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Lithophane Challenge

We often get asked how to make a quality 3d printed lithophane. So here are a few of our tricks and 5 steps to follow but as you know 3d printing is all about getting involved and finetuning. So take your time and have loads of fun!

Firstly, what is a lithophane?

A lithophane is a 3d printed photograph that is converted from an image into a 3d file format and is then printed on a 3d printer. When a light source is placed behind the lithophane, a beautiful black and white picture appears as if by magic!

5 Steps to 3D print your own litophane

Step 1 – choose the right picture:

Choose a suitable picture to convert. This is a really important step. You need to choose a picture that has a high enough quality that can be converted into a 3d file. You also want to choose a picture that has high contrast. If the contrast is not high enough, your lithophane will not be clear when it prints. Use the table below to work out if your quality is good enough. To check the size of your image, right click and select properties. Stick to 300dpi for best results: (just remember that the bigger you choose to print the image, the longer your print will take!)

Printing images – what file size do you need?
A guide to required file sizes for printing out photos [Updated Feb 2016]

Image size Pixels
(Virtual Size of Scans)
Print size (inches)
at 200ppi
Print size (inches)
at 300ppi
640  x  4800.33.2 x 2.42.1 x 1.6
1,024 x 7680.85.1 x 3.83.4 x 2.5
1,280 x  9601.26.4 x 4.84.2 x 3.2
1,504 x 1,0001.57.5 x 5.05.0 x 3.3
1,632 x 1,2242.03.3 x 6.15.4 x 4.1
2,000 x 1,3122.610.0 x 6.66.7 x 4.4
2,240 x 1,4883.311.2 x 7.47.5 x 5.0
2,275 x 1,5203.511.4 x 7.67.6 x 5.1
2,272 x 1,7043.911.4 x 8.57.6 x 5.7
2,590 x 1,9205.013.0 x 9.68.6 x 6.4
3,008 x 2,0006.015.0 x 10.010.0 x 6.7
4,256 x 2,84812.121.3 x 14.214.2 x 9.5
4,536 x 3,02413.722.7 x 15.115.1 x 10.1
5,782 x 3,94622.8 28.9 x 19.719.3 x 13.2

Examples of contrast pics:

Save your picture in an easily accessible folder.

Step 2 – adjustments:

Once you have chosen your picture and checked the size and contrast, you need to open the following programme:

It will look like this.

Click on Image in the top left corner. You will be able to browse and select the picture you have chosen. It will open your image. Your image will be a mirror image of the original. If you are happy for it to be like that, just leave it, otherwise you can change it in the settings.

Next, click on settings at the top left hand side of the page.

This brings up the options for image settings and model settings. We will first do image settings:

Ensure your image is on the “positive image” side of the image settings, not “negative”. This is really important!!

Switch from negative to positive. This is the only setting you need to change here, unless you want to change the mirror image of your photo.

Then, go back to the model tab at the top left, click on it and click refresh on the bottom left for your new settings to be implemented.

Next, go back to settings and this time, click on model settings.

There are three settings to adjust here:

Maximum size – This is usually set at 100. Be careful increasing this too much, as it requires a lot of information processing which could slow your computer down considerably! My original image size was large at 6000×4000 and the biggest I could go to fit on the bed of my Flashforge Finder was 150. (This turned out to be a 19hour print, so I did make it smaller just for time J)

Thickness – This can’t be too thick because you need light to shine through the final product, but for printers with less resolution, you could increase the thickness a bit. I have always left my thickness level at 3mm and have had good results.

Thinnest layer – this is set at 0.8mm and it is usually good to just leave this as it is.

The rest of the settings are for personal preference and effect. I like to print my images with a border around them and I usually do a 3-4mm border. However, if you are wanting to put this image in a light box, you would probably not print the border. You can also change base/stand depth. This is to create a base to hold up your image without a stand. I don’t often do this as it increases the print time dramatically and I feel it only works well on bigger prints, but feel free to have fun and experiment!

After you have adjusted all your settings, click on Model in the top let hand corner and then click on refresh in the bottom left to apply all your settings. Once you have these settings in place, you can play around with the different shapes which are displayed at the bottom of the page. Select the shape you want and click refresh to apply. I would recommend using the flat shape for your first print.

On the bottom right of the page is a Download button. Click this button to save your image in it’s .stl format. Then open the file in your Flashforge software. Allow it to repair if it asks.

Step 3 – print settings:

We are now going to set up the printer settings.

Start by selecting Hyper resolution. Then select the smallest layer height your printer will allow. On the Finder or the Adventurer 3, it is 0,05mm. You want to print a solid model, with no inner mesh or honeycombs, otherwise this won’t work. Print at the slowest speed possible that your printer supports – we want high quality!

Please don’t forget to put glue on your plate! And glue it well! The worst thing would be to come back to the print after 6/8 hours and the corners are all lifted!

Step 4 – light boxes:

Lighting – this is up to you, but I have provided a link to a lithophane candle holder below. Otherwise, natural lighting is lovely and there are many designs for light/shadow boxes on Thingiverse.

Lithophane candle holder:

Lithophane lightboxes:

The prints can take a very long time due to the high infill of the prints, so try to go small for your first one.

Step 5 – give:

Give your litophane to someone from your family and make them smile!

Here is the pic I printed:


The print: Doesn’t look like much yet

With light from behind:

Enjoy this challenge and have fun! And please post pics of your lithophane’s on our Facebook page or Instagram