vertices[off] );
i=3; // array math
j = (*it).size()*3; // some more array math

Do the whole tesselation a second time with an offset applied for the "back plate". The "offset" (thickness) is set in

gluTessBeginPolygon(tobj, 0 );
j = 0;
for (QList<QPolygonF>::iterator it = poly.begin(); it != poly.end(); it)
int i = 0;
for (QPolygonF::iterator p = (*it).begin(); p != it->end(); p)
int off = j+i;
vertices[off+0] = p->rx();
vertices[off+1] = -p->ry();
vertices[off+2] = -glyphthickness; // Z offset set to "minus glyphtickness"
gluTessVertex(tobj, &vertices[off], &vertices[off] );
j = (*it).size()*3;
free(vertices); // no need for the vertices anymore

The "wrapping" between the two "plates" is simple compared to the tesselation.

for (QList<QPolygonF>::iterator it = poly.begin(); it != poly.end(); it)
QPolygonF::iterator p;
for (p = (*it).begin(); p != it->end(); p)
glVertex3f(p->rx(), -p->ry(), 0.0f);
glVertex3f(p->rx(), -p->ry(), -glyphthickness);
p = (*it).begin();
glVertex3f(p->rx(), -p->ry(), 0.0f); // draw the closing quad
glVertex3f(p->rx(), -p->ry(), -glyphthickness); // of the "wrapping"

This is where the char-by-char advance is done. Get the width from the font metrics and apply a glTranslate() with that value. This goes into the displaylist as well. (This may have side-effects as the matrix is not in the same "state" as before the call[[Image:|Image:]]!)

GLfloat gwidth = (float)fm->width©;
glTranslatef(gwidth ,0.0f,0.0f);

} The whole thing can actually be used in a init() and render() functions within a OpenGL object like this: init() {

text = "Qt is great!";
QFont dfont("Comic Sans MS", 20);
QFontMetrics fm(dfont);
textwidth = fm.width(text);
qDebug() << "width of text: " << textwidth;

render() {

glMatrixMode(GL_MODELVIEW); // To operate on model-view matrix
glLoadIdentity(); // Reset the model-view matrix
glTranslatef(0, 0.0f, –500.0f); // Move right and into the screen
glRotatef(rot, 1.0f, 0.0f, 0.0f); // Rotate On The X Axis
glRotatef(rot*1.5f, 0.0f, 1.0f, 0.0f); // Rotate On The Y Axis
glRotatef(rot*1.4f, 0.0f, 0.0f, 1.0f); // Rotate On The Z Axis
glColor3f( 1.0f*float(cos(rot/20.0f)), // Animate the color

glTranslatef(-textwidth/2.0f, 0.0f, 0.0f); // textwidth holds the pixel width of the text
// Print GL Text To The Screen
rot=0.3f; // increase rot value
if(rot > 2000.f) rot = 0.0f; // wrap around at 2000