3D printers can be used in a lot of creative ways, including for making high-quality lithophanes. In essence, lithophanes are 3D representations of photos and they’re a great way of presenting your best photos in a more interesting way.
When you first print a lithophane, you won’t see much, but once you place a light source behind it your mind will be blown by the details. These embossed photos come to life thanks to the way light passes through the thinner sections and are blocked by the thicker ones. The difference in light is what recreates the photo.
Now, let’s explore this type of art and learn how to create your own high-quality lithos using your 3D printer.
Producing a Lithophane
You’ll find a lot of programs that can create a lithophane from a photo, but they all follow the same process. For example, you can even use Photoshop, or you can use a dedicated lithophane generating tool like ItsLitho.
Whatever you use, the tool detects the subject in the photo and embosses it. Then, it creates a near border around it before producing the STL file. With that being said, let’s discuss the process in more detail.
While Photoshop doesn’t seem the program of choice when working with 3D models, Adobe introduced a series of features (from CS5 onwards) that enable us to create lithophane. Now, we’re going to use a Photoshop Action designed to do most of the work for us. The manual process would take too long, especially when you can do a quick Google search and find an action for lithophanes. However, if you’re an experienced Photoshop user, you can give it a shot.
To get started, open your source image. Keep in mind that it should be preferably black and white with high contrast. This way they’ll turn out clearer. Complex photos with a lot of elements that blend together usually turn into a disaster. So, if you don’t have a black and white photo, simply convert it to grayscale by heading to Image > Adjustments and selecting the Black and White options. Next, you can run the action you downloaded by accessing the Actions panel. Photoshop will automatically perform a set of actions that will turn the 2D image into a 3D object.
Once you have the result, it will probably look somewhat bad. This depends on your source image. But you can easily improve it. The problem is that your image was too clear and Photoshop converted every single sharp detail, making the final model look rough on the eyes. To fix that, you need to blue the source image to soften it. This will create a cleaner model that is easier to print.
Once you have a model you’re happy with, you can export it as an STL file for the printer to recognize. You can print directly using Photoshop as well, but it’s better to rely on your slicer instead. To export the STL file, head to the 3D menu and find “3D Print Settings”. Select “Print To” > “Local” and instead of “Printers” choose to export to “STL File”. Set the level of detail to maximum and start the export process. That’s it! You now have a lithophane model that can be printed.
Using a Conversion Tool
Alternatively, you can use an online conversion tool if you aren’t used to using Photoshop. All you’ll need to do is upload your source image. The software will automatically handle the lithophane conversion for you. However, depending on its features, you’ll be able to choose from a collection of shapes. Select anything you want and once you’re happy with your model, you can download it as an STL file.
The conversion tool I use is https://3dp.rocks/lithophane/
Printing your Model
The printing process is simple because it works just like with any other model. You just need to consider a few additional factors:
- Lithophanes are all about photographic detail. Therefore, you should print them at low speeds to get the best quality possible.
- Remember that a light source has to go through the lithophane to make every detail visible. To get the best result, infill should be set to 100%.
- Avoid using transparent materials.
- If you intend to make a vertical print, the layer height should be set low.
Want more specifics?
- Make sure you have 100% infill
- Print at 40mm/s
- Make your layer height .1 or .15
- Use a .4mm nozzle or smaller unless you’re printing bigger lithos
- Alternatively you can make them with a resin printer but use a white resin to get the best possible outcome.
That’s all it really takes to print a lithophane. However, you can further improve its quality through post-processing.
Due to the nature of the lithophane, post-processing has to be performed gently. Certain sections of the model are thin. To obtain a good finish, you should cure the model at a low temperature (around 40 °C) over a few minutes. Anything more than that might damage the thinner sections.
Bring your favorite memories to life using 3D printing! Making lithophanes is easy and fun. You can use them to decorate your home, send them to your friends and family as gifts, or even display them in an art gallery.
Once you’re done making one, it might look like a piece of plastic with some terrible scratching on it, but if you shine some light through it comes to life. Furthermore, if you have access to an SLA printer, you can produce incredible results with a lot of detail. Lithophanes are a simple way of adding a new dimension to your photos and turn them into something original that can be appreciated by anyone.
Cover Photo Credit to: https://3dnewb.com/litho-software/?fbclid=IwAR0O3M3VDeq_WY_-Xodb00cfoK6lF-fZLrchkjX-YXBP49NT0qfM8kLrpbY