Photo 3D printing: where engineering meets art

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3D printing is changing the landscape in manufacturing and personal customization. But, you may be surprised that it intersects with art too when printing pictures. Pictures above show a tiger face photo along with its 3D printed pictures with and without a light source (from left to right).
Few months ago, I got laid off from my daily job in a company specializing in manufacturing of drilling equipment due to low oil prices. That caught me by surprise but I was prepared. I had an opportunity to pursue some of ideas that I had in mind: writing a technical book or developing a household product. I decided to pursue the latter due to its possible higher financial incentives. Every new product starts with a prototype and I needed a 3D printer so I bought one and started printing. I was new to 3D printing world so I attended “Youtube” university to learn more about it. I wasted fair amount of printing filaments until I could get a hang of it. One day, I stumbled upon a video showing how to 3D print a photo. I was impressed and decided to 3D print few photos of my friends and gave them as gift. They all liked it while surprised. The amount of printed details was impressive considering all was done using a budget 3D printer. It turned out that the related art to this technique is called lithophane which was developed in 17th century in Europe. Based on Wikipedia it is” an etched or molded artwork in very thin Translucent porcelain that can only be seen clearly when back lit with a light source. A lithophane presents a three-dimensional image, completely different from two-dimensional engravings.” But, how is it created by a 3D printer? It all boils down to image processing. A digital image consists of pixels with colors varying from white to black and between. These pixels are assigned numbers from 0 to 255 based on their brightness. Now, we have a matrix of numbers in which all mathematical operations can be performed. An image processing software takes this matrix and assign a thickness based on the pixel brightness. That is, darker and brighter pixels become thicker and thinner respectively. The result is a 3D object that a 3D printer can print. When it’s back lit with a light source, a picture is revealed by the difference in the amount of light passage. So, it’s a picture seen by back light and not direct light and that has a lot of applications within a household. It can be placed on a window and the picture characteristics can change by sun light. Also, a night light or lamp shade can be found at any home. A 3D printed photo can be placed as a cover of these light sources turning them into more than a light source. Also, it makes a perfect gift for the family and friends for occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or special events to name a few.

From business standpoint, I didn’t find any place to offer this service conveniently. So, I decided to create “3D Printed Gifts” with possible expansion to other personalized gifts.  The online store is designed such that different lighting sources ranging from regular to color changing LED night lights are offered and then photos can be uploaded easily. With a fast turnaround, 3D printed photos with the desired light source are ready within a few days. To upload your photos, click here. Enjoy 3D printing your photos!

7 thoughts on “Photo 3D printing: where engineering meets art

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