3D Printed Lithophane Lamp

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This is a tutorial to create a lithophane sided lamp using a 3D printer.

According to wikipedia, "A lithophane (French: lithophanie) is an etched or molded artwork in very thin translucent porcelain that can only be seen clearly when back lit with a light source". In our case, instead of porcelain, the material will be a 3D printable material. For example, PLA. With the lamp off, the image will not be visible correctly. When the lamp is switched on, the images will reveal.

Material list

  • Dark PLA for the structure
  • Bright PLA for the lithophanes (Preferably white)
  • Bulb holder
  • 5x 3mm screws and nuts (You can use glue instead)
  • Tape
  • Bulb

Step 1: Printing the Lamp

Three are three pieces to print. I used black PLA to print these pieces. You do not need to add supports to print them. The STL files are available on Thingiverse: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3078079

Step 2: Preparing the Images

The images must have a white border. The white border will be flat with a known thicknes so the images slides correctly to the lamp. I have made templates for the paint.net software (base.pdn and base_top.pdn). You have two layers created. You must set your image on the Image labeled layer below the border. Once you are happy with the result save it as PNG format. The software will ask you if you want to combine layer. Press "Yes".

I made the templates available in PNG format in case you are using another image editing software. You should not touch the white border. Replace the black with your image.

Four images must be made with the base template for the four sides of the lamp. One image should be done using the base_top template. This image will be smaller and goes in the top side of the lamp.

Step 3: Creating the STL From the Prepared Images

Once the image files are ready, you must convert them to STL files. I use Simplify3D for this purpose, but other free alternatives should also work fine. If you are using Simplify3D go to Add-Ins -> Convert Image to 3D.

It is important to set the "Desired width" and "Platform height" correctly.

The lamp design slots are 1.5mm thick. I recommend you to set the Platform height to 1mm so that there is 0.5mm margin for printer imperfections. The platform height should be 128mm for the sides images and 118mm for the top image. The slots are 130mm and 120mm so we have 1mm margin for imperfections in each side.

Step 4: Printing the Images

The material color used should be bright, preferably white. I used white PLA to print the images.

In my case, I got the best results printing the images vertically with a raft. I also noted that it is best to print the image parallel to the bed movement axis. This way, bed movements do not cause imperfections on the image.

Those are how I printed the images myself, but feel free to try your own orientations or tricks to improve the quality.

Step 5: Assembly

The top image should be glued or set in place with some tape. The other 4 images should slide as shown in the images on the top piece.

Attach the bulb holder to the bottom piece. I let the bottom piece of the bulb holder unleashed as shown in the 4th image. Use the little printed piece to hold the cable in place.

Finally, stick the two main pieces or screw them using 3mm screws. Be sure that the images are correctly aligned on the bottom pieces slots.

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