Here’s a history lesson for you: back in the 1820s, people used to sculpt pictures onto thin, translucent pieces of porcelain. By varying the cuts and placing a backlight behind the material, a clear image could be viewed. And thus “lithophanes” were born.

But that was almost 200 years ago. Times they have a’changed and so has our technology. Instead of slaving away for days handcrafting a piece of fragile porcelain, today’s lithophanes are made from sturdy(ish) PLA filament plastic and can be crafted in hours using your handy ol‘ 3D printer. Have a gander…

YouTube video

Yep, just like the porcelain lithophanes of old, these 3D printed lithophanes are made possible by, you guessed it, varying the thickness of the printed layers. And now, you can use an ‘Image to Lithopane’ website to upload your images instead of using a chisel, hammer, and a good imagination. It’s all comes together to make it a heck of a lot easier to choose a picture you want ‘etched’ into solid material. Let’s have a closer look, shall we.

3d printed lithophanes

As Simon Sörensen shows in his video, once you’ve chosen your photo, pick the form on which your picture will be applied. Here it’s important to select vertical printing and a switch the image from a negative to a positive. Unlike the old days, you can preview and adjust what your image will look like. Next, using Simplify3D, you set the orientation, set the infill to 100%, adjust extrusion settings, and lower the print speed to get the best results from the print.

3d printed lithophanes

After adjusting a few more print settings, Simon starts an 8-hour long print of a smaller lion head photograph. It looks great but, if it looks good small, shouldn’t it look more detailed as a larger print?

Eager to see how far he can push his CR-10 3D printer, Simon does another lithophane print of the same lion head image… this time 170% bigger than the previous print. It takes 46 hours for the lithophane the size of an A4 sheet of paper to complete but the resulting image looks more intimidating than one you’d see on material the size of a postcard.

3d printed lithophanes

The results? Well, the print doesn’t look like much…

3d printed lithophanes

But when held up to the light…

3d printed lithophanes

Boom. Impressive to see and honestly, a bit of an unconventional use for 3D printing we find fascinating. You can find more of Simon’s 3D printing shenanigans on his YouTube channel, RCLifeOn.

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Carlos wrestles gators, and by gators, we mean words. He also loves good design, good books, and good coffee.