How to Convert Images into 3D Files for Printing

Are you a bit of a newbie when it comes to 3d printing and are wanting to learn how you can 3d  print an image with little to no CAD knowledge or experience?

If that sounds like you, and you are looking for some simple ways to 3d print image files but find it overwhelming with all the things there is that you need to know, then you have come to the right place. The purpose of this guide is to show you how you can easily convert a .jpg or .png File to an STL file ready for printing.

Image result for 3d printed photo

Things You Need to Know  Before You Begin

If you’re a newcomer to 3d printing, it can appear to be complicated as if it were rocket science. One particular question people ask often if they are new to it is “How can I turn a photo into a 3D model?” The great thing about 3d modelling and 3d pictures is that the sky really is the limit. You can create literally whatever you want.
In this case, we’re talking about how you can convert your images ready to be made into 3d printed models.

There are several programs out there that are capable of converting images into printable files, but before we get into that there are a couple of things you need to know.
While it is true that you can turn a 2d photo into a 3d model, it is important to remember that printing 2d image files will not result in a highly detailed 3d image. If that is what you have come here looking for, we are sorry to disappoint. However, following these methods will result in a ‘not so flat’ image if you know what we mean.

Below, we have 3 methods in which you can turn an image file into a 3d printable file.

Lithophane Converter

One of the ways in which you can convert an image into a 3D printable file is to make something called a lithophane. If you’re not sure what a lithophane is, it’s a is a three-dimensional object that uses differences in thickness to change the amount of light passing through itself.
These variations in thickness create the dark and light parts of an image, seemingly “embedded” in the object. A lithophane image is only visible when there is light behind it. One of the downsides to lithophane is that it only shows one colour.

Image result for lithophaneThe easiest way in which you can create a lithophane is to use the online image to lithophane converter. 

All you need to do is go to their site and:

  • Click on the “Images” menu and upload your file.
  • Choose your lithophanes form in the “Model” menu.
  • Go into “Settings”, and then to “Model settings”. Change the “Maximum Size” to the desired size you want your image scaled to.
  • Go into “Settings”> “Image settings”. and change the first slider to “Positive Image”.
  • Go back into the “Model” menu and click refresh and then download.

When you go to 3d print it, make sure that it is vertical and has 100% infill.

Windows 3D Builder

If you are the owner of a Windows computer, you may have come across their preinstalled 3D builder. This program has a nifty little feature that allows you to convert image files into printable STL files. It’s really quite easy, there are only a few steps to it:

Image result for windows 3d builder

  •  Begin by clicking on “Add” in the “Insert” menu and choose the image you want to convert.
  • Adjust the “Levels” and the “Smooth” sliders until you reach the desired smoothness and crispiness. There are also other things you can tinker with to achieve different effects.
    Play around a bit and see what you can do.
  • Once you’re happy with the model, click the “Import Image” button. Here, you can change the scale with the “Scale” tool at the bottom of the workspace. When scaling, it’s good to lock the proportions by clicking the lock in the same menu.


Of course, we cant talk about a program that is only exclusive to Windows and not mention software that Mac users can use for converting images. This program is not as powerful as the Windows 3D Builder but works perfectly fine. This is also much easier to use if you’re already using Cura as a slicer because you don’t need to export and import as much.

Image result for cura

  • Download the Ultimaker Cura slicer.
  • Import your image into Cura by dragging it into the workspace.
  • As soon as you have imported the image, there will be a menu with various options. Here you can change many things such as the height, width, thickness, smoothness, and more.
  • Finally, you can export it as an STL file by clicking “File” > “Export”, or you could slice it for 3D printing right away.