Introduction: 3d Printed Lithophane - Step by Step

About: A mechanical engineer, instructor at Thaddeus Stevens College, and lifelong maker. Thanks Dad! A founding member of make717. Check them out at

I have been a home 3d print operator for over 2 years, but only started printing lithophanes about a month ago. IT IS AWESOME! I did 3 or 4 Christmas gifts and have been working to improve results. I found a very easy mounting and lighting solution by re-purposing a "Winter Wonderlane, solar spot light" from Big Lots. Our store has them marked down, they may be gone soon, but hopefully the spot light comes in a new color/decor for next season.

Using this spot light makes this a very easy project because you get mounting and lighting all in one!

If you live near The Lancaster Science Factory (Lancaster, PA) and have young children, make sure to visit them!

If you need a 3d printer, filament, or advice on how to use your 3d printer, my guru of all things 3d is

This has been the most rewarding 3d printing endeavor that I have done, I hope you enjoy it as well...and please vote for me in the "Make it Glow" contest.

Step 1: What Image to Use?

I am going to create a lithophane to be used at The Lancaster Science Factory in their Science Cafe for this instructable. You can use pretty much any picture, however, you will want to consider how it will appear in the lithophane. A solid background is ideal for bringing out other details of the subject matter. One of the most intricate details I have 3d printed in a lithophane is shown in these pictures of my wife's guinea pig. He has really cool markings that came through reasonably well in the lithophane (though my photography skills don't do it justice). I would like to experiment with methods to diffuse the LED's and reduce the bright spot in the center.

Step 2: Capturing Image From the Web.

Instead of requesting the artwork from The Lancaster Science Factory, I am going to use the Windows desktop tool, "Snipping Tool" to capture the image from their footer. I selected this image because I want a consistent background, they have a color version of this image at the top of the page, but it intersects other objects that I didn't want in the lithophane. A skilled graphics person would probably do this differently ;-)

The second image show the capture that I am going to start working with in Windows Paint.

Step 3: Use Paint to Convert Image to PNG File Format.

For some reason, Simplify3d, the slicing program that I am using for this project can only create lithophanes from PNG files. So this step is required, the most common image format I use is JPG, so I simply save file as PNG.

If you have any image editing to do, it can be done with great limitations within Paint.

Step 4: Use to Create Circle.

For a rookie graphic artist like me, sites like can be a lifesaver! Free and a minimal learning curve! If you max out the slider for corners you get a full round circle.

Step 5: Now for the Magic!

If you are into 3d printing and not using Simplify3d you are missing out on some incredible power, albeit with an increase in complexity over the open source slicers. I think Cura does lithophane conversion, however, I haven't used it.

The 3 pictures show screen shots of converting the PNG graphic file into an STL, 3d printable file.

1. Under menu, Add-ins, select Convert Image to 3d.

2. A box will appear, I enter the 64.3 mm diameter of the clear disk that came with the spot light. I use 1 mm for image depth scale and 1 mm for platform height. I really don't understand all of the settings in this box and haven't attempted to change them to see if I can get a better result...if you have let me know!

3. Simplify3d will ask you a series of questions that should result in an STL ready to be sliced.

Unfortunately I can only produce squares in Simplify3d, so we have one more processing step in this "toolchain" to get the lithopane to fit exactly into the solar spot light.

Step 6: Morphi Makes Editing the Square Into a Round Easy!

Using Adobe Creative Cloud, upload the STL file from Simplify3d into "files" under your adobe Creative Cloud account. Then launch Morphi on your iPad, then select the STL as shown on second screen shot.

Morphi may take a while to bring in the STL (lots of little triangles!) so be patient.

The video shows the steps I used to create a torus shape, make it the right size, center it on the lithophane, subtract it from the lithophane, and finally deleting the outside corners.

After exiting to the gallery, Morphi allows you to email the STL to export it out.

Step 7: Now We Are Ready to Slice in Simplify3d!

  1. Import the edited/round lithophane STL file.
  2. Rotate the X and Y axis as noted in picture. Then "Center and Arrange"
  3. Since I am using 100% infill I don't think that these matter as much, but I am using 1 top solid, 1 bottom, and 1 perimeter.
  4. Add supports under the round edges to increase stability/bed adhesion during print.

Step 8: Save Your Gcode and Print Away!

I am printing on a Tinkerine Ditto Pro using eSun Warm White PLA. I think you want a milky opaque (not a solid looking color) for best lithopane viewing. I'd be interested in comments on other good filaments for lithophanes.

For the video I used orange translucent so that it could be seen better against the white build plate.

Recorded in GoPro Hero2, thanks Matt!

Step 9: Assemble Your Lithopane!

  1. remove the stake if you want to...BTW, I would not use this outside, I don't think the electronics would survive any moisture.
  2. remove 4 bezel mounting screws and remove the clear plastic lens.
  3. insert your lithophane with the smooth side facing the LED's.
  4. remount the bezel with the 4 screws.

Charge the battery by exposing the panel to light and then turn the spot light on. Whenever you cover the solar panel the light comes on, so remove the stake and sitting the spot light on a flat surface keeps it lite up, until the battery dies.

You will notice that the last picture doesn't have the bright center spot. For that picture I was back lighting using a reading light that is much better diffused. The negative is you have to hack away access near the back of the cover to allow inserting the reading light.

Room for improvement! Please reply with your improvements!

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