Look at the Light Side: 3D printed lithophanes

Some background

3D printing might be new technology, but many of its processes mimic and draw inspiration from traditional practices such as the lost wax process, ceramics, and lithophanes.

This exhibition consists of a series of 3Dprinted lithophanes, and is a collaboration between, and local photographers. Lithophanes are images that use varying degrees and layers of translucence to create an image, which is best viewed when backlit by a strong light source. They present a 3D image, which changes depending on the strength and type of light source. Originally lithophanes were made using very fine clay or porcelain, which was moulded or etched. The light sources were traditionally sunlight, candles, and oil lamps.

Lithophanes were extremely popular in Europe in the 1820s, and were produced by well known firms such as Wedgewood, Miessen, and Bleek as decorative and household objects like window plaques, fireplace screens, night lights, and mugs. Popular subject matter were landscapes, famous landmarks, bible scenes and erotica. They can also be found in centuries old Chinese and Japanese art.

3D printing has transformed the practice of creating lithophanes. In 3D printing, software is used to convert an image or photo into a layered file, which is then printed, most commonly using a plastic based filament material. The thickness of the dark areas giving the grey scale. This digital process makes creating lithophanes from photographs easier than ever before, and the results can be modified and replicated quickly and easily.

In making we used:

  • FlashForge Dreamer
  • FlashPrint software
  • PLA or ABS plastic
  • Ikea frames
  • many Arduino Nano boards (an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software) with various LED driver extensions
  • 20 meters of various LED lights (12 and 5v RGB and some Neopixel)
  • Particle Photon micro-controllers for quick testing

Many thanks to Cathie Bradley, AdeDoyin Ogunniyi, Jack Bradley, Mel Fuller and Joy Suliman for their continuous support.