Here’s all you need to know about 3D printing lithophane

Imagine your still pictures coming to life as a 3D version; sounds fantastic. Well, that’s what lithophanes are all about. They turn your 2D images into 3D printed models without too much trouble.

The real trouble is 3D printing lithophane; how do you do it? Here I will take you through everything you should know about lithophane, including its method.

So, if you want to turn your memorable photos into a unique 3D model, I would suggest sticking to the end.

Can you make lithophane with any pictures?

Usually, you can use almost any picture and turn them into lithophanes. It should work for the most part. However, the results will differ based on the image you are using for lithophanes.

Images with too much complexity or lack the contrast factor don’t turn out as well as lithophanes. So, you have to keep some things in mind while choosing a picture for making lithophanes. You should consider the simplicity of the image and its contrast.

What do I mean by simplicity? A picture with fewer color profiles, a simple background, and fewer distracting objects makes up a simple picture. When there is excessive color with unique shapes and a messy, too much going on a type background, it makes the picture complex. It can provide messy printed results when you try to make lithophane out of that.

Like this, you will need to get a picture with the proper contrast. The contrast in an image clarifies the subject and the background. Sometimes the quality of the lithophane heavily depends on the difference because the printer takes most of the elements of a picture based on the contrast levels.  

Indeed, you can avoid these things and use just about any picture. But if you do so, don’t expect excellent lithophane quality, as the core images you chose weren’t of the best quality either.

Enough with the pictures. Let’s make an actual lithophane using your 3D printer. Here’s how you do it.

Requirements for a lithophane

Making a lithophane model with your 3D printer requires some considerations aside from the picture quality. First, let’s get through the things you will need to make lithophane models.

A 3D printer

I mean, it’s the very core of making a lithophane model at your home. You will surely need a 3D printer; otherwise, how will you print the model. Now, the real trouble with people is what kind of printer do you need and can you use any printer or not?

The answer is, yes, you can use just about any printer for lithophane. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an FDM printer or a resin printer. However, the printer type undoubtedly impacts the quality of the lithophane.

As you already know, resin printers provide much more detailed prints than FDM printers. So, if you want many details in the lithophane, you will need to use a resin printer over an FDM printer.

If you choose an FDM printer, make sure to avoid any transparent filament because transparent filaments can’t provide you with good-quality 3D prints.

Proper filament

Like any other 3D printed models out there, you will need a proper filament material for your lithophane. The material depends on what printer you are using. If you are using a resin printer, the only material you can use is resin.

As for FDM printers, I would recommend going with PLA or ABS. These materials work out much better than any other options. Make sure to choose solid ones over the transparent filaments.

A computer

Why do you need a picture? It doesn’t matter which method of making a lithophane you choose. You will need to work on converting the image to be suitable for your lithophane. It requires you to use special software in different methods.

But one common thing is the use of software, and for that, you will need a computer or a laptop.

Once you have these things along with the picture you want to make a lithophane out of, you can proceed with the methods. Let’s get through that part very quickly.

Methods for making a lithophane with the 3D printer

Now, this is the real deal; here, you will get the methods for making a lithophane. Yes, you heard me right. There are multiple methods for making a lithophane with your 3D printer. Each one requires some level of work and expertise for you to execute. So, after going through all of them, you will know which one works out the best for your particular scenario.

There are typically three methods for making 3D printed lithophanes. You can either use slicer software or CAD software. Or you can try using a converter that converts the regular image to lithophane printable files. Let’s dive deep into each method to learn how they truly work.

Method – 1: Using the slicer software

The first and most obvious method that comes into the mind of any 3D printing enthusiast is the use of slicer software. Almost all the 3D printed models require some work with the slicer software to provide quality prints. So, if you already 3D print a lot with your printer, this method will be the best because you already know how things work here.

Now, for 3D-printed lithophanes, there are some unique things that you need to be wary of. For instance, slicer software may not have some advanced features that would typically make the lithophanes the best quality. However, they are straightforward and quick to use for existing 3D printer users.

If you are a beginner, I think the slicer software option will work out the best. You can try one of the most popular ones, CURA by Ultimaker. This one has the opportunity for you to print lithophanes.

Here’s how you can use a slicer software for creating lithophanes –

  1. First, you have to make sure you have saved the image you want to use on your computer.
  2. Then, you have to open the software and import that image. You can see the open file option from the menu or settings of the software, and I am talking about CURA here. Most popular slicer software works the same way.
  3. Once you open the image, the software will give you some parameters to set how the picture will print out as a 3D model.
  4. There will be a lot of different settings like height, base, width, depth, smoothing, and color model. These parameters need to be set with perfection because this is the essential part of the lithophane.
  5. The height usually refers to the model thickness. You can go as high as you want, but staying within 5mm yields the best results for the most part.
  6. Then, you choose any desired number you want for it the base. It acts as a foundation of the model and has nothing to do with the actual design.
  7. Next, you decide on the width, which means the overall surface area of the lithophane.
  8. The depth settings will decide the length of the lithophane. It can be a bit confusing for some, so now you know.

You will also need to go through a color model, contrast, and smoothing settings. Once you have gone through all the stages and set them to your desire, the slicer software starts working. The software then will convert your image to a 3D model and lets you slice the file. Then, you can save that as G-code, which you will later use on your 3D printer.

Method – 2: Using a CAD or 3D modeling software

This method is for advanced users who know about 3D modeling software and can use them. While blender is relatively popular among users, I would say, Photoshop, with its 3D elements, has become a much easier option for lithophane purposes.

Following up on this method will require a lot of expertise in the software and a higher-end computer. Because most of the 3D modeling software you get to see these days tend to have higher system requirements.

Here’s how you use a 3D modeling software for creating lithophane –

  1. First, you will need to design the whole 3D model in the software. I won’t dive into that because it’s another discussion.
  2. You can load the image and blend it into the 3D model design. If you already know how to create 3D models in software, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Sometimes, you can also find presets available that come with all the necessary settings. You can download that and load it up on the software you are using.

  1. After designing the model, you can move on to exporting it in the 3D printable file format, which is STL format. Different software will have other ways to do it. But for the most part, you will find that on the export settings and save the file in STL format.
  2. Keep in mind that you will need to get through many different settings. These are just basic 3D printing settings that you would have done for any other 3D printed model.

You are almost done with the lithophane as soon as you have the STL file. All that’s left is to print the file using your 3D printer, and that’s it.

Method – 3: Using a lithophane converter

Don’t want to go through too much hassle? Then, using an image to lithophane converter is the best and easiest solution for you. You won’t need experience or expertise to use the software. Most of these converters are browser-based options where you can upload the pictures and turn them into 3D models with STL file formats.

There are several services out there that you can find. Popular choices you get to see are 3D rocks, lithophane makes, and ItsLitho. Different services will provide you with unique features, so it’s up to you which one you pick. You can check out the other options to see which suits your preferences the most.

These converters are excellent because they provide you with great customization options. All the converters have the same process so that you can follow the below steps, and it should work out for you.

Here’s the process of making lithophane using a converter –

  1. The first thing to do is head over to the converter service website.
  2. Then, there you should find an option to upload an image.
  3. After uploading the image, it will bring up some customization options. There, you can choose the shape, the dimensions, and the depth of your lithophane.
  4. Then, there should be options where you can tweak the trim settings and get your perfect 3D modeling of the image that you chose.
  5. After all the settings are done, you should get a downloadable file. Usually, the files automatically download as STL files, so there is nothing much to worry about.

Like any other method, you can load up the STL file in your 3D printer and start the printing right away. That’s pretty much it for the technique.


In summary, 3D printing lithophane isn’t that difficult at all. If you have a 3D printer, the work becomes more straightforward than you think. It’s almost like printing regular 3D models. The only thing you have to worry about is turning the image into a 3D printable file with a model.

Now, you know about the methods for doing that as well. So, you don’t have to think about anything else at all. As for the ways, I would say using the lithophane converters work out the best because they are much more convenient, easy to use, and provide great options.


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