Jan 19, 2015 | By Simon

Inspired to help his teenage daughter become more comfortable with 3D printing and working within a 3D modeling environment, 3D printing enthusiast Mark Durbin didn’t just simply sit down and show her a step-by-step process, he went and coded an entire web application that would turn her 2D drawings into 3D printable lithophane STL files in an effort to spark her interest.  

Lithophanes, which are a copy of an original piece of text, photo and/or graphical work by an artist or craftsman, are capable of reproducing an image with high-quality results through the use of a backlight:    

It’s fitting that Durbin’s daughter had a natural attraction to drawing on paper with pencils...because allowing her to show off her 2D work that she had done by hand with a 3D printed reproducable replica was perhaps one of the best ways of introducing her to 3D printing.  

“Seeing her potential and wishing to open up the 3D world to her, I thought a series of very easy to use tools may help her to dip her toes in the 3D printing waters and see if she likes it – on her terms,” said Mark on his blog.

What came as a result was the Lithopane from Image Utility

According to the utility description, “With [Lithopane from Image Utility] a user can set the output dimensions and quality, view the monochrome 2D brightness reference image, view and zoom around the generated lithophane and Drag & Drop images from your computer.”

Although the app was originally designed for Durbin and his daughter to use at home, he wanted to make the tools as accessible as possible for anybody else that may share the same interest - and he even included the original source code in the case that other users might want to make their own modifications.    

To use the utility tool, all that a user has to do is simply locate a file on their hard drive and drag/drop onto their browser for the program to upload it.

Once an image is uploaded, the utility's code goes through the following steps to generate a 3D printable STL file:

  • 2D processing – converting the image to a brightness monochrome image
  • Processing Vectors – adding each of the points to the 3D mesh
  • Processing Faces – adding each of the triangles (2 per square)
  • Processing Surface –  adding the features that allow light to reflect off the surface
  • Adding to scene –  putting it into the three.js scene for viewing
  • Creating STL file –  Arranging the Vectors and Faces onto a binary STL format
  • Downloading – initialising a download of the STL Blob.

A user is then able to use variable control sliders to fine-tune their intended results and repeat the process until they are left with a desirable result.  Among the variables include maximum size, border size, material thickness, vectors per pixel and stand depth.  Once the image has been generated, it automatically downloads as a 3D print-ready STL file based on the chosen parameters.  

In total users are able to set:

  • Max Size – the largest X or Y dimension of the output lithophane.
  • Thickness – the maximum Z dimension of the output lithophane.
  • Border – the thickness of the border around the edge
  • Thinnest layer – This is the layer thickness for the brightest pixels in the image
  • Vectors per pixel – each of the pixels in the image is translated into a number of 3D points on the surface of the lithophane, the larger this number, the more detailed the output (and the larger the STL file/slower the processing).

Adds Durbin:

“My daughter is happy with the first tool I’ve made for her and I have received some external feedback that is positive as well, which is very nice to get.”

Try the tool out for yourself and give Durbin some feedback on it here.  



Posted in 3D Design


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Johnny wrote at 7/1/2015 10:01:25 PM:

I'm trying to print it on makerbot. Some questions: - how many mm (2 or 3?) would be recommended for a good print? - How many shells are recommended? (default is 2) - How much % infill is recommended? (default at 10%)

Mark Durbin wrote at 1/31/2015 1:02:40 PM:

Updated to include curved and cylindrical lithophanes @3dCurious, which browser are you using, it would appear that it has completed the conversion, but the download did not happen. Try Chrome and see if it fixes your problem :)

3dCurious wrote at 1/22/2015 4:18:39 AM:

Doesn't work

3dCurious wrote at 1/22/2015 12:16:08 AM:

Nothing happens. It sits on 95%.

3dCurious wrote at 1/22/2015 12:13:41 AM:

Nothing happens

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