Lithophanes are some of the coolest things you can print with your 3D printer. When you shine a light through a lithophane, the image that you printed on it appears in the shadows.
The key to getting a good lithophane is to use the right kind of filament. So what’s the best filament for lithophanes?
The best filament for lithophanes is a high quality white PLA. We love the Hatchbox White PLA because of its 0.3 mm +/- dimensional accuracy, which is the best in the industry.
What makes the best filament for lithophanes?
Lithophanes work by letting light pass through the 3D printed model and create shadows that show your original image.
Darker areas print with more density, and lighter areas have less density to let more light through. So the best filament for lithophanes is any kind of white PLA with a decent dimensional accuracy.
That’s why we recommended the Hatchbox PLA: it’s incredibly high quality, manufactured to rigorous standards, and it has great dimension accuracy for consistent prints.
Hatchbox PLA is on the expensive side, so if you’re looking for something that’s easier on the wallet and you don’t mind compromising a smidgen on quality, then the Overture white PLA is almost as good.
If you’re looking to print lithophanes commercially or professionally and you need the absolute best quality, go for Hatchbox.
If you’re a hobbyist and don’t mind saving a couple of dollars here or there, the Overture PLA will do the job just fine.
How do you print lithophanes?
Making a lithophane is incredibly straightforward. You don’t need to do any complicated 3D modeling of any sort. All that you need to do is upload a photo to one of the many online lithophane generators and it will create an STL file for you to slice.
Best software for lithophanes
This lithophane maker from 3DP Rocks is incredibly easy to use. You just upload your photo and choose the kind of lithophane you want to generate.
You can choose from a wide variety of models, but the most straightforward one is flat or an outer curve. You can leave the settings to default as they print quite well, but if you are an advanced user and wish to make tweaks, you can change some of the settings.
Click the images button at the top to drag and upload your photo, then go to the “model” button.
From the bottom menu, choose the kind of model you wish to print:
- Inner curve
- Outer curve
- Solid cylinder
- Rectangular pillow
- Dome (on top)
- Dome (on side)
Then click the “download” button to get your STL file to slice in your favorite slicer.
If you go into advanced, you will be able to change the thickness of the lithophane as you see fit. Changing the thickness will make it sturdier, but making it too thick will make it difficult for enough light to pass through.
Stick to these settings for slicing an inner curve or outer curve:
- Brim: 2mm (this will help the 3D printed lithophane stick to the bed)
- Print speed: 40 mm/s
- Layer height: 0.2mm is sufficient as you don’t need extra-fine details here
- Cooling: your defaults are fine
The most important setting to remember to enable for a lithophane is to use 100% infill, otherwise, your shadows will not come out properly.
The brim is also important, otherwise, you risk the print toppling over or coming loose before it is completed. (Learn about the differences between brims and rafts here)
Also, remember to orient your lithophane vertically in the slicer. Laying it flat will not produce the same results, and it will also be much harder to remove from the print bed once it is done.
Do lithophanes need supports?
Lithophanes don’t need supports for printing properly. There are no overhangs as such in any of the lithophanes you can generate using the 3DP rocks site.
Can you print lithophanes with other colors?
Since a successful lithophane print depends on light shining through the 3D printed model, it’s really important that you use a light color. This is why white works the best.
Of course, you can certainly use other colors, but the darker the filament, the less shadows will pass through.
Very light colors like yellow or light green and light blue may do the trick just fine. It will not look quite as good as a white one, though.
I have not experimented with using transparent filaments, but in theory, they would not work because the filament does need to block some of the light.
Lithophanes are great projects to make with your 3D printer and the best thing is that you don’t need a super-expensive 3D printer to make them. A standard 3D printer like the Ender 3 or similar will do the job just fine!