3D Printing and the Arts: Lithophanes

     A recent post on the SparkFun website introduced the idea of using a 3D printer to produce a Lithophane. As the post explains, lithophanes are "...a specific kind of artwork that can only be seen clearly when backlit, meaning light is an element of this creative technique. Traditionally, a lithophane is a thin porcelain tile with an etched artwork on one side. Porcelain has a translucent quality when the walls are thin enough, so by carving into a thin tile, artist were able to make lithophanes by hand."

     The post provides a link to a free lithophane generator here: http://3dp.rocks/lithophane/,  It's very easy to use, you upload a photo, choose a format (flat, curved, cylinder) and it quickly creates an .stl file for downloading. The Sparkfun post provides some example pictures and they turned out pretty well. I decided to try this out with a color photo of my own. I chose one that was a bit complicated, a photo of my granddaughter painting at her easel, with lots of background. I did find out that the online process creates a "negative" stl file, with the lighter areas printing more thickly than the darker areas. So, when you hold your lithophane up to the light, the thick areas are dark, thin areas light. To get a "positive" image, I used a photo editor to invert the colors of my picture before uploading.

The 3D printed lithophanes (negative on left, positive, right)

The lithophanes held up to light (negative on left, positive, right)


I think this is a pretty interesting, Art-related, use for 3D printers. The SparkFun posts describes building a light box for lithophanes, and I also wonder how they might work as block prints or molds.