This article focuses on the development of a transparent and uniform understanding of possibilities for three-dimensional (3D) imaging in scanning transmission and confocal electron microscopes (STEMs and SCEMs), with an emphasis on the annular dark-field STEM (ADF-STEM), bright-field SCEM (BF-SCEM), and ADF-SCEM configurations. The incoherent imaging approximation and a 3D linear imaging model for ADF-STEM are reviewed. A 3D phase contrast model for coherent-SCEM as well as a pictorial way to find boundaries of information transfer in reciprocal space are reviewed and applied to both BF- and ADF-SCEM to study their 3D point spread functions and contrast transfer functions (CTFs). ADF-STEM is capable of detecting the depths of dopant atoms in amorphous materials but can fail for crystalline materials when channeling substantially modifies the electron propagation. For the imaging of extended (i.e., nonpointlike) features, ADF-STEM and BF-SCEM exhibit strong elongation artifacts due to the missing cone of information. ADF-SCEM shows an improvement over ADF-STEM/BF-SCEM due to its differential phase contrast eliminating slowly varying backgrounds, an effect that partially suppresses the elongation artifacts. However, the 3D CTF still has a cone of missing information that will result in some residual feature elongation as has been observed in A. Hashimoto et al., J Appl Phys160(8), 086101 (2009).