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How to 3D Print Photographs

Photographs are not only limited to cardboard frames and screens, but they can also be printed using a 3d printer. Just think about how awesome it would be to be able to turn your memories into 3d models or even lithophane. Not only can you 3d print your photographs, but there is nothing stopping you from printing drawings as well. 3D printed photographs make for a unique gift and an intimate way of sharing your most dearly beloved memories with those closest to you.

In this article, I’m going to cover the relatively simple steps it takes to turn your images into full-on 3d models and also lithophane models. Note that this is for simple photos, not ones that are high in detail and complexity.

Turning Images Into Models

Firstly, you are going to want a program to use in order to transform your images into 3d models. For printing photos, we recommend a free software called Smoothie 3D.

Choose your desired picture

Although you can print whatever image you want, some will print in better quality than others. For example, a picture that has less detail and complexity will print a lot better than a highly complex image. It is also important to keep in mind that you want to use a picture that has clearly separated colours which are defined and do not gradually merge together.
Once you have found the photo that you want to print, then head on over to Smoothie 3D or whichever program you prefer to use, login and upload your image.

Get Modelling

Now is the time that we really get to start bringing the image to life. This step requires a little bit of drawing. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be very artistically inclined. In fact, it is more just outlining than anything. What you want to do next is to draw an outline around the main theme of your image and then this will allow Smoothie 3D to begin turning the image into a textured 3d model.
This is a very user-friendly program to use and once you get used to uploading and outlining your pictures, then the process becomes a lot faster and easier. For best results, try to use an image that is one-sided and where the other side is almost identical.

The Printing

Once all the modelling is done and everything is ready to go, you can download your STL file and 3d print it from your own 3d printer or you can choose to have the models details sent to a 3d printing company who will provide the services to you.

Turning Images into Lithophane

Lithophanes are the most popular option that people have available when it comes to 3d printing photographs. It is also one of the more easier ways of doing so. I also forgot to mention how great they look in the light.

3DP Rocks is a helpful online tool which you can use to create lithophane prints from images. All you need to do is head over to their website, click on the images tab and upload your image. 3DP Rocks will then generate a model of your image. One that is done, you will then be provided with the option of different shapes you can choose for your lithophane. After you have made your decision and have altered everything to your liking, 3DP Rocks will then convert the model which you can download as an STL file.

Once you have your lithophane image all modelled and ready to go, then its time to start printing. Before you go about your printing, try to keep these in mind:

  • Don’t use transparent filaments.
  • Don’t print at a high speed.
  • If printing vertically, try to set the layer height on your printer as low as possible.


Once you have taken the above recommendations into account, then you are all ready to start printing. Printing lithophane can be a tedious process, so try to allow up to 6 hours in printing time. It is recommended that you use a PLA filament for this type of job. You can purchase many popular, high-quality filaments directly from Go3D so you don’t have to look far at all for the materials needed.

There you have it, these are the two most popular and user-friendly ways in which you can bring your photographs and memories to life.