What is a CNC Lithophane and how is it made?


What is a CNC Lithophane and how is it made?

            A lithophane is a 3D image that looks plain and dull in normal lighting. When light is applied to the back of a lithophane the engraved image becomes visible. These 3D images have a greater amount of detail and depth than what can be seen in a regular 2D image. The word lithophane is a Greek term that comes from combining lithos (“stone” or “rock”) and phainein (“to cause to appear”) and means “light in stone”.

What is a CNC Lithophane and how is it made?

What is a CNC Lithophane and how is it made?

The process of making lithophanes dates back to the late 1820s where it was used to make 3D images from porcelain. In those days 3D images were hand drawn into bee’s wax which was then placed over a candle. The light passing through the wax created the 3D effect. The bee’s wax was then used as a mold for the porcelain images. Different levels of the effect could be used in various images depending on the thickness of the porcelain. In modern times we can create lithophanes using machines such as CNC routers.

            Step one in creating a modern lithophane is choosing what material you are going to make the image from. Since the goal is to have your image come to life when lit from behind you will need a translucent material. Do not use a transparent material; too much light will pass through and the visual effect will not work. The 3D effect will be achieved by machining the material so that the parts you want in light coloring are the thinnest sections of the material. By contrast the darker areas need to be thicker. A fantastic material to use is White Corian, manufactured by DuPoint. It can be a tough material to find, it is only sold to specialist suppliers, but if you contact local stores that are likely to use the material you may be able to purchase scrap pieces that the store cannot use. These pieces are likely to still be large enough for your purposes. A material with similar results to White Corian is Avonite, which gives results that are almost as good. Cheaper, but more readily available, options are Acrylic and Plexiglas. If you use Acrylic there are two versions, cast and extruded, and extruded is much easier to machine than cast.

            Next you need to choose what kind of cutter you are going to use. Regardless of what type you pick you will need a cutter that is very sharp and it is recommended to use a cooling system, lubricant or both on your CNC router when machining a lithophane. For a high quality lithophane a ball nose cutter is your best option. The smaller your lithophane is the smaller your cutter will need to be in order to get the fine details of the project to come out correctly. A larger lithophane, around 10” x 10” (250mm x 250mm), is best done with a 3mm ball nose. While a smaller cutter can be used on large as well as small projects it will take longer to machine and the detail will not really be much better. For projects that are smaller a 1.5mm ball nose will work better.

            From this point on the machining process is the same as working with any other piece of material on your CNC router. Because of the delicate and detailed work this project requires it will likely take a few hours for your machine to complete the work. However, once your CNC router has done its job you will have a unique and interesting piece of art that you can display in your home.

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What is a CNC Lithophane and how is it made?
What is a CNC Lithophane and how is it made?

One Response to “What is a CNC Lithophane and how is it made?”

  • great info Says:

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