From Photos to 3D Prints: The Fascinating Process of Lithophane Printing

From Photos to 3D Prints: The Fascinating Process of Lithophane Printing

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Have you ever taken a photo and wanted it to come to life? It is no longer a far-fetched idea thanks to Lithophane 3D printing. You can emboss the images on 3D objects such as lamps, light boxes, and tailored photo frames. These embossed images will change based on the quality and intensity of light or heat it is subjected to.   

While the technology to create Lithophane has evolved, its history dates back to the 19th century. It is believed to have been invented by Baron Paul de Bourging in the 1820s. Some historians have also found centuries-old Lithophane in China, but they agree that European ceramic factories were the first to commercialize it. 

3D printers have made Lithophane printing easier, which is an opportunity for investors to capitalize on. The interest of consumers in Lithophane Printing is growing, which warrants investing in it as soon as possible to get a return before the market becomes saturated.  This article will explain the process of Lithophane Printing and the things you can do to set yourself apart in the market. Let’s get to it. 

The Process of Creating a Lithophane 3D Print

Creating a Lithophane is almost the same as any other 3D print. That said, it is a specialized type of printing, requiring extra attention to detail compared to other 3D-printed objects. For example, resin 3D printers work better for Lithophane because of the high level of detail and faster prints than FDM printers. 

The process of creating Lithophane 3D print involves;

    Select The Appropriate Picture

The process of creating a Lithophane starts with selecting an appropriate picture. While you can use almost any picture for 3D lithophanes models, it is better to use simpler ones for excellent results. Complex pictures often have problems with contrast and details, resulting in incoherent prints.

You should select pictures with simple colors, backgrounds, and straightforward objects. Furthermore, the images with higher contrast will generate better results. The 3D modeling software can detect the higher and lower part of the design based on the difference in the contrast level between two layers.

Lithophanes show images in shades of gray, meaning if the image has a detail that requires colors, it will not be a good fit for it. 

    Slice The Image

Slicing the image and converting it into G-code is vital for Lithophane prints. You can pick between a range of slicing software, but we recommend going with Cura because it is compatible with a diverse range of printers. Furthermore, it offers additional features such as photo uploading and meshes, which are handy during 3D printing.

You must adjust the height, base, width, depth, contrast, color models, and smoothing to slice the image effectively. Understanding how to tweak these parameters in printing is essential to get the right results. You must understand how the changes in these parameters influence the final results.

The process of printing images on another item is slightly challenging and may be overwhelming for new people. Thus, starting with printing lithophane alone and using different techniques to enhance its looks is recommended. The most common one is using smart LEDs to make lithophane a decorative piece. 

    Using Online Websites

People with no experience with slicing software may find them challenging to use, but there are other solutions to help them. You can use online websites to convert your images into lithophane, and they also offer several templates. For example, lithophanemaker offers lithophane in the shapes of hearts, lamps, light boxes, globes, and curves, among others.

That said, the results from these websites may not be as precise as with slicing software. It is fine to use them temporarily but not regularly. If you want to start commercial lithophane creation, you will have to invest time in slicing software or hire professionals with the relevant expertise.   

    Print The Design

Once the image is sliced and converted into G-code, it can be translated into Lithophane. You have to feed the printer with suitable filaments and start printing. While FDM printers can also print Lithophane, it is better to use resin-based printers because they generate great detail and have faster printing rates. 

Best Materials For Printing Lithophanes

PLA is the ideal material for creating Lithophanes because it becomes translucent on thin parts, and as the contrast increases, the layer becomes thicker. While you can pick any light color, white offers the best results, even when combined with low-power lamps. You should also avoid darker colors because they do not allow light to pass and do not make good material for lithophane. 

That said, using PLA has some drawbacks; the most important is thermal resistance. Typically, PLA starts to lose shape at temperatures of around 60 degrees centigrade and becomes soft. So, if you are printing lithophane for a lightbox that uses a powerful bulb, PLA would not be a suitable choice.

Instead of replacing PLA with another filament, it is best to use low-powered LEDs to avoid this problem. Another solution to workout heat resistance is PETG filament. It is even more translucent than PLA and withstands more heat but it is not the easiest to print. You will experience a lack of adherence and warping between the layers. Furthermore, a heated bed will be required for PETG, which is another Pandora box.  

Using Lithophane 3D Prints in Home Decor and Personalized Gifts

Your creativity is the limit when exploring design opportunities for home decor and personalized gifts with Lithophane. You can explore platforms like Pinterest and Facebook groups to get ideas for Lithophane design. Some popular home decor and personalized gifts made via Lithophane include table lamps, customized frames, wall posters, and vases. You can use multicolor lights to add more appeal to these designs.  

Lithophane images are far better and hold more commercial potential than traditional photos. It essentially converts an ordinary-looking image into a work of art. You get a crisp-looking, highly detailed, and more durable piece that becomes the center of attention.

Before the invention of 3D printers, Lithophane creation required extensive labor and was not a commodity everyone could afford. However, thanks to modern technology, it does not require much labor or expensive equipment, consequently lowering its production price and making it accessible to almost everyone.

As a commercial Lithophane creator, you can combine aesthetics and practicality to improve your sales. For example, a table lamp lithophane looks visually appealing and enhances the table’s utility during the darker hours. Consumers can read and write with the help of light coming off the lamp. 

Lithophane 3D Printing in Fine Art and Design

Lithophanes were the most exciting pieces of artwork in the late 19th century. While the invention of Lithophane is attributed to Baraon Paul, the earliest art form is found in Chinese potters decorating floral designs. However, the art was modernized in Europe as it evolved into a complex piece of art that incorporated portraits, religious arts, paintings, and scenic landscapes.

While Lithophanes are still very popular, the techniques to create them have drastically changed. Instead of spending extensive labor on ceramic pieces and crafting each detail with hands and delicate equipment, artists have now turned to relatively easier mediums like 3D printers. Several famous artists have used 3D-printed Lithophanes, including Sandra Canning, Elvira Dayel, Leisa Rich, and Rachel Goldsmith.

Rachel Goldsmith composes her artwork in different media, including PLA plastic, acrylic, and ink. She uses a similar process to 3D printing and has developed several techniques to paint with plastic. Another artist, Kevin Caron, uses 3D printing to create sculptures and prototype designs.  

Artists turned to digital tools to appreciate the convenience they bring. It saves time and opens more opportunities. Some designs cannot be made by hand because of technical difficulties, but CAD software and 3D printers solve this problem and enable artists to express themselves comprehensively.

There are technical and material limitations when creating artwork with the traditional approach. Using digital mediums to create pieces of artwork removes these barriers and opens a world of opportunities for artists. It allows them to create unique and exciting designs that are otherwise impossible with the traditional approach.

While it may seem using 3D printers takes away a piece from the process of creating the art, it is not the case. It still requires the same creativity as with the traditional approaches; it is just that the tools to achive that creativity have improved. 


Lithophanes are artistic pieces that have been appreciated for centuries. However, the creation of Lithophanes has never been easier than it is now, thanks to the evolution in technology and the invention of 3D printers. You can create Lithophanes from the images captured by your smartphones and using inexpensive filaments like PLA.

That said, it is crucial to be mindful of some factors that influence the quality of Lithophanes to get the best results. We hope we have explained those factors comprehensively in this guide.