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3D Photography Lithophanes - What is a Lithophane?

Hello again everyone, welcome back to 3DPolyPosts!

This weeks blog post is a guide to Lithophanes. What are they? How do they work? Where did they come from? We go into it all to help you understand the background of the amazing product we have to offer.


Part 1 - History

First created in Europe in the 1820s, Lithophane is a term derived from the Greek, litho meaning stone and phainen meaning to cause to appear. This Greek derivation has proven confusing to people who might know some basic Greek, but do not know that lithophanes have nothing to do with stone or a stone product, but are made of porcelain.

Artisans would carve into a wax with small tools similar to what a dentist would use on a back-lit piece of glass. Next they would create a plaster mold of the lithophane. Then from the mold a porcelain slip would be added to create a positive of the image. Finally once the porcelain has dried it is put into a kiln and fired at 2000C.


Lithophanes were once the must have home decor, often placed in a glass window but always in an area with direct sunlight to reveal the beauty of the Art. They have recently made a return thanks to methods of 3D Printing.

Part 2 - How do they work?

To reveal an image of a Lithophane it needs to be back-lit from a light source, so when creating this Darker Areas of the image are much thicker as its harder for the light to pass through. Whereas White Areas are the thinnest and all shades inbetween vary in thickness to replicate the 2D Image provided.

They sit beautifully in a window, next to a lamp or with electrical candle lights. Note that while you can use real candles, make sure the flame is not too close to the product as it may damage it.

We use SUNLU Cool White Filament for all our Lithophanes as it seems to have a nice balance of detail and quality filament.


Part 3 - How do you make them?

Well, thankfully I'm not out back with a chisel in a big lump of porcelain like the old days of a Artisan. Modern times call for modern adaptations, and that's where Poly Prints 3D Printing comes in!

Any 2D image can be turned into a Lithophane. The image is turned into a Black & White variant of the original which creates a Height map. A Height map pulls a 2D image up/ down depending on the shade from 100% to 100% black and everything inbetween creating a 3D Image. Making sure the settings are set to positive so the dark is high and the light is low, otherwise you will end up with a flipped negative image...they usually look a little spooky!


The image to the left is the black and white contrasts that allow the software to compute into a 3D Image. The image on the right is how the 3D Lithophane is printed with all the variations in height.

It takes alot of adjusting and consideration to adapt an image to be the perfect lithophane.The contrasts between dark and light values can make all the difference with the end product, we adjust each image provided to get the best results for our products.

Part 4 - Great! What products do you have?

Our most popular variation of a Lithophane is the 3D Light Box, this is a 4 image Lithophane (Front, left, right, top) that comes fitted with a USB LED light inside the box. Making a beautiful Night Light that is unique to every person.

See our video of the 3D Light Box here!


With Christmas on the way we have just created a brand new form of Lithophane in Christmas Tree Decorations. A truly unique way to decorate your tree with your own pictures of family, past Christmas', pets...anything you like!


We also do individual Curved Lithophanes which are from 10cm-25cm. As they are curved they are self standing, ideal to just sit on a windowsill. Popular for Pets, Footballers and Family Photos.


Finally for a client The Blue Squiggle we created some Footballer Lithophane Light Plaques. Small self standing lithophanes with the players name on the bottom ready to be signed by players for memorabilia.


That is just about it for Lithophanes!

The quality you see is using SUNLU filament, which we use for most of our printing products. The Cool White filament is particularly nice for Lithophanes - check them out with this link - (this is an affiliate link so purchasing via that link will give us some commission which helps us keep writing great content like this lithophane blog)

If this post has helped you in any way, we would really appreciate any feedback you have in a review of our service. On Facebook or TrustPilot.

Want to see more? : Subscribe to 3DPolyPosts by Email, Like our Facebook, or follow us on Instagram @3DPolyPrints.

Thank you and until next time, Happy Printing!


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