Introduction: Lithobox: 3D Printed Radial Lithophanes

This instructrable shows how to design and assemble illuminated 3D-printed lithophanes.

A lithophane is a translucent porcelain plaque which reveals detailed images when backlit. Lithophanes were first created in Europe in the 1820s. Traditional porcelain lithophanes are made by carving a design onto a wax plaque. The thinner the wax is carved, the more light will be able to shine through, and the lighter that part of the lithophane design will appear. The wax is then used to make a plaster mold, which can then be used to make multiple ceramic copies of the lithophane design. Because of this production approach, most early lithophanes were flat and curved lithophanes were very difficult to make, and, therefore, rare. (Image 5 is an example of a rare lithophane globe, currently housed at The Blair Museum of Lithophanes)

In this instructable, we show how to use our Lithobox software to quickly/easily design lithophanes of any 3D shape. We then show how to assemble a rotating platform and LED's to illuminate the lithophane while it spins.

We would be delighted to see anything you make using Lithobox, and also welcome any feedback or suggestions.

Step 1: Materials

Required: 3D printer

Optional: laser cutter, soldering equipment

additional electronic components:

3V 6RPM servo

boat rocker switch

AA battery pack holder

AA batteries


2mm diameter screws and bolts

Step 2: Download Software

You can generate the customized lithophanes using Lithobox, which will output the models as OBJ files.

Lithobox executable(Windows only):

Lithobox Processing program (MacOS & Windows):

Step 3: Create the Outer Shape of Your Lithophane

When you launch Lithobox, you will first be prompted to create the outer shape of the lithophane.

The outline of the shape can be made by drawing on the screen, or selecting from several pre-existing options (a cylinder, an orb, and generic vase shape).

Any line you draw will be mirrored on the other side of the shape, creating a radially symmetrical object.

Step 4: Create Translucent Images

In the second step of the Lithobox software, you can choose 2D images to be mapped to and extruded on the outer and inner sides of the lithophane.

The 2D images will extruded from the surface of the model based on the relative lightness / darkness in that part of the image.

In the software preview, the lithophane model is automatically rotating so that you can see how the finished 3D design will look from all angles.

Step 5: Choose Print Size

In the final step of the program, you choose the size of the exported 3D model.

When you resize the model, the bottom of the print is resized to maintain a diameter of 1.25in (31.75mm), so that the bottom fits other parts of our kit during the physical assembly.

Step 6: Export and 3D Print Model

When you click "export," Lithobox will save the model as an OBJ. The saved models will be exported to a folder titled "Lithobox Generated Models."

The exported model is saved as an OBJ file which you can printed using a variety of commercially available 3D printers (our prints were created using an Ultimaker 3).

Step 7: Create Support Structure for Illuminating and Rotating the Lithophanes

The 3D model files and lasercut instructions can be downloaded from here:

The additional files include:

light support tower (3D print) (image 1 - left)

- This provides support for the lights inside of the lithophane

base (3D print) (image 1 - right)

- The lithophane and light support tower attach to this

box - version 1 (display box) (3D printable) (image 2)

- A box that will hold the rotator for the lithophane. The base of the lithophane will attach to the top of the box

box - version 2 (makercase box) (3D printable or lasercut) (image 3)

- An alternative design for the box, this can also hold the rotator for the lithophane

Step 8: Assemble Rotator

You can choose between 2 different types of boxes (one which is designed to be 3D printed, the other lasercut).

To set up the rotator:

Attach the rotater to the inside of the box using either screws or glue. The spinning end of the servo will stick out through the hole in the top of box.

Place batteries in battery pack holder

For box version 1 (display box), the battery pack holder can be latched onto the bottom lid

For box version 2 (makercase box), the battery pack can be attached to the bottom side of the makercase box using either screws or glue

Attach the wires of the servo, battery pack, and switch

The red wires from the battery pack and servo should be connected to each other

The black wires from the battery pack and servo should be connected to the two sides of the switch

Step 9: Assemble Lights

To light the lithophane, you can insert LEDs and coin cell lithium batteries in slots along the vertical tower at the center of the rotating platform. You can also place strings of lights around the tower.

Step 10: Final Assembly

After the lights are assembled, you can place the 3D printed lithophane over the light tower and latch it into the notches on the base.

You can then fit it to the bottom of the support platform (image 2) over the rotator, allowing the 3D printed lithophane to rotate when switched on.