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Software for making lithophanes from a photo.

Lithophanes were traditionally hand made made from thin translucent porcelain, but these days you can use white plastic, as long as it is thin and translucent itself. This article shows you how to create the file (called an STL file) which is a flattened but still 3D version of your photo. (3D is a bit of a misnomer, there is no "stereoscopic" effect, but the 3D of the object recreates the 2D dark and light of the original scene.)

If you have a hobby (or even professional) 3D printer, CNC router, or engraving machine you can create stunning family portraits that will last literally for generations. Your machine takes the STL file and makes a lithophane from it. Once finished the lithophane should be backlit to give a glowing image of your family members, friends and pets:

How to make Lithophanes, two examples

The back lighting is required because it is the light shining through the lithophane which gives it the glowing effect. The more material there is in each part of the lithophane, the less light gets through.

But how do you create the file which you print with your 3D printer or router? With PhotoToMesh you simply drag the image into the main screen, adjust a few settings if you want and voila!

Lithophane making example

One important setting if you intend to make a Lithophane STL file is the Invert Mesh checkbox. Make sure it is checked, because that will cause the brighter parts of the image have a lesser thickness. So when the final lithophane is backlit the brighter, thinner, parts will transmit more light.

This program will even do cylindrical lithophanes, where the "sculpted image" is created on the outer surface and you put the lightsource inside the cylinder. Here is the same image viewed in PhotoToMesh but set to "cylindrical."

How to make a lithophane from a photo

And here is a photo of a real cylindrical lithophane created with PhotoToMesh:

Cylindrical Lithophane creation

You can change the number of points taken as samples from the photo, as well as the amount of smoothing to apply. The smoothing can iron out some details or noise which would create unpleasant roughness in the final object. Here is another example:

Lithophane portrait and 3d printing

Jamie Wilson, author or the 3DPrinterGear blog uses PhotoToMesh to produce lithophanes. Here are a couple of examples:

Portrait Lithophane Making

Dog Image Lithophane Example

Although lithophanes are nice as stand-alone objects they can be also be used as parts of decorative lamps, and other objects.

For more on the history of lithophanes:

Blair Museum of Lithophanes

PhotoToMesh has a free demo version for Windows which you can download and try with your own images by clicking on the button below.

STL File Format: An STL (STereoLithography) file is a triangular representation of a 3D surface geometry. The surface is divided into a set of oriented triangles (facets). The whole collection of triangles forms a closed surface which can be manufactured. It is a format which was created by 3D Systems. You don't need to know that though, PhotoToMesh will create the STL file at the push of a button.

Compatible with XP 7 and  Vista




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