What Is A Lithophane


What is a lithophane? A lithophane is a very special piece of art from the past. It has a rich history and has evolved over many years.

The art has its charms because of the unique way it’s displayed. It’s usually a straight surface of thin material which contains a hidden secret. This secret will only reveal itself when light shines on the back of the material and shows its true beauty.

This special revelation is expressed in a piece of beautiful art that can include highly detailed images. The multiple elements required to reveal the hidden images make the lithophane so interesting to observe! No wonder that the lithophane is so unique and special in the world of art.

A 3D printed lithophane is shown without light behind it.
This is what it looks like with light behind the lithophane!

How does a lithophane work?

So how do these images become revealed? The lithophane needs to be a thin material, formerly end mostly porcelain, with varying thicknesses. It’s fundamental for a lithophane to have variations in thickness. Thicker parts within the lithophane will block more light than the thinner parts. This way the material can manipulate different intensities of light passing through the material. 

This creates different contrasts which can be seen with the eye as different intensities of gray. When the contrast is carved out of the material very detailed and precisely it can display very realistic images.

In the picture above you can see the contrast and depth differences

3D printed lithophanes

For centuries, they carved lithophanes out of porcelain. Only artists with years of practice could master the art of the lithophane. The artist carved very precisely on the surface of the porcelain to create wonderfully detailed images.

With the arrival of 3D printers, everything is possible. Besides, 3D printers are becoming increasingly accessible to hobbyists. This created an abundance of 3D printed creations. They discovered that 3D printers and lithophanes were a perfect match. This discovery gave new light to the beautiful art. And because we save every image digitally nowadays, we can make a lithophane of everything!

Note: The representation of the 3D printed lithophane will, just like the porcelain variant, still be 2-dimensional.

An inch away from making a lithophane yourself

Creating this beautiful art is now more accessible to everyone than ever. People with a 3D printer are just s a couple of clicks away from making this beautiful art. But for those without a 3D printer, we have good news too. Because the prices of 3D printers dropped substantially in the last couple of years. Which makes it a more accessible hobby!

Every image on your digital devices can be made into a lithophane. And with some help of tools, you can easily convert your images into an STL file for 3D printing your lithophanes!

See the magic happen in the video below when the lithophane gets revealed!

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