Lithophanes and 3D printing – photos as if by magic

Whether as a gift or for your own interior, lithophanes are suitable in any way. The small, and at first glance inconspicuous works of art, are based on an ancient art technique. Whereas lithophanes used to be made by hand, today the 3D printer does the work for you. Below, we'll show you how to create lithophanes in the 3D printer and what you need to keep in mind.

The most important in a nutshell

  • The lithophanes are special relief representations, which shine in full splendor only through appropriate lighting
  • The special appearance results from different material thicknesses, creating lighter and darker areas
  • The lithophane technique has been around since the 19th century
  • Back then, the artwork was created by hand, but today 3D printers do the job for you

What actually is Lithophane?

A lithophane is a special form of art and representation. In this case, the desired image is presented as a three-dimensional relief, which only becomes visible through the lighting in the background. Essentially, the image is based on layers of material of different thicknesses, creating lighter and darker areas. This technique is not entirely new. Already in the 19th century artists made lithophanes, for example, from porcelain or glass.

Especially through 3D printing, lithophanes have become a real trend again. No wonder: After all, you can easily create them yourself with a 3D printer. So you always have a cool gift at hand or can provide in your own home, for example, with individual lampshades for “eye-catchers”.

Create lithophanes with the 3D printer: This is how you proceed

A few years and decades ago, individual skills and fine fingers were required for the lithophanes, but today you can easily make them yourself. We'll show you how to do this with a 3D printer below.

What you need

The beauty is that you don't need much material to create the lithophane. Quite the opposite. The most important thing is the material for the image, which should ideally be a bright or white filament. The reason for this is simple: if it is too dark, it is not possible to achieve good “contrast” within the image. The lithophanes would thus miss their impressive effect.

The majority of the work is done by appropriate tools. For example, you can use, ItsLitho or These services conveniently convert the image from 2D to 3D. Printers include the Anycubic Viper or the Form SLA 3D printer from Formlabs.

Step by step guide: 3D printing lithophane

The individual steps on the way to a work of art with the wow effect are simple and straightforward. We will show you the process below with the help of software. However, most slicers and tools have a very similar structure, so that these instructions can often be adapted without any problems.

Step 1: The right image

First of all, you need to pick out the right image for your lithophany. This can be a picture of your pet or your family, for example. You should pay attention to the fact that pictures that live on a strong color effect are rather less suitable for lithophanes. Likewise, blurred images are not suitable. Apart from that, however, you can access almost all graphics. Not only photos and images are suitable, but also, for example, company logos or the like. However, photos that show a strong contrast distribution anyway, have visible edges and a high resolution are particularly suitable.

Depending on the software you use, you can automatically convert the images to grayscale when importing them into the respective software. You should reduce any noise in the image as much as possible. You should save the image with as high a resolution as possible. Preferably in a PNG format, although high quality JPEG is also an option.

Step 2: The right settings

3dp provides you with numerous setting options as software. In the “Settings” section, you can conveniently set various parameters here and, for example, invert the grayscale of the image. It is also possible to mirror images or multiply them in one direction. You can also adjust the height of the print object on the Y axis, for example, with the “Maximum Size” setting.

If you want to scale your image, you should only do this in the software and not later in the slicer. Otherwise you will have unwanted interpolations on the image. You can also customize other things in the software. Among them, for example, the thickness of the thickest parts or the thickness of the thinnest parts of the image. Once all the settings are adjusted, you should check them again in the 3D view of the image. Afterwards you can download the generated STL by clicking the “Download” button.

Step 3: Create lithophane

When creating the lithophane you should consider several things. Thus, as a rule, the vertically printed lithophanes have a much better effect than the flat printed copies. In addition, the printing time is usually significantly lower. We therefore advise printing even actually “flat” lithophanes exclusively vertically.

Step 4: Slicing and printing

For a perfect impression, the lithophanes should be produced in the slicer under a separate printing profile. The reason for this are the special settings of these 3D models. It is advisable to set the infill (Infill) to 100 percent and also to crank up the number of outer layers to a maximum. In 3dp, for example, you can simply set a value of 40. Unwanted zigzag movements and vibrations are thus reduced, and the cleanliness of the print is thus increased. You also reduce the risk that the object can simply come loose during printing. In general, the same applies to lithophanes as to any 3D object: the slower the printing, the higher the quality.

Conclusion: Special gift for friends and family

For a long time, lithophane was an almost forgotten art form. It is only thanks to 3D printers that this technology has really come back into fashion and is now widely used. No wonder: within a very short time you can create individual and special works of art with this technique. These are suitable, for example, as a special gift, as a highlight in your own interior or for the reception of business customers. Either way, creating lithophanes is far from witchcraft and, with the right settings, a guaranteed success.

Lithophane: FAQ

When creating lithophanes with a 3D printer, the main thing to pay attention to is the filament used. This should be as white or bright as possible. Although lithophanes are theoretically also possible with colored film ends, these cannot offer an identically high quality.

In general, the lithophanes are suitable for any image. The only exception are the pictures, which only develop their effect through an appropriate color effect. With the monochrome lithophanes, these images can then not achieve their full effect.

Colored lithophanes can be created with identical ease as black and white lithophanes. It should be noted, however, that the colored filament is less detailed than its black and white “relatives”.

Lithophanes can also be printed with an SLA printer based on white resin. However, classic printing using FDM printers is much more widespread.