Lithophanes with LuBan
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Lithophanes are beautiful items with artwork etched onto thin porcelain or plastic and backlit to show the work. Many sites will generate a lithophane stl for you by just uploading the image and tweaking some settings.
The benefit of using LuBan for Lithophanes is that the software is installed on your computer, so you do not have to worry about if a website is up or not or the site being slow and not responding.
LuBan also has many features for creating Lithophanes which allow numerous customization options.
This tutorial is special as I took the photo below of my cousin Drey who passed in 2008, and turned it into a lithophane.
If you do not already have LuBan, you can go here to download it.
TIP LuBan uses millimeters for measurements
TIP After making a change to an option, press Enter to have the change take effect
To start a new Lithophane, go to File > Create > Lithophane.
You want to load your image into LuBan by clicking on Browse next to Select Photo.
TIP Black and white photos or photos that have high contrast work best for lithophanes.
TIP LuBan can create color for a lithophane! Keep reading to find out how!
Choose Your Shape
LuBan has many options for Lithophanes. Choosing the shape of your Lithophane depends on your 3D Printer's print size and the project you have in mind.
NOTE: For the examples below, I changed the size of the Lithophane to 178
The best description for a Flat Lithophane is that it resembles a typical framed photo.
There are several options available to you to customize your Lithophane. By default, LuBan adds a base with a socket in it. The socket is used when adding a nightlight or other light fixture to light your Lithophane.
You can adjust the angle of slant, the size of the base, and the size and type of the socket to fit your needs.
In the example below, I changed the base length to 50, the socket type to U, and the slant to 5 degrees.
If you want to hang your Lithophane from a window using a suction cup hanger or add a keychain to your Lithophane, you can remove the base and socket by changing the Base Length to 0, pressing Enter. Next, change the Slant to 0, press Enter, and click on Yes for the Hanger option.
Lithophane quality is best when printed standing up, and LuBan has you covered with an option to add Supports to your Lithophane. Select Yes for the Support option, and supports will automatically be generated and added to the Lithophane. These will snip off easily after printing, though you may require some light sanding to clean the edge.
You can further customize your Lithophane by changing the Border size and Border thickness. Setting Border size to 0 will remove it.
The Arc shape is like taking the Flat Lithophane and wrapping it around a cylinder.
The Arc Shape has an option for Exterior or Interior positioning of the image. This means that the image will print on the front of the Arc (exterior) or the back of the Arc (Interior).
The sample I printed for this tutorial is printed using Arc with a 60-degree angle and an Exterior image.
Rectangle and Polygon
The Rectangle shape is best if you have two to four photographs to put into the Lithophane.
The Polygon shape is great to use if you have three or more photos. The examples below are 3, 5, 6, and 12 sided.
One of the best features of LuBan's Rectangle shape is that you can choose to print the Lithophane as One Body, meaning all in one piece, or you can choose Assembly.
Assembly will generate a separate stl file for each Lithopahane, the base, and the cap. You can then print the parts individually. Assembly is an excellent idea if you want the box to be a different color than the lithophanes or if you don't want to risk a malfunction damaging the entire piece vs. just a single part.
The Tolerance option is set to -0.3 by default, which expands the slots by .3mm. You should adjust this if the Lithophanes are too loose or too tight when assembling the Rectangle or Polygon box.
Another option in LuBan is Upright or Inverted. By default, Upright is chosen. The base will be at the bottom, and the Lithophanes are upright. Inverted flips the Lithophanes upside down so that the base would be at the top and allows the Lithophane to be hung upside down from a light fixture.
Cylinder and Cone
Cylinder uses a fixed diameter, where Cone has a top and bottom diameter you can adjust.
This is a unique and customizable shape that you can choose how many control points you can adjust the diameter at.
Most people may think of the Moon Lithophanes when they hear Sphere, which won't be wrong. You can adjust the Sphere in many ways, so be creative. Want to use a puck light? You can! You can adjust the socket size to over Christmas lights, or a balloon light, or any other light source you can think of.
Printing the Sphere
When printing a Sphere, using supports or not using supports can make or break the print. Lujie Chen, the creator of LuBan, has some great advice on this point.
"If support is needed, an exterior sphere lithophane should be printed with the opening facing downward; an interior sphere lithophane should be printed with the opening facing upward. Why? The key to the answer lies in the fact that the support should not be directly in contact with the rough surface of the lithophane because it carries fine-scale and delicate structures that can be damaged when removing the support. In contrast, the smooth surface has no fine-scale structures; when removing the support attached to it, the surface quality is not compromised. If the opening of a sphere faces downward, support is needed from a printer bed to the top of the inner surface. This orientation is suitable for an exterior sphere lithophane as the rough surface is on the outside, and the support is only in contact with the inner smooth surface. If the opening of the sphere faces upward, support is needed from the printer bed to the bottom, outer surface of the sphere. This orientation is suitable for an interior sphere lithophane." - Hello LuBan, pg 30.
You can print Lithophanes with an FDM printer like a Creality Ender 3 or an SLA (resin) printer like an Elegoo Mars 2. You can use any color you want, I have seen Lithophanes printed in colors from black to white. I personally use eSun Cool White. You also need a good slicer profile to use. I tend to use the gadunky Cura profile for my Lithophanes.
There are three other shapes to choose from, but those will be gone over in a different article. I hope this helps give you an insight into the usefulness of LuBan's Lithophane feature! Happy printing!