In today’s episode, Tom and Tracy Hazzard talk about 3D Print Lithopanes. They’ve played around and experimented with it themselves and explain how they did it and what software they used. They also give great examples of how you can use 3D print lithopanes in your business, to make an impression and make sure that people don’t forget you.
3D Print Lithopanes
We’re going to talk about something really fun and easy that I think any of you can do and try if you have your own 3D printer. They are really fast prints, which is a great satisfying thing to get quick results. That is making 3D print lithopanes. You don’t have to have a lot of CAD skills for this. You almost need none. That’s the other thing I really like about this. You can have a lot more 2D skills. I want to start with the 2D part of things, but let’s explain what a lithopane is first.
We talked about this earlier this year once after CES because Robo 3D was showing their new 3D printers and they were doing some 3D print lithopanes at the show. Because they’re very fast prints so the chances are pretty good that someone would stand there long enough to see the whole thing or most of it print. You could print them in five or ten minutes really, it doesn’t take that long. Then take them out the build plate and print another. I think they were giving them away even as favors at the trade show. The one that we showed in that episode, we have a photo of one of Princess Leia. This was before she passed away. It was a tribute anyway. I think we may have brought them back up again after she passed away.
But since then, we’ve really taken some time and experimented with this ourselves and made and printed some of our 3D print lithopanes on some special projects and have a lot of fun with it and realized, “Wow, this is a wonderful thing to do.” It’s I think not very well understood how easy it is to do it and what tools you can use and how you actually do it. We wanted to talk about that today. I think you have to be really careful and make sure that you want to do it. A lithopane is basically like a 3D image of a photograph or any kind of drawing or something like that, you can do a lithopane from. The idea is that it’s three dimensional. It’s a 3D interpretation of a 2D image really. Think of like a topographical map where you have areas that are interpreted to be higher and lower. Of course the fact that 3D printing for the most part is done in layers is that if you do thinner layers and you get more variations of thickness, you can imagine how you can build a topographical map type of object.
But the important part is that you’re supposed to hold it up to the light to look at it or you’re supposed to backlight it or something. To get the full effect, it’s lit from behind. What I think is most interesting about it is that you can start from a photograph. You can have 2D skills and this is a good way to be very out of the box successful with your 3D printer and with the skill level you have as you’re building your CAD skills. Especially if you even have hardly any CAD skills, you can do this.
I think we did an episode quite a while ago about Adobe’s 3D print from Photoshop. There’s a 3D print output from there. Thinking about you could use Photoshop or one of those types of programs to do what you need to do here for the most part. Let’s talk about the photograph that you start from or what you start from. Let’s just say that maybe you want to create a 3D print business card. That’s an idea here. We’re going to create a 3D printed business card with maybe our picture on it or something like that or our logo or whatever it is that might have something to do with your business and with you. You start with that image of it.
First off, you want to have an image that has varying degrees of gradation. Lights to darks in it, you want a good photo that has very light lights and very dark darks. You want to have good contrast level and if it doesn’t, you want to adjust it. We strongly suggest that you look at changing it to a black and white photo from that standpoint so that you can clearly see the blacks and the whites. If you’re having trouble, and this depends on the balance of the photograph, there is also a case by which you can reverse it. In other words, you make a negative of it so that you can clearly see the black areas, what will be whites and things like that. It’s just a different way of looking at it, it depends on what you do.
The more successful 3D print lithopanes have a higher degree of light areas, very, very thin areas because more light comes through those areas. Sometimes, when you’re looking at it in a two dimensional model, it helps to see the black because you can’t be always sure that your white is the whites. Our eye doesn’t see whites and off lights and grays like that as easily as we see the dark. It just can help you in terms of evaluating, “Do I have enough balance of white areas and dark areas,” if you do an inversion.
In fact, there’s a lot of tools in a program like Photoshop, if you have access to that. If not, resident in any operating system, there are different programs that read photos and interpret them in the light to do a certain amount of editing. Even on your phone, you can do a bit of photo editing these days and apply all sorts of filters, like you might do for Instagram and things. There’s a lot you can play with. Some are going to be more successful than others. I even did experiment with using color images, colored photographs. They will work, they interpret into these three dimensions, but some colors have more success than others. Generally, you converting things to a gray scale photograph, not strictly black or white. It needs to be a gray scale. It has to have the levels in between the black and the white layer.
You want to make sure that you’ve up the contrast level between everything so that you’d get a very clear black layer and a very clear white layer and then you have what it’s in between. In this case, you’re making a business card, it’s a rectangle. You want to make sure that you have balance across the rectangle with black areas and white areas so that you also have that, so you don’t have all of your, what will be the lightest areas all in one side of the card versus the other, if that’s your goal. If it’s not, if you were doing something where you really wanted your face on one side and you wanted it to stand out, you would want most of your lightest thinnest areas to be over on that left hand side. Then if you are making a business card, just one quick suggestion, if you’re putting an image of yourself, most people are right handed and they will hold the card with their thumb over the right side of whatever it is they’re holding. Do not put your most important image on that right hand corner.
But in my experience, people that see these things just think they’re so incredibly cool. They’ll be holding it on the edges. It’s going to be the one business card they really remember in recent memory, when everything else is just another piece of paper, this one is going to be sitting on their desk. You’ll be top of mind if you give a 3D print business card. The other thing just on the business card side of things, the tip, if your 3D printer has the capability to do more than one color, you might want to do a very top layer of some of the text and things into different color or if you can also pause your print and change your filament so that there’s a portion of the business card that actually is a different color, high contrast with your business name or your name and more readable. Because words do not come out very well. It’s very hard to read. Images of yourself or your company logo, things like that show up really well.
What I decided to do was make a promotional item. It was a really kind of business card sized, but I made a USB flash drive or flash drive holder. I went and bought some of the chips that you use for putting in a USB drive that had a couple gigabytes of memory that I would give away to clients. That’s a very useful thing, everybody needs a flash drive these days. But I made one that the client would never want to give away, putting their photo on it and their company name. I think it’s also a great promotional product opportunity that you could have it made up for your company and give away at trade shows and things like that.
You can either have this subtle, it looks like a white card, you pick it up and hold it to light and wow, there’s this surprise when you see this images. Or you can do the combination like I was saying on the business card where it pops up into different color at the highest layer and then you still have the fun reveal of the image. But I had to do a lot of experimenting. Here’s how you can do it. You can use photo editing programs to manipulate image and you’re going to have to go through some trial and error manipulating your image to get it to produce the best result of 3D print lithopanes when you hold it up to the light.
Now, when you have that resolved, how do you then make this STL file that is this 3D relief of your image? I used Cura. Cura is a free program you can download on the internet, no cost for it. But I don’t think people realize, when you go file open in Cura, you don’t just have the option of loading an STL file, you actually can load other kinds of files and you can choose an image file, like a JPEG. All you do in Cura instead of loading an STL is you load a JPEG and then as it comes up, it’ll tell you how it’s interpreting that JPEG in terms of the overall size, the length and the width, and you can adjust that right there. You can make it the size you want. You want the business card 50mm x 75mm or whatever. It will make it those dimensions. You also then can choose the overall height like how many millimeters tall is this going to be.
That’s really where you want to be really careful. Sometimes when you get it too thick, it doesn’t look good. I think thinner is better, which actually is going to print faster anyway and use less material. You do have the issue that you had to fit the USB portion in, but you can also think about it like a mountain. You could have a higher side where you have to put in that USB and then it could dip down and go thinner to the other side of it. You can have that directional thing to compensate for it because it does look a lot better when it’s thinner. I experimented with that as well. You need a certain amount of dimension to have a mechanical connection between the chip and what’s going to hold the chip and all these things. That’s a different engineering problem, we’re not really going to talk about today. I just wanted to make you aware of it because you’ll see that in some of the examples. Some of them just look a little too thick and they really didn’t show a lot of great results because of it. The ones that were thinner definitely were more successful.
You can determine, “Is the whole thing going to be 3mm thick? Is the whole thing going to be 4mm thick?” You define that and then you have another option in Cura, you can define whether the darker areas are going to be thinner or the lighter areas are going to be thinner. That’s where you want to be careful as to how you designed it to begin with. If you did the negative image, the reversal with your dark areas, you need to assign your dark to the thin areas. If you left it like a normal photograph, your white areas or your lightest areas will be your thinnest.
The way I did it, most of the time, I was importing an image into Cura where it looked like an old image. Even if I reversed it to do some editing, I put it back to normal viewing. Most often, I made the thinner areas where the lighter areas in the image. But like I said, you could to it either way. It works both ways. Then once you just input those parameters and say, “Okay,” it then goes and generates an STL file for you based on interpreting the photo and those overall thickness, length, width and then light or dark, higher or thinner criteria and boom, you’re done. You have an STL file that then you can go and slice. If you use Cura for your slicing, you’re already there, do it. If not, you can export the STL. I actually found exporting the STL, I also washed it through Netfabb, which is tend to do a lot of the time. Maybe I don’t always need to. Depending on your slicing program, you might consider that. But just to clean up any potential errors in the interpretation. But I found most of the time that it probably wasn’t necessary.
You can put it into your other slicing program, whether you’re using Simplify3D or a printer’s proprietary slicing software. You can export the STL and then bring it into whatever program you want and just slice it in one color. I also think thinner layers, if you have the time to let it do 100 micron layers instead of 200 micron layers, you’ll get a more dramatic event when you hold it up to the light and see it. But you can also do it thicker layers too. Have some fun with it, experiment. It certainly teaches you a lot about 3D printing and slicing without having to worry about the CAD part of it. I would say it’s a really good gateway to getting into 3D printing and learning how to use your printer and having some fun results that everybody can enjoy. That’s really been our experience with it lately. Plus it’s just really cool to show off. It’s super cool because it’s so dramatic, everybody wants to see it.
We actually gave one to friends of ours at Speaking Empire, Dustin Matthews, I adore him. He’s just such a good guy. He’s such a great digital marketer. Their company is really cool. They had these USB drives. We just really recreated this one. We said, “This is really rough, but we wanted to show it to you as an idea.” When we shared it with him, he immediately put it up to the light and posted it on Facebook and said, “Look at the cool thing I just got,” which is what you want to happen. That’s the whole purpose of it. How many people have you given a business card to that took a picture of it and put it up on social media and tagged you and said thank you for giving it to them? Probably never.
In this case, it was a little more flattering because it was his image on there. It wasn’t ours. We didn’t give him our business card. But we still got tagged and we still got shared. That’s a strategy. We call that ego bait. If you want someone to share something, putting an image of them or something they’re highly interested in, guess what? It’s going to get shared. That’s probably one of the biggest business tips of the day here really, is that if you want to make sure someone’s going to push it out, especially if they have a huge following and they’re going to remember you. This is a little simpler than what I’ve done for the past couple of years, like wearing my 3D printed ties into a business meeting or into a conference. Nobody forgets me in that tie. They’re not leaving that room without knowing who I am and knowing what I’m about. I’m burned on their brain, they won’t forget.
This business card idea, flash drive, whatever kind of freebie giveaway you might make out of it, key chain, who knows? You can make all sorts of things with this. You will be remembered and likely be shared. Yes, it’s all about 3D printing, but it’s also about impressions you make whether in school, in business and networking, whatever that may be. Here’s an opportunity. Share it. Try it. If you do try it, I’d like to make a little request if you got this idea from us, try it, do it, use it for your own business purposes, but when you put it on social media, tag 3D Start Point please. Let’s just share it and have everybody who listens to the podcast be able to see what it is you’re doing. We will share it back for you. We’ll push it out.
Find us on social media @3DStartPoint. Thanks for listening to 3D Print Lithopanes on the WTFFF podcast. This has been Tom and Tracy. We’ll talk to you next time.
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