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www.makeuseof.com What Is a Lithophane and How Can You 3D Print One?

www.makeuseof.com What Is a Lithophane and How Can You 3D Print One?

Lithophanes are a great way to 3D print your memories. You can 3D print your favorite picture in a simple flat frame or customize it in the shape of a lamp or even a globe. And now more than ever, it is accessible to 3D print your custom lithophanes with the help of online tools. Read on to learn how to prepare and 3D print your lithophane using the Lithophane maker tool.

What Is a Lithophane?

The word lithophane originates from the Greek words litho, which translate to “stone,” and phainein, which means "to cause to appear."

A lithophane works by modulating the light passing through it. In simple words, it creates a height map of the image, and the darker areas of the image are thicker, thus restricting the light passing through them, while the lighter sections of the image have a thin cross-section, allowing for more light to pass through. It results in a black and white image illuminated by a backlight.

The first lithophanes dated to the 1800s and were made out of porcelain cast in wax molds. However, with the recent advancements in CNC and 3D printing tech, it has become easier to produce a lithophane right at your home.

Lithophane Maker

Lithophane Maker is a website that has various tools to let you design your custom lithophane for 3D printing. Developed by Thomas Brooks around 2018, this website is one of the best places to go for lithophanes. There are eleven different designs in which you can create your lithophanes.


In this article, we'll go over in detail about 3D printing a framed lithophane using the Lithophane Maker website. We'll also learn about various things that you need to keep in mind while preparing a lithophane for 3D printing and troubleshoot any issues you face. Let's start with the basics.

Image Preparation

Half of the work in lithophanes is making sure that you have a high-quality image. Lithophanes work by highlighting the brighter areas and hiding the darker regions of the picture. A good lithophane image will have a higher amount of contrast and sharpness, ensuring a clear distinction between the various shades of the image and has enough clarity.

When choosing an image for lithophane 3D printing, select an image with a reasonable contrast ratio. The image must be sharp and clear and has a good brightness so that all the image's shadows are visible. The better your picture, the better will be your 3D-printed lithophane.

Design Selection

Once you have your image ready, head over to the Lithophane Maker website and choose the design, you want. The website has different designs; some lithophanes are flat, some are curved, others have a frame, you can print a box and even a lamp.

www.makeuseof.com What Is a Lithophane and How Can You 3D Print One?

Depending upon what you'd like to 3D print, choose your favorite design and then click on it. For this article, we'll look at the Flat Lithophane tool, which will give us a flat lithophane similar to a photograph;we can choose whether or not we want a frame around it.

Lithophane Settings

There are various settings to tune your lithophane finely, and we'll take a look at all of them one by one.

In this tab, you can select whether you want a frame around your lithophane and, if yes, what kind of frame you want. You can choose to have slots for hanging a twine, decide to have a stand, or a tab for a hook. This guide uses the Frame only option.

This section dictates the quality of your lithophane. The number in the box indicates the mm/pixel value of your lithophane. A lower value would give you a higher pixel density, resulting in a sharper and clearer 3D print.

This setting controls the size of your lithophane in the horizontal direction. By default, the value is 100mm, but you can choose this value depending on your image's aspect ratio and the size of your Lithophane.

The Height tab controls the size of your lithophane in the vertical direction, i.e., along the Z-axis. This setting does not include the height of your frame border. It solely controls the height of the lithophane.

This is the thickness of the base of the lithophane. You'll be able to edit this setting only if you've enabled the Frame option. Keep this value <10mm as it's a good enough value to provide a good base for the lithophane and still not feel bulky.

As the name suggests, this setting controls the height of your base. Try to match the base height with its depth. It will give the frame of the lithophane a more uniform feel.

This refers to the angle between the frame and the actual image section of your lithophane. To avoid any support, you should keep this between 30° - 60°, giving a smooth transition effect between the frame and the image.

This is the maximum thickness of the darkest part of the image. Try to keep this value >2.5-3.0mm. This will restrict the light passing through the lithophane, thus giving you a good contrasting lithophane. Make sure you do not increase this value too much; otherwise, you can expect overhangs in the STL model, and you'll need to use supports, which will ruin the lithophane quality.

The value dictates the minimum thickness of the lithophane. The lower this value, the more light will pass through your brighter parts in the image. A value of 0.4-0.8mm works well. If you go any higher, you reduce the chances of light passing through the lithophane.

Once you configure all these values, enter your email ID and create the STL model. Within a few minutes, the model will be ready to download. So far, you've got only the STL file. You still need to load it in a slicer and 3D print it.

Slicing a Lithophane

Configuring the lithophane in a slicer for 3D printing can itself be an entirely separate topic. This section will go over some of the essential points that you need to keep in mind for lithophanes.

It'll take some trial and error to dial in these settings. You can refer to Brooks' troubleshooting guide on the website if you run into any issues. And you can even try using Mark Gonsowski's Cura settings for Lithophanes. These settings are finely tuned to give you the best-looking 3D-printed lithophane.

A lithophane I recently 3D printed. Lithophanes can only be seen properly when illuminated from behind. from Naruto

Print It for Yourself

Lithophane Maker certainly makes it a breeze to prepare lithophane models. A high-quality image and some minor configuration, and you have a great-looking model ready. And all of this for free.

Go ahead and try to 3D print a lithophane now. If you succeed, you'll forever have a memory to treasure, and even if you fail, you'll learn new things about how to 3D print better.

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Pranav is a Mechanical Engineering graduate and likes to write articles that revolve around interesting technologies. His interests lie in the 3D printing field and he is passionate about its future. Other than that he enjoys cycling, reading, and exploring new tech.

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