Introduction: 3D Printed Moon Lithophane

Have you ever wanted to have a part of the sky in your room at night?

My name is Tiffany Lo, and I made this LED Moon Lithophane in Ms. Berbawy's Principles of Engineering class for my SIDE project. I have always loved space, and I knew that designing a moon lamp would be the perfect project after being inspired by this Moon Lamp.

This tutorial uses Lithophane Maker's Globe Maker and a little Fusion 360 design to create a colorful moon that is lit up from the inside with string LED lights. It's perfect as a small lamp or decoration for any person who doesn't want to wait for the nighttime to see the moon.

I'm taking Ms. Berbawy's class as a complete beginner to engineering and using 3D designing software, so if you want a beginner-friendly and inexpensive project, be sure to follow this Instructable so you can create your own moon lamp! Throughout this process, you will be able to practice your skills in learning how to 3D print for the first time and designing in Fusion 360.



- White PLA filament (I used eSUN Cool White)

- PLA filament of any color (this is for the base, I used black and Shiny Purple)

- Screws (size depends on the LED light kit, mine were self-tapping servo screws)

- LED light kit


- Software: Fusion 360, Prusaslicer, Meshmixer

- 3D printer (I used a Prusa Mini)

- Wire cutters

- Dial caliper

- Wire styrofoam cutter + styrofoam (optional, used to test dimensions in base)

- Soldering kit

- Wire strippers

Step 1: Designing Your Moon & Base

My first step was to create a design for my moon and base. If you are following along, you can skip to the next step if you don't plan on changing any measurements.

1. When I was designing my project, I wanted a sphere with a diameter of 6 inches (152.4mm) and a hole of 2 inches (50.8mm) so that the base and cylinder can be inserted inside. As you can see from above, this was designed so that the moon can fit on top of the base, which has a cylinder extruding from the middle where the LED lights can be wrapped around.

2. For my base design, I had a hollow base with a diameter of 6 inches (152.4mm) and walls of 3mm wide. The cylinder in the middle had a diameter of 1.8 inches (45.72), just a little smaller than the hole of the sphere because you will need to wrap your LED lights around this cylinder. The walls of this cylinder were 1mm wide. The space where the cylinder meets the base should be empty since the wires of the LED lights will need to go through the cylinder. Plan for two holes with diameters of 25mm in the walls of the base and the cylinder; the wires of the LED light will go through them.

3. The LED light kit should have an RGB control box with extrusions containing holes. I measured all the dimensions of the control box and the diameter of the holes using the dial calipers. This step is extremely important, measure every part of the control box, especially the extrusions, before purchasing screws.

4. The measurements of the moon can be adjusted if you want a lamp of a different size. Make sure you have a good understanding of how big you want your moon and the base to be in relation to each other. I recommend using a ruler to determine your desired sphere diameter and writing all of these details down in a notebook, as well as creating a multiview drawing so you are sure of your plans. If you do decide to adjust the size of the lamp, make sure you keep your new measurements in mind when you design the base since these two parts will be connected.

Step 2: Preparation for the Moon

To prepare for printing my moon, I took these steps to make sure that I understood the process.

1. First, I found a map of the moon for my lithophane. This step is optional, as you can use the default option on the LithophaneMaker site later if you want to. I used NASA's CGI Moon Kit, downloaded as a PNG.

2. Go to the LithophaneMaker site. Before entering any information I scrolled down to the bottom and read the instructions there. I also watched the tutorial video so I understood how to use the site before I started.

3. I then created an account with the site using my email so that I could save my settings without having to reenter each detail everytime I visited the site or need adjustments later on. This is a good precaution in case the moon needs to be reprinted.

Edit Oct. 12, 2021: Apparently the CGI Moon Kit doesn't have the file as a PNG anymore, so I have attached the moon map I used in this Instructable on top in the media section.

Step 3: Using the LithophaneMaker Site

Now that I had my design and an idea of how to use the site, I started to put the information in.

1. First I clicked "Choose File" and uploaded the NASA map. If you don't want to enter a map you can use the site's default moon map by checking the "Moon Background" option. This is only if you don't want to use a separate file.

2. Since I didn't use the site's default base, I checked the "Flip Image" option. I wanted to design my own base instead of using the site's base, so I used the Top Hole provided by the site as the opening. Since the Top Hole will be the hole in the moon that goes over the cylinder from the base, the image should be flipped.

3. I checked the "Fit Image to Sphere" option and adjusted the Y-Shift to 0.5.

4. Determine the resolution of your sphere. I used 0.12 mm/pixel, but you can change this if wanted.

5. Then I entered my sphere diameter in millimeters. My measurement was 152.4mm.

6. The next step is to change the thickness of the lithophane. I had a maximum thickness of 2mm and a minimum thickness of 0.5mm, but again this can be changed according to your preferences. Lower measurements will allow more light to shine through the lithophane.

7. I put 0 for the Cylinder Outer Diameter, Cylinder Height, Cylinder Thickness, and Cylinder Ledge Outer Diameter since I didn't use the site's original base.

8. I then set the Top Hole Outer Diameter as 50.8mm.

9. Hit the "Save Settings" button if you have an account and then create the STL!

Step 4: Printing the Moon STL

The STL is ready, but there is one more thing to do before it can be printed. The bottom of the STL isn't flat, so it needs to be altered before printing.

1. I opened Meshmixer and imported the STL there.

2. The uneven part of the moon needs to be chopped off with the Plane Cut feature. I used "Edit," then "Plane Cut". Then I used the thin blue arrow to drag the plane to the edge of the hole and positioned it so that it will cut off only a little bit of the sphere. To make sure I was deleting the right part of the moon, I clicked the thick blue arrow until the sliver that is going to be cut off is white/brighter compared to the rest of the moon. Try not to cut off too much of the moon; since there is no way to measure the amount you cut off on Meshmixer, the moon might not fit over the cylinder that holds the LED lights later if too much is cut off.

3. I made sure the Cut Type said "Discard Half", then accepted the cut. When exporting, make sure the model is still an STL file.

4. I went to Prusaslicer so I could import the new file. I placed the moon on its bottom using the "Place on Face" option on the sidebar.

5. This print needed supports, so I checked "Generate Support Material" in Print Settings and Support Material. Since the moon is now flat on the bottom, it only needs a raft to be printed. Add 2 raft layers on the same page.

6. For the final settings, I selected 0.15mm Quality (this can be changed). Input your filament material and printer. I used Prusament PLA for filament and printed with an Original Prusa MINI.

7. Then I sliced the print, exported the G-Code, and printed my moon.

Step 5: Making the Base

The moon is done, so the next step is to create a model of the base starting with the bottom.

1. Now I needed to create the design. I opened Fusion360 and started a new sketch on the y-plane. I created an L-shaped rectangular box as seen in the picture above. The dimensions can be the exact same as the picture (50.8mm vertically and 76.2mm horizontally, with walls 3mm thick) or different based on a personal design. Then I finished the sketch.

2. I used the Rotate tool to create the hollow base. Make sure the body is the sketch that was drawn in Step 1 and the rotational axis is the y-axis.

3. Using the Hole feature, I created two holes of 25mm diameter at the center of the base and at the side of the base's walls. These holes are necessary for the wires of the LED lights to reach the cylinder.

4. I created another sketch on the top of the base and drew two circles with diameters of 45.72 and 35.72 from the center. These are the circles that will form the cylinder

5. Then I extruded a cylinder from the sketches on the surface of the base. This cylinder should be at most 127mm long. If you had cut off too much of the moon in Meshmixer, make this cylinder even shorter.

6. I added another hole of 25mm diameter in the cylinder. This will be where the LED light strip comes out from inside the base and interior of the cylinder so that it can be wrapped around the cylinder's exterior.

Step 6: Testing With the Styrofoam Cutter (optional)

The overall structure of the base is done, but I needed to design a raised ledge to keep the LED light's control box in place. Here is where I used the styrofoam wire cutter to test out my design before implementing it. This step is optional, but if you changed any design measurements I highly recommend testing your control box stand.

I decided to add this ledge after I printed a version without one. If you are following along, you can complete the same process and use a set of dial calipers to check the combined styrofoam and control box length.

1. Decide on a design for the ledge. I wanted mine to be a rectangular box of 37mm by 62mm. I marked my design onto the styrofoam using a pen.

2. Now the actual styrofoam prototype needs to be created. The styrofoam cutter is easy to use, but it heats up and cools down very fast so be careful when using it. Turn the switch off after each use to be safe and set it on the stand (not a table or other object!). Using the wire on styrofoam feels like cutting through marshmallow, so it might be easy to lose control. I tried the cutter on a spare piece of styrofoam before starting so I could get used to the texture.

3. I used the wire cutter instead of the pen because all my cuts were straight and could be cut in one line. Once the cutter heated up, I carefully traced the lines I drew on the styrofoam.

4. I then tested the styrofoam prototype on the base with the control box on top. Again, if you are following along you can just stack the styrofoam on the control box and measure.

5. The goal here is to make sure that the control box doesn't stick out over the bottom of the base. If the measurement is longer than that of the base, keep lowering the styrofoam ledge until you get the perfect fit. Keep in mind that the height of the base includes a layer at the top, so leave a few millimeters instead of making your ledge height match the base perfectly. I had to try multiple times before I got the right measurement, so don't lose hope if you are following along! My final ledge height was 20mm.

Step 7: Making the Base, Cont.

The new ledge was at the right height so I added it on Fusion.

1. I switched to bottom view and created a sketch on the base (almost like the ceiling for the bottom section).

2. Then I created a construction line from the center of the hole that leads to the cylinder to the hole in the wall of the base. I drew another 37mm line that is tangent to this line, connecting them to both sides of the circle. Use the coincident tool to make sure they are really attached to the circle.

3. Using this line, I drew a rectangle to the center hole of the base. The sides should be 62mm and the rectangle should overlap and partly cover the hole.

4. This overlap is bad for the design, so I got rid of it. Starting from the first edge where the rectangle overlaps, I used the 3 point arc tool to trace the edge of this center hole. Once the arc was done, I deleted the part of the rectangle that covered the hole.

5. For safety, I went over the rectangle and made sure that the two points at the bottom are connected to the side. Then I deleted the center construction line and finished the sketch.

6. From the bottom view, I extruded the sketch upwards by 20mm.

7. Then I added points to make the hole creation process (step 9) easier. I created another sketch on the surface of the extruded rectangle and added two construction lines 8mm from the side and 3mm from the top right. I repeat this step on the bottom left (the 3mm would now be from the bottom left) and made sure they are coincident. There is a picture of this above.

9. At these two spots, I made two holes of 3mm diameter and 6mm depth. The settings should be on "simple".

10. The next step is to thread these holes. I used the Thread tool on Fusion for this. Click on the holes with the tool open and check the "modeled" option. The settings should be isometric profile, 3mm size, M3x0.5mm design, 6H class, and right-hand direction. Choose "Remember design" so these details are saved for the second hole.

The stand to keep the control box in place is done now. I used this tutorial for creating the threads.

Step 8: Printing the Base

The next step in this project is printing the base.

1. I opened PrusaSlicer again and imported the base, then used the "Place on Face" feature to set it on the hollow part of the base.

2. This print is simple, but it still needs some supports due to the hollow cylinder. On the main page, I chose "Support on Build Plate Only" for my supports. This will generate supports that are easy to take off.

3. Since this print does not need excessive detail, I changed the print setting to 15mm Speed instead of Quality. This will take less time. After that, I entered my filament and printer.

4. Then I sliced the print and exported the G-code to start printing.

Step 9: Assembling the Product

Since all the 3-D printing is done, I started to assemble the final product.

1. I opened the LED strip light package. Everything should already be pre-assembled. I connected the black and white cords together so that the arrows point towards each other like they do in the picture above.

2. I threaded the light through the hole in the base and up into the interior of the cylinder. The lights should come out of the hole in the side of the cylinder. Then I took off the covering for the double-sided tape and wrapped the LED lights around the cylinder.

3. The LED lights are very long, so I then cut the end of the lights at the nearest copper part where each section is adjoined. There is a picture of this above.

4. Then I adhered the control box on the ledge in the base using servo screws so that the black cord can be plugged in easily. I also adjusted the remote sensor's position so that it was right at the opening. The LED lights won't turn on if the remote sensor isn't at the hole.

5. The final step is to place the moon on top of the cylinder and plug in the cord.

6. Congratulations! You can now control your own LED moon!!

Step 10: Soldering (for Accidents)

As with all things in life, unexpected problems can arise. If the LED lights break or tear, don't throw them away! You can use a soldering kit to fix them by reconnecting the wires to another copper spot. This happened to me too, so don't panic if you have the same issue.

1. First I took the LED lights off the base. I cut off the portion of the broken strip light at the closest copper spots (there is a picture of these above), then used the wire cutter to cut off the multicolored wires where they were originally connected to the strip.

2. These multicolored wires need to be reconnected to the nearest copper spots. The gel on the light strips needs to be removed for the soldering process, I carefully cut off the protective coat on the light strip off using an Exacto knife. This is the same for the wires, so I cut off the wire-protectors using a wire stripper. Make sure you only cut off enough of both to be able to solder them.

3. I slid a heat shrink over one end, then soldered the exposed wires to the copper spots in the exact order of color that they were previously attached. After soldering this part, I slid the heat shrink on the area and used the soldering iron to shrink it so that it covers the exposed soldering joint. If these instructions are confusing, here is the tutorial I followed.

Step 11: Difficulties & Conclusion

I went through many challenges throughout the process of this SIDE Project, including having to learn how to use software like Fusion from scratch while I was actively working on the creation process and improving on my project many times throughout the year.

I'm a complete beginner at everything engineering-related, so most of the steps in this project were done with lots of help from the internet. If you are also a beginner like me, don't be scared of making mistakes or being lost. I want to highlight the fact that while this Instructable might seem polished, what is not seen is the endless Googling I did and the hours spent watching Youtube tutorials!

Although the final product and designs that can be seen in the previous steps seem simple, I actually went through multiple versions of each part before achieving the finalized product due to being completely new to the design process and 3D printing. While I originally only had a very basic project consisting of the moon lithophane and a simple light, over the course of the project I improved my original plan by adding a base, cylinder, and LED lights that change color. Again, don't be afraid to improve your project throughout your working process!

I couldn't have done all this without help from my engineering teacher. I want to thank my wonderful teacher Ms. Berbawy for being patient with all the beginner mistakes that I made and encouraging me to challenge myself!

Thank you for following my instructable!