The <model-viewer> web component

Adding 3D models to a website can be tricky; <model-viewer> is as easy as writing HTML.

Joe Medley
Joe Medley

Adding 3D models to a website is tricky. 3D models are ideally shown in a viewer that can work responsively on all browsers including smartphones, desktop, or even new head-mounted displays. The viewer should support progressive enhancement for performance and rendering quality. It should support use cases on all devices ranging from older, lower-powered smartphones to newer devices that support augmented reality. It should stay up to date with current technologies. It should be performant and accessible. However, building such a viewer requires specialty 3D programming skills, and can be a challenge for web developers that want to host their own models instead of using a third-party hosting service.

The <model-viewer> web component, however, lets you declaratively add a 3D model to a web page, while hosting the model on your own site. The goal of the component is to enable adding 3D models to your website without understanding the underlying technology and platforms. The web component supports responsive design, and use cases like augmented reality on some devices. It includes features for accessibility, rendering quality, and interactivity.

What is a web component?

A web component is a custom HTML element built from standard web platform features. A web component behaves for all intents and purposes like a standard element. It has a unique tag, it can have properties and methods, and it can fire and respond to events. In short, you don't need to know anything special to use any web component, much less <model-viewer>.

This article covers features that are particular to <model-viewer>. If you're interested in learning more about web components, is a good place to start.

What can <model-viewer> do?

The following examples demonstrate some capabilities of <model-viewer>.

Basic 3D models

Embedding a 3D model is as simple as the following markup. By using glb files, this component will work on any major browser.

<!-- Import the component -->
<script type="module" src=""></script>
<script nomodule src=""></script>
<!-- Use it like any other HTML element -->

That code renders like this:

Add motion and interactivity

The auto-rotate and camera-controls attributes provide motion and user control. Those aren't the only possible attributes. See the documentation for a complete list of attributes.

<model-viewer src="shark.glb" auto-rotate camera-controls>

Delay loading with poster images

All 3D models take time to load, adding a poster attribute means that an image will be shown until the model is ready to use. A poster image that will look identical to the 3D render can be generated using the editor.

<model-viewer src="shark.glb" controls auto-rotate

Responsive design

The component handles some types of responsive design, scaling for both mobile and desktop. It can also manage multiple instances on a page and uses Intersection Observer to conserve battery power and GPU cycles when a model isn't visible.

Using the editor described previously to create a poster image allows that single image to match the 3D render, even as the aspect ratio of <model-viewer> responds to different screen sizes.

Multiple spacesuit images representing responsiveness.
Multiple spacesuit images representing responsiveness.

More features

Explore the <model-viewer> documentation for demos of more advanced features. These include the ability to add a ground-projected skybox, and create animated textures, and hotspots.