Lithophanes are very interesting objects that can be created through 3D printing. I decided to write an article showing users how to make their own unique lithophanes that they can 3D print.
How to Make a Lithophane for 3D Printing
A lithophane is a 3D version of a 2D picture that shows the image when a light is shined through it.
They work by 3D printing different thicknesses where the image has lighter and darker spots, resulting in more light passing through thin areas and less light in the thicker areas.
You won’t be able to see the detailed image until the lithophane is put against a bright enough light, but when you do, it’s very noticeable.
You can transform any 2D image into lithophane using various techniques that I’ll explain throughout this article. Some methods are very quick, while others take a little more time to get it just right.
In terms of colors, most people recommend 3D printing your lithophanes in white because they show up the best, though it’s possible to do them in color.
PLA is a popular material to 3D print lithophanes, but you can also use PETG and even resins on a resin 3D printer.
Here’s a video that takes you through the process of getting the photo, editing it in a photo editing software like GIMP, then getting it ready to 3D print on a filament 3D printer or resin 3D printer.
On a resin 3D printer, it’s even possible to 3D print a lithophane in less than 20 minutes but printing it flat.
Check out this short video below to see a really cool lithophane in action.
Here’s another cool example of what’s possible with lithophanes.
Here are some cool STL files of lithophanes available for download on Thingiverse so you can print it right after finishing this article:
RCLifeOn has a really fun video on YouTube talking all about 3D printing lithophanes, check it out below.
How to Make a Lithophane in Cura
If you are using Cura as your preferred slicer software and you want to start 3D printing lithophanes, you won’t need to use anything else than the software itself to set up the perfect print.
These are the steps you need to take in order to make a lithophane in Cura:
- Import Selected image
- Make the Base 0.8-3mm
- Turn Off Smoothing or Use Low Values
- Select “Darker is Higher” option
Import Selected Image
It is very easy to transform any image you want into a lithophane using Cura, just drag a PNG or JPEG file into the software and have it transform into a lithophane during the importing process.
That makes it very easy to create this type of object, you’ll just need to test different images to get the best possible quality.
Many Cura users took a lot of time to realize how fast the software can create these beautiful lithophanes ready to be 3D printed.
Make the Base 0.8-2mm
What you need to do after importing the selected image into Cura is making the base value, which determines the thickness of any given point of the lithophane, around 0.8mm, which is good enough to provide a solid base without feeling bulky.
Some people choose to use a thicker base of 2mm+, down to preference, but the thicker the lithophane, the more light it will need to show the image.
One user has printed many high quality lithophanes with a 0.8mm and recommends it to anyone making lithophanes on Cura.
Turn Off Smoothing or Use Low Values
The smoothing will determine the amount of blur that goes into the lithophane, which can make it less defined than the original. For the best looking lithophanes you should turn smoothing all the way down to a zero or use a very little amount at most (1 – 2).
Members of the 3D printing community consider it an essential step in order to properly make lithophanes in Cura.
You can run a quick test to see the difference between using 0 smoothing and 1-2 smoothing when you import the image file to Cura. Here’s one I did, showing a smoothing value of 1 on the left, and 0 on the right.
The one with 0 smoothing does have more overhangs which could be an issue if you have a thicker lithophane. You can see the difference in the detail and sharpness between the two.
Select “Darker is Higher” Option
Another important step in order to successfully make lithophanes in Cura is selecting the “Darker is Higher” option.
This selection will allow you to make the darker parts of the image block the light, this tends to be the default option on the software but it’s good to be aware of it as it will significantly impact your lithophane.
If you 3D print a lithophane with the opposite option selected, “Lighter is Higher” then you will get an inversed image which usually doesn’t look great, but it can be an interesting experimental project.
Check out the video below by Ronald Walters explaining how to use Cura to make your own lithophanes.
How to Make a Lithophane in Fusion 360
You can also use Fusion 360 to create beautiful lithophanes to be 3D printed. Fusion 360 is a free 3D modeling software and it allows you to change more settings when transforming an image into a lithophane.
These are some of the methods you can use to work with lithophanes in Fusion 360:
- Install “Image2Surface” Add-in to Fusion 360
- Add your Image
- Adjust Image Settings
- Convert Mesh to T-Spline
- Use the Insert Mesh Tool
Install “Image2Surface” Add-In to Fusion 360
To create lithophanes using Fusion 360 you will need to install a popular add-on called Image2Surface which allows you to create a 3D surface with whatever image you want. You simply download the file, unzip it, and place it within the Fusion 360 add-ins directory.
This will enable you to create a custom lithophane and have control of every setting when making it.
Add Your Image
The next step is to add your image to the Image2Surface window. It’s recommended not to have an image that has large dimensions, so you might need to resize it to a reasonable 500 x 500 pixel size or near that value.
Adjust Image Settings
Once you open the image, it will create the surface based on the depth of your image that make the lithophane. There are also some settings you can adjust for the image such as:
- Pixels to skip
- Stepover (mm)
- Max Height (mm)
- Invert Heights
- Absolute (B&W)
Once you are happy with your settings and how it looks, simply click “Generate Surface” to create the model. It can take a little time to generate the surface, especially for larger images.
Convert Mesh to T-Spline
This step helps the mesh look better and more cleaned up. To do this, go to the Solid tab, click on Create Form, then go to Utilities, and select Convert.
That will bring up a menu on the right-hand side. You then click the first dropdown Convert Type and select Quad Mesh to T-Splines. You then select the surface you want to convert, which is your image, then hit OK.
It converts to a cleaner and smoother image that’s better for 3D printing.
To finish this up, click Finish Form and it will look a lot better.
Check out the video below that teaches you everything about creating surfaces from images using Fusion 360 and the Image2Surface add-on. Once it’s all installed, you can open up the add-in on Fusion 360.
It’s possible to create custom shape lithophanes in Fusion 360 by altering the mesh section. For example, you can create a hexagonal lithophane or a more specific shape.
One user stated that he even stacked three lithophanes together and 3D printed it as one STL file.
Another way of making a custom shape lithophane on Fusion 360 is to sketch and extrude your custom shape and then insert the lithophane with the Insert Mesh tool and place it on your custom shape.
One user recommended it and said it might not be the prettiest solution, but it worked for him when creating a hexagonal lithophane.
How to Make a Lithophane in Blender
It’s possible to make lithophanes in Blender as well.
If you’re already familiar with the open source software Blender, which is used for 3D modeling among all sorts of other things, and you are looking to start 3D printing lithophanes then there is a way to use Blender to help make them.
One user has success using the following method:
- Make your object shape for the lithophane
- Select the area you want to put the image in
- Subdivide a lot of the area – the higher, the more resolution
- UV unwrap the subdivided area – this unfolds a mesh allowing you to create a 2D texture to fix a 3D object.
- Create a vertex group of the subdivided area
- Use a displacement modifier – this gives your selected image some texture
- Set the texture to your image by pressing new texture and setting to your image
- Clip the image
- Set vertex group you made earlier
- Set the UV map you made earlier – direction normal, with a -1.5 strength and play around with the mid-level.
- The original object where you want the image to be should be around 1mm thick
If there are flat areas on the mesh, change the strength.
It’s possible to make unique shapes like spheres or even a pyramid for your lithophane, you just have to insert the image on the object afterwards.
There are a lot of steps that you might not be able to follow well if you don’t have experience in Blender. Instead, you can follow the video below from a user that edited an image in PhotoShop, then used Blender to create a lithophane to 3D print.
One user made a really cool lithophane using Blender, along with vase mode in Cura. This was done using quite a unique method that uses an add-on in Blender called nozzleboss. It’s a G-Code importer and re-exporter add-on for Blender.
I haven’t seen too many people try this out but it looks really good. If you have Pressure Advance enabled, this method won’t work.
I found another video that shows the process to create a Cylindric lithophane in Blender. There isn’t an explanation of what the user is doing, but you can see the keys being pressed in the top-right corner.
How to Make a Lithophane Sphere
It’s possible to make 3D printed lithophanes in a sphere shape. Many people have created lithophanes as lamps and even for gifts. The steps aren’t too different from making a normal lithophane.
These are the main ways to make a lithophane sphere:
- Use a lithophane software
- Use a 3D modeling software
Use a Lithophane Software
You can use different lithophane software programs available online and many of them will have a sphere as an available shape, such as Lithophane Maker, which we will cover in one of following sections about the best lithophane software available.
The creator of the software has a great video guide on how to do this.
A lot of users 3D printed beautiful lithophane spheres with the help of the lithophane software available such as the one mentioned above.
Here are some cool examples of 3D printed sphere lithophanes.
This is a lovely Christmas Lithophane Ornament that you can find on Thingiverse.
Use a 3D Modeling Software
You can also use a 3D modeling software such as Blender as previously mentioned to apply a 2D image to a 3D object’s surface like a sphere.
Here’s a great Spherical Lithophane – World Map from Thingiverse, made by RCLifeOn.
RCLifeOn has an amazing video on creating the huge spherical lithophane globe we linked above on a 3D modeling software.
Check out the video below to see RCLifeOn creating this spherical lithophane glove visually.
Best Lithophane Softwares
There are different lithophane software available that will take you from image to lithophane in just a few clicks and have a variety of shapes to choose from. It doesn’t have as much control over the design as CAD software, but it works a lot faster and easier.
Here are the best lithophane software you can use:
Lithophane Maker is available for free online and it is a great option to turn your pictures into STL files of lithophanes, having different shapes, allowing you to make everything from flat lithophanes to night lamps.
Check out this example from a user that used this software to create a lithophane.
A lot of users love the night lamp shape that is available on it, making it a great gift while the design is compatible with the Emotionlite Night Light, available on Amazon.
Check out this video from Lithophane Maker about how to best use their software.
Another option is ItsLitho, which will take you from image to lithophane in just four steps, generating a high quality STL file for you to take to your 3D printer.
Users who started to print lithophanes, suggest using ItsLitho as you can achieve a great result with the default settings from the website. You just have to generate your lithophane, then import the STL to your slicer and set the infill density to 100%.
The first lithophane I’ve been proud of. The good-ist shop dog there ever was and the best dog I ever had. Thanks for all the help to get it made. FilaCube ivory white PLA, .stl from itslitho from 3Dprinting
ItsLitho has a lot of video tutorials about how to create lithophanes using their software, check out this one below to get started.
3DP Rocks Lithophane Maker
Another easy to use software is the 3DP Rocks Lithophane Maker. While a more simple software that does not feature a great variety of shapes, it is more intuitive than the rest of its competitors for its simple design.
Here’s a real example of someone making a lithophane with this software.
One user realized that the default setting was a negative image, so check that your setting is a positive image just in case it hasn’t been changed over.
Check out this video about how to use 3DP Rocks Lithophane Maker.
Best Lithophane Settings
If you want to start 3D printing lithophanes, then it is good to know the best settings to print them.
These are some of the best settings for 3D printing lithophanes:
- 100% Infill Density
- 50mm/s Print Speed
- 0.2mm Layer Height
- Vertical Orientation
100% Infill Density
It is important to increase infill percentage to make the inside of the model solid or you won’t get a contrast between light and dark. Some people say it’s better to use 99% infill rather than 100% infill due to the way the slicer processes it.
Sometimes, that 99% infill can slice much lower printing times, though in my test, it had the same.
50mm/s Print Speed
One user who did some testing with a 25mm/s and 50mm/s Print Speed said he couldn’t tell the difference between the two.
Another user said he compared a 50mm/s lithophane with a 5mm/s one and they were mostly similar. There was one small defect in the iris of his dog’s right eye and nose, while the 5mm/s one was flawless.
0.2mm Layer Height
Most people recommend a 0.2mm layer height for lithophanes. You should get better quality using a smaller layer height though, so it depends on if you want to trade more printing time for higher quality.
One user said he used a 0.08mm layer height for a lithophane that was a Christmas present, along with a Print Speed of 30mm/s. Each one took 24 hours to print but they looked really good.
You can strike a medium value as well of 0.12mm or 0.16mm – in 0.04mm increments due to the mechanics of 3D printing. Here’s an example of a 0.16mm lithophane.
Another important factor to achieve good lithophanes is to print them vertically. That way you will get the best detail and you won’t be able to see the layer lines.
Depending on the shape of your lithophane you may need to use a brim or some sort of support to avoid it falling over during the printing process.
Check out the comparison one user did with the same lithophane being printed horizontally and then vertically.
Lithophane printing horizontal vs vertical with all other settings identical. Thank you u/emelbard for pointing this out to me. I would have never guessed printing vertically would make such a huge difference! from FixMyPrint
If you find that your lithophanes fall over during printing, you can actually orient it along the Y axis, which is front to back, rather than on the X axis which is side to side. The motion on the Y axis might be too jerky, leading to higher chances of the lithophane falling over.
Check out this video by Desktop Inventions where he goes over the settings discussed above as well as other instructions to 3D print great lithophanes. He does some great comparisons that show you interesting differences.
It’s even possible to wrap lithophanes around any object, which is shown by 3DPrintFarm.