Turning photos into 3D objects gives them more feeling and literally adds a new dimension. Of the various ways to do this, lithophanes are a simple way to enhance your favorite photos.
Lithophanes are essentially embossed photos generated by a 3D printer. The print results don’t show much at first, but shine some light through one and you’ll be amazed by the details. The way it works is that light passes through the thin parts while being blocked by the thick parts. In this way, the differences in light bring out the details of the image.
Let’s take a look at how to turn a photo into a lithophane. (For the “full” experience, check out this lithophane lamp.)
There are many tools for turning your photo into a lithophane model, but virtually all of them work the same way. First, they guess the primary object of the photo and emboss it. Then they give it a nice border and provide you the final file in a 3D format like STL.
One way to generate the lithophane model is to use Adobe Photoshop CC. But if you’re looking to keep things simple, you can also use an online tool like the one offered by NestedCube.
Ever since Photoshop CS5, Adobe has been adding features to work with 3D elements in Photoshop. These features often help with turning 2D objects into 3D, which our action set will be using to produce a lithophane. To get started, download the “Make lithophane” action set from this link. Once you’ve downloaded it, drag and drop the .atn file onto your Photoshop window to install it.
Then, do the following:
Photoshop will now go through a series of actions (adding texture maps, etc.) to create your 3D lithophane. When it’s done you should be able to see your lithophane.
Noe that the whole process is based on Photoshop guessing the right depth, which it does based on the difference in contrast. Therefore, pictures with sharper contrast will likely yield better results.
The action will take some time, ultimately depending on your system spec, and Photoshop might be unusable during the process. In order to avoid the software crashing, be patient and don’t click on anything during this time.
Now that you have your lithophane model designed and ready, we need to print it. Even though Photoshop is capable of 3D printing, we all prefer to print with our own favorite slicers.
Here’s how to export your work:
The export process can also use a lot of memory and might cause Photoshop to freeze for a while depending on your computer. But once it’s done, your 3D lithophane will be available in STL format!
If you’d rather not use Photoshop, here’s an alternative method:
Once you do that, your browser will download the STL file and you’re ready to proceed!
As with any other model, printing should be simple. No extra settings are required, but there are few tips to keep in mind:
Once it’s all set up, go ahead and print. Ideally, a standard-sized lithophane could take up to 6 hours to print with the above settings.
And there you have it! It might look like a flat piece of plastic with a few scratches on it, but put it in front of a light source like the sun, and you’ll see the details.
Feature image source: Reddit user wkrp28
License: The text of "How to 3D Print Your Own Lithophane – Simply Explained" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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