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Beginner's Guide to Printing Lithophanes

So, maybe you've seen some fancy schmancy lithophane photos on social media? Maybe you saw them for sale online or in a local gift shop? Or maybe you, happily, stumbled across our lithophane line of 1.75 mm PLA filaments online while checking out our other colors.... Either way, we are here to help you get started printing the BEST lithophanes ever!!!

Calibration

Thanks to our free tool over at LithophaneMaker.com, printing lithophanes is easier than ever! First things first, you’re going to want to calibrate your printer well. Issues that often need to be addressed are:

  • Bed is Not Level: Lithophanes need a solid base to print on. The layers are so thin that warping at the bed can cause issues further in. Many people are able to fix this by using a brim on their prints. This can help smooth over a lot of small bed level issues. Others use glue stick on the bed, and this is a completely acceptable choice too!
  • Printer Wobbles in X- or Y-direction: You will need to make sure that all of your bolts and belts are tightened the appropriate amount, and the printer is placed on a level surface. Wobbling can cause shifts between layers, and this is very noticeable in lithophanes.
  • Z-axis Rods do not Move Smoothly: It’s always a good idea to periodically inspect and clean off your Z-axis rods. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning! Sometimes, it may even be necessary to apply a lubricant to the rods. Again, follow the manufacturer’s guidance on this one! The layers are so thin that a small deviation in the Z-direction greatly affects the quality of the layer.
  • E-steps Need to be Calibrated: If your e-steps are off by too much they can cause under or over extrusion. This means the layers will either be too thin or too fat and cause horizontal lines (“layer lines”) in your lithophane.

There are innumerable videos on YouTube that can walk you through a comprehensive inspection of your 3d printer and help with the calibration of your individual printer. Typically, all you have to do is search for “{My Printer} Calibration Tutorial”.

Lithophane Slicer Profile

Lithophanes require a unique profile for slicing. If the layers are too tall, or the program tries to put infill in, the lithophane won’t print well. The main differences you will see are:

  • Layer Height: Typically, we recommend a layer height of 0.12 mm with a 0.4 mm nozzle and a height of 0.08 mm for a 0.2 mm nozzle – 0.4 mm nozzles are by far the most commonly used! You can get away with a layer height of 0.15 mm with a 0.5 mm nozzle, but you will lose some details.
  • Infill and Walls: There is a constant, on-going debate on the interwebs about how to make sure that the lithophane face (the part of the lithophane that shows the image) is solid. We’ve tested 99% infill, 100% infill, and thick walls and saw no difference in the lithophane’s quality, so we recommend using the minimum number of walls necessary to have a solid lithophane face, and a small infill for the frame of around 10-15%. This approach will minimize filament usage and print time. Since the lithophane face actually includes two walls (the front and the back), in Cura you can achieve this by setting the “Wall Line Count” to the “Maximum Lithophane Thickness” divided by the “Wall Line Width”, and then divide that number by 2. Round up to the nearest whole number and voila! You have your number! If this is too complicated, just use a “Wall Line Count” of 7 and you should be good.
  • Build Plate Adhesion: As mentioned previously, a brim can be used to help hold the lithophane in place. Somewhere between 15 and 20 brim lines should be sufficient, and it will be easier to remove than a raft! Applying glue stick to the build plate can help build plate adhesion as well.
  • Speed: The speed at which a lithophane can be printed is different from printer to printer. A good place for most printers to start is:
    • Print Speed: 45 mm/s
    • Infill Speed: 45 mm/s
    • Outer Wall Speed: 30 mm/s
    • Inner Wall Speed: 30 mm/s
    • Top/Bottom Speed: 25 mm/s
    • Travel Speed: 80 mm/sec
    • Initial layer Speed: 15 mm/s
    • Initial Travel Speed: 45 mm/s
  • Retraction: Retraction is another setting that varies quite a bit from printer to printer. Stringing is a big problem with lithophanes. The best way to determine your printer’s optimal settings is to look up and print a retraction test. There are many options available online!
  • Line Width: It often helps to increase the line width by a small amount. We use a line width of 0.45 mm for our 0.4 mm nozzle. This seems to help smooth out the thinner areas of the lithophane.

Along with these settings, there are a whole host of other settings that may or may not work best for you. It can be a process of trial and error. For instance, American Filament tends to print best when the extruder temperature is in the 210-215°C, but other filaments may require something different (but you don’t need to worry about any OTHER filaments because our lithophane filaments are the best you will find!).

Once you have created your profile, we recommend downloading and printing our Lithophane Calibration Tower. This helps you decide which minimum and maximum thicknesses are appropriate. We like to place the tower in front of the light source we are using in order to see how much light will come through. In the picture below, you can see towers printed in each of our lithophane colors (from left to right): Warm Lithophane White, Classic Lithophane White, Crisp Lithophane Gray, Cool Lithophane Gray, Warm Lithophane Gray, and Sepia Lithophane Gold.

Six Lithophane Calibration Towers showing American Filament Lithophane Colors

Keep in mind that this is one lighting option – there are so many others out there to try!

LithophaneMaker.com Parameters

We recommend starting out with the Night Light Lithophane Maker. This one already has its own wide base and is not a large item to print, making it beginner friendly. First, you will need to pick your image file. Please use either a JPEG or PNG file type that does not have a long name with lots of symbols. It is best that the picture is not too light or too dark and has good contrast. Here’s an example of settings we often use:

  • Picture: AF Founders Pic.png - Use a PNG or JPEG without any uncommon symbols.
  • Crop?: Yes or No
  • Lithophane Resolution: 0.15 - Drop this value to 0.15 when printing smaller lithos. If you're creating a large one you usually have to go higher - 0.2 or 0.25 - or else the file may be too big. 
  • Maximum Thickness: 2.8 mm - When you are using our lithophane filaments 2.8 and 0.6 tend to be the sweet spot. However, depending on your backlighting (i.e., LED Bulb, Window, Warm Light, Cool Light, etc.) you may find you need to adjust these. That's where the calibration STL comes in handy – see above for link and explanation. 
  • Minimum Thickness: 0.6 mm - See note above
  • Frame Width: 6 mm - You don't want to go any smaller than 5 mm here. The frame helps support the thin lithophane lines. Anything above that is down to personal preference. 
  • Slot Width: 17 mm
  • Slot Depth: 17 mm
  • Adapter Thickness: 1.8 mm
  • Radius: 80 mm
  • Light to Lithophane Spacing: 30 mm
  • Night Light Width: 80 mm - We adjust the width and height based on the image. Keep in mind how much light a night light can throw, if you have selected No for Crop, it will lock the aspect ratio. 
  • Night Light Height: 105 - See note above

The settings that do not have italicized notes are calibrated to the typical LED nightlights you can buy at many stores. You'll just want to look for the cool or bright white ones instead of warm as they tend to be better for this use.

You can find settings examples for the other tools in the YouTube videos on our channel and at the bottom of the page for each tool.

Once you click ‘Create .stl’ the site will spit out a zip file. Within that zip, you'll find your STL file and a TXT file that includes all of your settings. This is great for reference if you find that you need to make an adjustment. 

Slicing and Printing your Lithophane

Now the fun part! Pull the STL into your slicer and ensure that it is lined up on the y axis. For the nightlight, you have to rotate 90° around the z-axis to line it up correctly. Now, slice!

Lithophane STL rotated to align with the y-axis

Once you slice the file using your lithophane profile, it can be helpful to take a look at the print layer by layer.

 Lithophane Layer View in Cura Slicer

You want to see a good variety of thick and thin areas as you look through the layers. If they are all thick, then you may need to lower your minimum thickness. If they are all thin, then you probably need to up your maximum thickness. This step may seem daunting at first, but with experience you’ll get a feel for what a good lithophane looks like through the layers.

Now it’s time to print! As with any print, watch to make sure that the first layer goes down smoothly. We like to come back after an hour or two and shine a light behind the lithophane to see if we like the way it's shaping up. If it looks too dark or too washed out, we stop it and try again with different min/max settings. It may be hard to judge at first, but you get the hang of it pretty quickly!  

Resources for Further Help and Troubleshooting 

If you are looking for more in-depth help, we have a variety of how to videos on our YouTube channel. You can also find these videos on each tool’s page on LithophaneMaker.com. A second fabulous resource is the LithophaneMaker.com User’s Group on Facebook! The files section is full of Cura Profiles for common 3d printers and various STL’s people have created to modify some of the tools. If you’re having an issue with your print, you can search the group for prior posts or create your own! Everyone is kind and extremely helpful – we all know how frustrating it can be to get every part calibrated for perfect lithophanes! 

Conclusion

We are so excited you’re here and starting on your first AF lithophanes. From calibrating your 3d printer and slicer profile, to creating, slicing, and printing your litho, we have covered all of the basics. Lithophanes may seem like an advanced print, but with a little calibration and a few iterations anyone can print them! Our users’ group on Facebook is full of invaluable resources and some of the best humans on Earth – you can get all the support you need. Personalized lithophanes are popular gifts for birthdays and holidays, and there are many successful companies that print and sell them online. The possibilities are endless! 

We spent months formulating these filaments to print high-quality lithophanes and optimize transparency for the lithophane printing process. When you choose American Filament’s Lithophane Filaments you will see fainter layer lines, sharper images, fewer failures, and a reduction in retractions! We recommend using a cool white backlight, and min/max thicknesses close to 0.6 mm and 2.8 mm. American Filament is proudly Made in America using Natureworks Ingeo Resin. Our filament tends to print best around the 210-215°C range with a bed temperature of 60°C. 

We love seeing everyone’s prints so be sure to post them on our Facebook Page. Happy printing!

 

Written by Megan Brooks

Updated: September 9, 2022

Megan and her husband, Thomas, started American Filament together in 2021. Thomas created LithophaneMaker.com in 2018, so American Filament knows a thing or two about lithophanes! Our filament is produced in Huntsville, AL, USA, using domestically sourced materials. We believe quality is important, so we always choose materials that are Made in America!