Illumination Through 3D Printing – Art History Lithophane Night Light

For educators looking to bring hands-on experiences of art and cultural objects to their classes, the desktop 3D printer can be a strong ally. Explore this transformative technology as a means for illuminating aspects of art history — literally. Referencing a number of works from The Met’s collection, have your students create art history lithophane night lights.

A traditional lithophane is an etched or molded artwork in very thin translucent porcelain that can only be seen clearly when back lit with a light source.

By converting an image to a height map where your whites are transparent and your blacks are opaque, you can obtain a similar effect using a 3D printer. There are several ways to create these heightmaps.

  1. Drag an image (jpg or png)  onto the build platform in Ultimaker Cura. Cura will ask you for parameters but will essentially convert your darkest areas to more layers.


2. Upload images to 3dp.rock’s Image to Lithophane app:


3. Use Thingiverse’s Customizer:


Lithophane Examples

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1311605115/photo-3d-printing-a-new-way-of-personal-customizat

https://formlabs.com/blog/how-to-make-your-own-3d-printed-lithophane/

https://steemit.com/photography/@drmake/3d-printed-photos-lithophanes-win-your-own

https://www.shapeways.com/blog/archives/35153-tutorial-tuesday-38-lightning-fast-lithophanes-cura.html

Lesson 1

A simple Lithophane project.

Select an image from the Met collection and then convert the downloaded file to a lithophane. Modify the Fusion 360 file to create a holder for your panel.

Software

Photoshop

Ultimaker Cura

Additional Resources

Tea light or LED and coin cell battery.

Procedure

Creating the Lithophane

  1. Find an image to work with. If using the Met online collection, you should use an image in the Public Domain.

2. You need to establish a base height for your panel. We recommend a minimum of 80mm.


3 .Open your image in Photoshop and change the height to 80 pixels. Make a note of the width. Mine was 66.87 pixels.  Cancel the operation.


4 .Create a new blank photoshop document. Add a white background. Add 9 to your width. In my case I am adding 9 to 66.87 to get 75.87 as my new value. Set the height of your document to 80. Save as a PNG or a JPEG.


5. Open up Ultimaker Cura and drop your white png on the build platform. Set:

  • Height to 0.3

  • Base to 0.3

  • Depth to 80

  • Change pull down to “Darker is higher”

  • Click OK


6. Now open (add the image to the build plate) your image that pairs with this blank image. Set:

  • Height to 2.0

  • Base to 0.3

  • Depth to 80

  • Change pull down to “Darker is higher”

  • Click OK


7. Right click on the lithophane and in the Move panel set the X, Y, and Z to 0.


8. Use white or a light colored PLA.


9. Set the Profile to Normal.


10. Set Infill Density to 99.


11. Set Build Adhesion Type to Skirt.


12. Print.


Creating your box

You can use this Fusion 360 file. Just download the file, upload it, and update your parameters to match your own dimensions. Under Modify, select Change Parameters.

Parameters that need to be changed are:

  • width_of_lithophane
  • depth_of_base
  • led_diameter

Modify the design to suit your light source. Will you be creating your own circuit? Do you need to add a switch? Will you be using an LED tea light?

Lesson 2

Start with a painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You could take your class to the museum or have them research the collection online to find a suitable starting image. Align the selection with whatever you are teaching: history, literature, technology, etc.

Students will create a Lithophane lamp that tells a story or provides images that allows them to refer to when presenting their story to the class.

For instance, I might start with an image of Vincent Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses from 1889:

The other three lithophanes might not come from the Met. A panel could be a map of the Netherlands (Van Gogh was Dutch). Another panel could be a cover from Emile Zola’s Germinal (Van Gogh was impressed by this book and sociological criticism is present in his work). And the last panel could be “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear,” because this incident was a turning point in the life of the artist.

Software

Photoshop

Ultimaker Cura

Additional Resources

Tea light or LED and coin cell battery.

Procedure

Creating the Lithophanes

  1. Find your four images. If using the Met online collection, use images in the Public Domain.

2. You need to establish a base height for your panels. We recommend a minimum of 80mm.


3. Think of the four images as being two sets of two. The width of the image pairs do not have to be identical, but they should be similar. For example if I open up Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear in Photoshop and change the height of this image to 80 pixels, the width will resize to 67 pixels.  If I do this for the cover of Germinal, I will have 80 for the height and 60 for the width.


4. Take the larger width and add 9 to the dimension. In my case I am adding 9 to 67 to get 76 as my new value.


5. In photoshop create a blank document (white background) that is 76 x 80 pixels. Save as base1.png.


6. Do the same for your second pair and save your white image as base2.png


7. Open up Ultimaker Cura and drop your white png on the build platform. Set:

  • Height to 0.3

  • Base to 0.3

  • Depth to 80

  • Change pull down to “Darker is higher”

  • Click OK


8. Now open (add the image to the build plate) your image that pairs with this blank image. Set:

  • Height to 2.0

  • Base to 0.3

  • Depth to 80

  • Change pull down to “Darker is higher”

  • Click OK


9. Right click on the lithophane and in the Move panel set the X, Y, and Z to 0.


10. Use white or a light colored PLA.


11. Set the Profile to Normal.


12. Set Infill Density to 99.


13. Set Build Adhesion Type to Skirt.


14. Slice, print, and repeat for your other panels.


Creating your box

You can use this Fusion 360 file. Just download the file, upload it, and update your parameters to match your own dimensions.

Under Modify, select Change Parameters.

Parameters that need to be changed are:

  • lithophanePair1Width
  • lithophanePair2Width
  • ledDiameter

Modify the design to suit your light source. Will you be creating your own circuit? Do you need to add a switch? Will you be using an LED tea light?

Project Objectives

  • Produce a digital model
  • Prepare a model for 3D printing
  • Research topic
  • Create presentation

Recommended age range 12+
Category: Beginner lessons+
Tags: 3D CAD, 3D printing, 3D printed, beginners, design, art, history, museum, education
Software: Photoshop and Fusion 360
Lesson Duration: Time for research, file preparation, printing, and presenting