3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (2023)

Maybe you are reading this in front of your computer. Or maybe you have a glass of water next to you.

If you look at any of these objects that surround you, it is clear that they are objects in 3d. But, what is the math definition for a three-dimensional figure?

In this article, we will learn more about 3-dimensional figures and their applications.

What is a 3-dimensional figure?

A three-dimensional shape is a geometric body with 3 dimensions of space that are, length, width, and depth. Sometimes the depth is referred to as height.

For example, imagine you grab a box from a certain delivery company.

If you put the box in a way that you can only observe one of its faces, you will be observing a plane surface in 2d, and then you will be observing just the length and width of that face.

But if you turn it a little bit you will see that the box also has some depth. That is what we refer to with three-dimensional figures.

As you may have observed with the box, these three-dimensional shapes have volume. In math, we define volume as the quantity of space inside a closed surface.

Grabbing the box again and if you open it now, the volume would be the quantity of space inside the box. We will learn later how to compute this volume.

These geometric shapes generally, except for some exceptions we will use, have faces which are the surfaces with a certain surface area that delimitate the figure. These faces join in vertices, which are points of union.

Finally, the lines that delimitate these surfaces and the contour of the geometric figure are named edges. We would compare them with the sides of the 2-dimensional shapes.

3-dimensional figures examples

Taking the look away from this article and looking around you, you will probably identify a lot of three-dimensional figures with different structures. From the bed to the chair, to the table or even to the books you use to study. All of them are 3d shapes as they have the 3 dimensions we mentioned before; length, width, and depth, and also because they have volume.

We distinguish between regular and irregular 3d shapes. We will focus on the regular three-dimensional figures, as they are more common in math.

Cone

A cone is a three-dimensional figure that we would obtain if we make a right triangle (that has one angle equal to 90º) turn around with one of its sides fixed, so we get a shape in 3d. This figure normally has a circular base and a vertex where the lateral surface of the cone tapers to.

The base does not have to necessarily be a circle, it can also be another two-dimensional circular figure such as an oval. You can observe this shape in the real world when you look at the traffic cones.

Pyramid

This figure is similar to the cone, but in this case, the base does not have a circular form. The base is a two-dimensional figure with three or more sides such as a triangle, square, rectangle, etc.

As the geometric form of the base can vary, it also changes the number of edges. All of its surfaces, no matter how much it has, taper to a vertex.

The famous pyramids of Egypt are one example of these geometric shapes, in this case, they have a squared base.

Cube

This geometric figure consists of six faces of the equal-area meeting three of them in a single vertex, with a total of eight vertices and a total of twelve edges.

An example of a cube is a dice. If you observe it, all of the faces of a regular dice have the same surface and each vertex of it works as a union for three different faces.

Rectangular prism

It is similar to the cube, as it also has eight vertices, twelve edges, and six faces, but in this case, all of the faces are not equal. Each face is equal to its opposite, therefore we have pairs of equal faces.

An example of a rectangular prism could be a drawer or even a box, although sometimes they have the shape of a cube.

There exist other kinds of prisms, regarding the shape of its base and the opposite face. For example, if these faces have the shape of a triangle, it is a triangular prism that will have five faces in total instead of the six faces that the rectangular prism has. But this base (and the opposite face) can have another 2-dimensional figure that gives different types of prisms: pentagonal prisms, hexagonal prisms, etc.

Cylinder

The shape of this figure can remind you of a rectangular prism, but in this case, it has two surfaces, which are called the top and bottom (or base) of the figure, that consist of two-dimensional circular figures.

This figure does not have any vertex. The surface that connects those two faces is essentially a rectangle but curved.

You can find these kinds of geometric shapes in cans or some glasses.

Sphere

A football, a basketball, or maybe, if we do not want to just limit ourselves to the sports world: a bubble. All of these objects share one common thing: they are spheres.

These geometric shapes are obtained if we make a circle, which is a two-dimensional figure, turned around its diameter. The volume this revolution describes is defined as a sphere.

As it happens with the circle in two dimensions, all of the points of the surface are equally distanced from the point in the center of the figure. This distance is called the radius. If we trace a distance between two points of the surface of the sphere that goes through the center of it, this distance is called the diameter of the sphere, which corresponds to two times the radius.

Formulas of 3-dimensional figures

When working with 3d shapes, there are some things we might want to know about them. In particular, there are two characteristics we are interested in.

The first one is the area of the figure.

The area of the figure is the quantity of surface that the faces of the figure occupy. The units for the surface area of the figure are the units of area, being the square meter the standard one (m2).

To obtain the total surface area of the figure we have to sum the areas of each face of the shape. We should not confuse the surface area of the figure with its volume. The area consists only of the surface of the faces, independently of what is inside of them.

On the other hand, we have the volume of the figure.

The volume of a figure is the quantity of space there is inside the surface delimited by the faces of the figure. The units for the volume are the units of volume, being the cube meter as the standard one.

If we grab again the box we have talked about in this article, you can see that the surface of the cardboard used for all of the faces corresponds to the surface area of the box, but the space there which is inside the box corresponds to its volume.

Let’s see how some of the math equations for the 3d shapes we have seen before.

Area and volume of a cone

The surface area of a three-dimensional figure is the sum of the areas of its faces.

For a cone, the surface area of its base is 3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (1), where r is the radius of the circle. The area of the lateral face is 3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (2), being g the distance between any point of the edge of the base to the vertex. Therefore, the surface area of a cone can be generally expressed as,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (3).

The volume for a cone is given by the following formula,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (4),

where h is the distance from the center of the base to the vertex.

Area and volume of a pyramid

In this case, the formulas of the area and volume will depend on the number of edges the base has.

For example, if the pyramid has a squared base, the surface area of the pyramid will be the sum of the area of the square 3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (5) with the sum of the areas of each triangle that connects the vertices 3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (6). In general, we can express the surface area of a pyramid as,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (7)

Be careful, as the base does not have to be regular, and the surface area of the triangles that connect with the vertex does not have to be either.

The volume of a pyramid will also depend on the base it has. For a square pyramid, the volume follows the formula,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (8)

being

  • h the distance from the center of the base to the vertex

  • l the length of the edges of the base.

Area and volume of a rectangular prism and a cube

In this case, as the rectangular prism and the cube are formed by six faces, to obtain the total surface area of the figure we just have to sum the areas of each face.

For the cube, all six faces will have the same area, but for the rectangular prism, as each face is equal to its opposite, there are three different values. A general math expression for the surface area of a rectangular prism is,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (9)

where A1 , A2 , and A3 are the three different values of those areas. The area of a rectangle is 3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (10).

The volume for those shapes is the multiplication of the three edges; the length, the width, and the depth of the prism, such as,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (11)

In the case of the cube, as all of the sides are equally long, we have,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (12)

Area and volume of a cylinder

The cylinder consists of two circles that are the top and bottom of the figure and a curved rectangle. Therefore, if the area for a circle is 3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (13), the sum of all the areas is,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (14)

where h is the height from one point of the bottom to the point in the top at the same position.

The volume for the cylinder is described by the following equation,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (15)

Area and volume of a sphere

The sphere we know is a different type of geometrical figure, as it is not formed by the union of different faces. That is why we need a math expression to compute its surface area,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (16)

And the volume for the sphere is determined by the following formula,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (17).

Examples of problems on 3-dimensional figures

Now, let us look into some examples of problems you may encounter on 3-dimensional figures.

Find the volume of water that is needed to fill a cylindrical glass cup of height 12cm and radius 7cm. Take 3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (18).

Solution

Using

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (19)

then,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (20)

Kohe wishes to make a conical cap of a radius of 14cm and a height of 20cm for 8 friends ahead of his birthday party. What is the total area of the cardboard paper does he need to make all 8 for his friends?

Solution

First we find the total surface area of one conical cap. Using

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (21)

In this case, g is the height of the cone which is 20cm and r is 14cm. Hence,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (22)

But this is just the area of 1onecone, you need to find the area of 8 cones. Thus,

3-Dimensional Figures: Definition, Area & Example (23)

Hence Kohe would need a cardboard with a total surface area of 11,968cm2 to successfully make 8 conical caps for his friends ahead of his birthday party.

3-Dimensional Figures - Key takeaways

  • Three-dimensional figures consist of shapes with three dimensions; length, width, and depth. Sometimes depth is referred to as height.
  • These figures have surfaces that formed them called faces. The faces join themselves in vertices. And the lines that delimit these faces are called edges.
  • There are lots of different examples of 3d shapes. Some of the most used figures are the cone, the pyramid, the cube, the prisms, the cylinder, and the sphere.
  • Some 3-dimensional figures such as the cone, the pyramid, or the sphere are obtained if you make a two-dimensional figure revolute around one of its axes or edges.
  • The area of a three-dimensional figure is the surface occupied by its faces. Generally, the area of a three-dimensional figure is obtained by summing the surface areas of all of its faces. The volume of the 3d shapes is the space that is inside of the surface delimited by its faces. To obtain it we use different formulas regarding the figure we want to calculate the volume of.
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