By providing two examples, the option for embedding 3D models in electronic versions of life science publications is presented. These examples, presumably representing the first such models published, are developmental stages of an evertebrate (Patella caerulea, Mollusca) and a vertebrate species (Psetta maxima, Teleostei) obtained from histological section series reconstruction processed with the software package Amira. These surface rendering models are particularly suitable for a PDF file because they can easily be transformed to a file format required and components may be conveniently combined and hierarchically arranged. All methodological steps starting from specimen preparation until embedding of resulting models in PDF files with emphasis on conversion of Amira data to the appropriate 3D file format are explained. Usability of 3D models in PDF documents is exemplified and advantages over 2D illustrations are discussed, including better explanation capabilities for spatial arrangements, higher information contents, and limiting options for disguising results by authors. Possibilities for additional applications reaching far beyond the examples presented are suggested. Problems such as long-term compatibility of file format and hardware plus software, editing and embedding of files, file size and differences in information contents between printed and electronic version will likely be overcome by technical development and increasing tendency toward electronic at the cost of printed publications. Since 3D visualization plays an increasing role in manifold disciplines of science and appropriate tools for the popular PDF format are readily available, we propose routine application of this way of illustration in electronic life science papers. Microsc. Res. Tech., 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.