Jun 1, 2015 | By Simon

While we’ve seen how 3D printing can help bring to life a wide range of physical objects, most probably wouldn’t even begin to consider a two-dimensional photograph as something that could be converted into a physical object - but surprise; it can!

Also known as lithophanes, a lithophane is an etched piece of artwork or a photograph that shows a grayscale relief when you shine a light behind it.  The creation of the grayscale representation of the image is dependent on the original color of the image before it is calculated into a particular height.  Each pixel undergoes the process and while darker colors will feature taller layer heights that allow for a minimal amount of light to shine through, lighter colors have less material that allows for more light to shine through.  

While lithophanes have been in existence since the early 19th century (when they were made by hand), the ability to create them easily using free online software and a 3D printer has helped them see a resurgence in popularity.  

For those looking to create their own lithophanes for a unique and custom gift, the new "How to 3D Print a Photo: Lithophanes 10Instructable by Instructables user ‘sstone137’ gives perhaps one of the finest step-by-step tutorials that we’ve ever seen for getting started with creating your own 3D printed lithophane.  Among other steps of the process that ‘sstone137’ goes over include the basics of choosing a good photo for the process, sizing an image to prepare for the STL creation, a software example of converting an image into an STL and finally, the different ways that light can be used to best display the 3D printed lithophane.  

Starting with the image itself, ‘sstone137’ recommends considering three important factors before even starting the creation process.  These include the picture resolution, the color contrast within the image and finally, the 3D printer that you plan on using to produce your final lithophane.  Among other factors discussed by ‘sstone137’ in these variables, the picture resolution should be relative to the size of the final 3D printed object while the contrast of the image should be enough to reveal important details.  Ultimately, these factors come down to the kind of 3D printer one is using as well as the technology used by the 3D printer that can affect the output resolution.  

Once a suitable image has been picked and a final output size established, the next critical step in creating a 3D printed lithophane is to pick a suitable software option for generating the necessary STL file.  According to ‘sstone137’, this is the most important step of the entire process and should not be overlooked - because even with some slight overlooked details, very weird things can happen with the resulting 3D print.  After messing around with multiple software options that are designed for different operating systems, it was determined that the browser-based “Image to Lithophane” program is the best both of the quality of the lithophane output as well as its ability to work across multiple operating systems.  

From this stage, all that’s needed is to upload the already-optimized image, and play with the print setting variables that are available within the Image to Lithophane interface.  Among other settings, these include the final intended output shape, thickest layer, thinnest layer and resolution.  Once the file has been created, all that remains in the process is simply printing the final lithophane design.  Thankfully, ‘sstone137’ even went so far as to recommend various light sources including natural light and custom backlighting to ensure that the final lithophane shines as intended.  

“My hopes are that I will inspire at least one person to give this a shot,” he adds.  

“It really is something that I think is quite incredible, and I still haven’t met anyone that doesn’t think it is amazing when you flick the power switch on and magically a picture appears!”

Read the project instructions in-full over at the project's Instructables page.  



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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bill white wrote at 12/12/2017 9:12:31 PM:

why do I keep getting a 'failure to load binary file " message

MOREL francois wrote at 7/23/2017 5:07:56 PM:

I would like ask to you how you do the holes to the first photo up? Thanks. Francois

Dan Cassidy wrote at 5/18/2016 8:34:20 AM:

Cool , also have 3dshook apps tools , they make lithophanes just by dragging an image in the appz pro tab.

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