We’ve blogged extensively about art and 3D printing before, covering art installations and funky music projects. But we rarely hear about photographers using 3D printing in inventive ways, that is until we ran into an order from Florida-based photographer Sandra Canning. Sandra is working with Jose’s Hub in Miami to organize an art exhibit around 3D printed lithophanes.

Brooklyn The original picture

Revitalizing an old art form

Traditionally, lithophanes are 3-dimensional images, etched or molded into a thin sheet of porcelain, which can only be seen clearly when they are backlit. Sandra’s lithophanes were inspired by 1800s lithophanes, but unlike their predecessors, they have been printed with White Resin on a Form 1 and other SLA printers.

Having no previous experience with 3D printing, Sandra decided to work with a retail service that helped her produce and design her first prototype (based on the image above) using an FDM printer. But FDM didn’t turn out to be the right solution and the quality of the print would not make the cut for a gallery show. Luckily, she met Jose, who’s been active in our community since April this year.

3D Printed Lithopane The 3d printed lithopane

Achieving the right print quality

Sandra’s first prototype was printed using FDM technology, but as Jose explains, this process would never deliver the desired outcome: “Instead of creating a solid part with gradual and highly defined surfaces, FDM type printers create a topographical map of sorts. The filament builds up in very thick layers, and for the purposes of this print, we were looking for thin layers and a highly defined surface. In addition, we needed to angle the part in every dimension to prevent any unnecessary material build-up that would erode the different parts of the lithophane. That’s why I advised Sandra to try an SLA technique. Contrary to FDM, SLA uses liquid resin instead of plastic filament. To solve the build-up issue, we pitched the lithophane on the x and y axises and tilted it on the z axis.  All the resin was able to flow off gradually as the part grew.”                    

The printer was set to a .025mm high resolution, so the print time took 32 hours in total. After removing the supports, Jose applied a light coating of clear UV resistant spray to keep the part from curling and yellowing any more than necessary.  The results were simply stunning and have driven Sandra and Jose to host their own art exhibit: “The Art of 3D Printing.”

Sandra Canning The 3D printed lithophane both lit and unlit

Meet the Maker

“As a fine art photographer, I started looking for ways to apply 3D printing in my work,” says Sandra“All of the fine art related 3D printing I found involved sculptures, jewelry, fashion, but nothing for photographers. Why are photographers not invited to the Next Industrial Revolution Party? Then I stumbled on some lithophanes on Thingiverse. While I liked the idea, I knew that what I was looking at would not serve my audience. Then, I saw  lithophanes from the 1800s and I fell in love. I became convinced that if I found the right 3D printer and the right material, I could create a little time machine and bring back something from the past. I have been on that quest ever since.”

3D Printed Lithopane

Sandra has also started a Meetup Group to help popularize 3D printing in Florida. She is asking Makers in Florida who would like to participate in live demos or chair a Meetup to join the group. The inaugural event is Friday, September 5, 2014. Sign up to attend here and visit Sandra’s blog to learn more about her project. 

Want to give lithophane printing a try? Check out this file on Thingiverse

Every now and again we receive orders from scientists who experiment with 3D printing to advance their field of study. This Maker Tale features the unique story of how a missing piece of an ancient artifact was reconstructed using 3D printing.

3D printed Roman mask

Ronny Meijers, an archeological restoration technician, is working with Arma Factory’s Hub in Arnhem to restore an artifact from the collection of the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen. The artifact is a mask-visor that is part of an antique Roman helmet. The helmet was found in a military settlement in the 1980’s without, unfortunately, the left-side.

With the help of his colleague Vivianne Veenemans (owner of 3Dsculptuur.nl), Ronny was able to 3D scan the right-hand side of the visor as well as the edge of the missing part. He then flipped the scanned ear and combined it with the braking edge of the left-hand side, resulting in a 3D printable model of the missing piece. Vivianne used an Artec 3D scanner and its accompanying software to complete the scan. The scanning process was fairly easy, as the scanning device is hand-held and could be moved quite freely around the object.   3D scanning Roman mask visor

Once the 3D model was complete, the piece was printed on a Zcorp “powder bed” printer using full color sandstone. According to Arma Factory’s Hub, using a Zcorp printer is excellent for this kind of work. With layers of less than one tenth of a millimeter, the quality is extremely high and you won’t notice that it’s 3D printed. The quality is only one of the benefits of a Zcorp printer, another is the use of a powder bed which makes it possible to print any part, in any angle, floating or not. You only need to keep the thickness in mind, as a minimum of 2 millimeter is required to make the print sturdy enough to handle.

3D printed Roman mask visor

“It has always been my wish to complete the mask but there were no reproduction techniques available to make a mirror image of the right ear, and modelling the left side of the face would have taken too much time,” says Ronny. “Recently, 3D scanning and printing have made the restoration not only possible, but affordable.”


Know of any other cool uses of 3D printing in science? Let us know on Twitter.

Over the past months we’ve been working with the Fairphone team to bring you the worlds first locally produced Smartphone cases. Instead of being mass produced you can select your own unique case which will be printed around the corner of your home. Our network of 3D Printing locations across Europe have been fine tuning their printers and we’re very excited to start printing these cool designs.

After Autodesk integrated with our production network in April, Fairphone is the next big company we’re partnering with to make production local, on-demand and personalised. 

Fairphone 3D printed cases

How does this all work? Simply go to our product page where you will be redirected to Fairphone to choose a model. Proceed with the payment on the Fairphone website, choose a color & Hub (3D printer) in your neighborhood and submit the order. Keep in touch with the Hub and once your case has been printed, jump on your bike (or use shipping) and pick up your locally manufactured case!

The line-up of case designs starts with the five above to choose from. Would you rather have your own design up there? A crowd sourced design challenge begins this week and will feature a new design every day.

Printing of the cases is limited to Hubs that have been invited based on their track record, printer model, rating and responsiveness. Quality of the printing locations is ensured by printing a test-case, specially designed for the Fairphone collaboration.

Fairphone 3D printed cases

Stay tuned for more updates on case designs in the coming week.

Today we focus  on the innovative and jaw dropping creation of James Bruton who brings to the table an Alien Xenomoprh suit. This suit is being completely 3D printed and designed from the ground up. The Cosplay industry is slowly turning more and more to 3D printing as it becomes a way in which people can turn their wildest dreams into reality. 


Meet the Maker: James Bruton 

James Bruton is the author of the esteemed XRobots.co.uk and its associated YouTube channel. He builds Sci-Fi props and costumes using 3D printing, electronics, as well as traditional techniques such as sculpting, moulding & casting. He is also a trustee of his local non-profit community Makerspace in UK Southampton who are also one of our registered Hubs.

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