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Lithophane STL files, and how to make them...

Lithophanes are having a comeback. Originally they were hand-made images in thin translucent porcelain but nowadays, with modern technology, they can be made with 3d printers in white plastic. They need to be backlit to give the full effect. Here is what a modern lithophane looks like:

Lithophanes need backlighting

In the image below you can see better the "structure" of the lithophane. It clearly needs backlighting to be viewed properly:

Software that can create lithophane STL files from 2d images

STL stands for "STereoLithographic" and is a file format which stores hundreds or thousands of 3D triangles to form a solid shape. Just what is needed to define a lithophane.

The rest of this article is about how to turn your own photographs into 3D Lithophanes.

To produce a lithophane from one of your own photos you can use PhotoToMesh. The screeshot below shows exactly how this is done, simply drag in your photo, adjust a few parameters and save the STL file:

Program: STL file for lithophane from a photo

The output of PhotoToMesh is an STL file, which in a CAD program would look like this:

STL file for Lithophane portrait

The STL files can now be read by a 3d printer software (for example UP! from Delta Micro Factory Corporation) and sent to the printer itself:

STL Lithophane in UP software

Click here for some more practical experience with lithophanes and the DaVinci V1 3D printer.

PhotoToMesh has a demo which you can try with your own images, photos and equipment:

"I imported the STL's from PhotoToMesh into my CAM package (Cimatron E) and machined the STL directly."
Really slick software. I found it perusing the internet for a way to convert an extremely large 2d DEM image into 3d and import it into Rhino 5. I was searching for topo terrain conversion plugins. My detailed contour maps just crash Rhino and a few other 3d modeling programs. PhotoToMesh solved the problem. Thanks! - Scott



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