How to Make a Paper Lithophane




Taken from Wikipedia:
A lithophane (or lithopane or French: lithophanie) is an etched or moulded artwork in thin very translucent porcelain that can only be seen clearly when back lit with a light source. It is a design or scene in intaglio that appears "en grisaille" (in gray) tones

One of my friends at my hackerspace in Northampton, Eng-a-land, called NortHACKton (  is attempting to make himself a CNC so that he can carve one of these. It was while we were discussing this and how to go about making one that came up with this variation of the idea, so this instructable is dedicate to Max and I hope that his efforts to produce his own lithophane go equally as well.

Right with all of that background out the way what follows is a guide to making your own paper lithophane. I hope you'll be pleasantly surprised by how simple it is to achieve such effective results. 

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Step 1: Creating an Image

  • First you'll need an image of something you want to turn into a lithophane.
  • Convert the image to a grey scale version of itself
  • Then reduce the number of colours within the image to the number of layers you want your lithophane to have.
  • Separate each colour into it's own layer and print them all out individually.
  • Cut those images out and stick them all together and voilà you'll have a paper lithophane.
  • Simplesh!
It does sound too simple and that's the trouble I had. I could convert the image to grey scale but I had troubles reducing the number of colours and then setting the threshold value for each layer to the desired value of grey. So after a lot of faffing around I wrote my own program to do it. The whole thing probably took longer than learning to use a decent drawing package but I have the satisfaction of knowing exactly how it works.

Step 2: Using My Progam

The executable is available for download from here and the source code is available from here. You'll need the .net framework version 2.0 installed on your machine but anyone using windows is likely to have that by now. It's written in C# using visual studio express 2010 which is available for download and free for personal use, the source should work with a little fudging with any edition of C# express

When the program is running, click the 'Load Image' button to select your desired image. It will be loaded and automatically split into 2 layers with initial values. The dropdown box in the middle allows you to switch between each layer, view the whole thresholded image or original image in greyscale.

Each blue box within the scale on the right represents the threshold value for a layer. These can be dragged left or right to change the value. It's a bit of a hack but it's functional. Layers can be added or removed by right clicking this area.

When you're happy with the layers then click the save layers button, this will produce one bitmap per layer with the same size as the original image. Load them up in your favourite program to print them with the desired size.

Step 3: Creating the Lithophane

If you've followed the previous step correctly you should have one piece of paper per layer each with a grey image on it. This step really is as simple as cutting out the grey areas of the paper and then sticking them all together.

Start by taking a plain rectangle of paper the same size as the other images. 

Some of the layers will have more paper removed than others, glue the layers to the base rectangle starting with the one with the least paper removed.

Once all the layers are added to the lithophane then place another solid rectangle of paper of the top to hide all the cut out regions. 

Your lithophane is now complete, from the outside it should look like a plain square of paper but once you hold it up to the light the insides become visible.

I mostly started with some easy pumpkin carving images, but much more complicated designs can also be made

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    9 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Would it also work to print a light grey on each layer with first layer the bits you want daekest then the next layer with the first layer again plus its own bits... It may cut out the need to cut it out. :)

    Nice effect and clear instructable thanks..


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I tried using the software provided but the save layers icon seems to be missing


    6 years ago

    I made something similar today. I used a bit of oil on the paper to make it slightly more transparent, although it was a simple circle design. In total 6 layers plus a front and back.

    2013 15:34.jpg

    6 years ago on Introduction

    awesome! would be a fantastic way to create a personalised lampshade


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Ah, cool effect! It does seem easy until you consider the amount of attention you need to pay to the first steps. Would be a unique way to create family portraits!


    9 years ago on Step 3

    Awesome. I'm voting for it. Does this work well with a laser printer, or only with inkjet? Maybe it already tells this, but I missed it :( Anyway, great i'ble so thanks!

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 3

    Cool, thanks for your vote. My stuff was printed on the laser at work. I guess anything that produces two distinct regions so you can cut one out it fine.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    very good idea!

    i think only you must use very thin paper to have a good effect, Is that right?

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Actually these two were done with whatever paper was in the printer at work. If you want to do 4-5 layers then yes thinner paper would probably be advisable.