3D print your photography to make backlit lithophanes

Dec 29, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

3D print your photography to make backlit lithophanes

Dec 29, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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I have my first 3D printer arriving next month. Ok, technically it’s a robot with a 3D printing head, but this is something I’m absolutely going to have to try. When it comes to regular prints, I just leave it up to my lab. They can produce them far less expensively and far more consistently than I can do at home. But this looks pretty cool. A 3D printed Lithophane.

Essentially, a lithophane a print which uses depth to mark the different brightness levels of your image. When it’s lit from behind, the thinner parts let through more light than the thicker parts. And so, the image comes to life. In this video from Daniel DeArco, we see exactly how it’s done.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGwatP0fNlU

Lithophanes have been around for a very long time. Since the latter part of the 1820s in western Europe. They were engraved from porcelain and backlit to reveal their image. And the exact scene in the lithophane panel would change throughout the day depending on the amount and angle of the sunlight.

Then, of course, photography happened, and lithophanes largely became a thing of the past. Just far too much effort. Now, though, thanks to modern 3D printing technology, anybody can easily create these at home. And creating one at home will be high up on my list once I get my 3D printer next month.

The process, in principle, is quite straightforward. You take your photo and upload it to a website which  desaturates it, turns it into a depth map and generates a 3D model. You download and print out this model, shine a line from behind it and that’s it. You’re staring at your photo.

Very cool, and well worth giving a try if you have a 3D printer or access to one. And if you don’t, there’s plenty of online services around the world that’ll print it for you.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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4 responses to “3D print your photography to make backlit lithophanes”

  1. Sascho de Beer Avatar
    Sascho de Beer

    Key chain for my sister, it’s her dog

    1. Sascho de Beer Avatar
      Sascho de Beer

      Key chain for my mother, pic of me and my sister

    2. Sascho de Beer Avatar
      Sascho de Beer

      Even with a really cheap printer (anet a 8) it looks pretty nice

    3. Jo Gorsky Avatar
      Jo Gorsky

      Nice effect, well done!