Hi y’all! I made a pretty sick colored lithopane and my colleagues encouraged me to share! Here’s the final product:
It has a stained glass vibe and there’s a neat sense of depth that pictures don’t really convey.
To get started, you’ll need:
- A neat picture! I love Hubble images but the image I used was from the Juno mission.
- Clear resin.
- Alcohol Inks - either primary colors or the specific shades you want. I use these from my local art supply store.
- A couple of small containers for mixing. I’ll be honest, I used Solo cups. Probably don’t use Solo cups.
- Can of compressed air.
- A sunny windowsill.
- Sanding supplies - I like to use three grits of sandpaper from 600 down to 1500 or 2000. Having a spray bottle of water is also handy for wet sanding!
A printer and a Form Wash/Cure would help, too!
Our first step is to create the lithopane itself. Once you find a photo you like, I’d recommend upping the contrast on your computer’s photo editor. The more contrast, the more dramatic your lithopane will be!
Create that photo into a lithopane using this converter. You’ll want to monkey with the Settings tab of the converter - Click Settings → Model Settings to get to the menu. Here are the settings I used for this project:
Once you’ve got your lithopane, import it into your preferred CAD program (I used Tinkercad) and add a frame that’s taller than the tallest point of your lithopane. Print that bad boy out in Clear resin and pull it off supports. No need to cure it yet! Here’s what my file looks like compared to the finished project in the background:
Now comes the fun part - color! Pour a little bit of clear resin into your cup or small container. Look for the darkest color in your original photo and tint the resin to match with the alcohol inks. When the color looks right, drip a few drops into the deepest part of your lithopane and manipulate it where you want it using the compressed air.
Using compressed air for this step is both super easy and it gives the color a pretty effortless fade. Once you’ve got your first color where you want it, put your lithopane flat in your sunny windowsill and let the sun cure that layer. Clear resin cures fast in direct sun but I let each layer cure for about 30-50 minutes. There’s inevitably going to be a sticky layer left when you cure it in the sun - as long as that colored resin doesn’t move when you tilt the print, you can move on to the next layer.
I don’t have any photos of this process but the general idea is to layer up different colors until you fill the lithopane to its highest peak and you’re happy with the color. When your final colored layer is cured, fill up the rest of the cavity with regular Clear resin so it’s level with the frame. This step is really just to make your print into a brick that you can sand down. You can either cure this step using a Form Cure or you can leave it in the sun for a few hours.
When you cure large puddles of resin like this, expect bubbles. I’ve done a bunch of testing on this and Clear resin definitely offgases a little when it cures. Personally, I like how bubbles look suspended in Clear resin - here’s a close-up of one of the ones I got in my print:
After everything is cured and solid, it’s sanding time! I’d recommend wiping your print down with IPA before starting just to get rid of any tacky areas. Grab your sandpaper and your spray bottle of water and get sanding. I usually start with a 600 grit sheet and sand until all of the visible layer lines and support marks are gone. Next, I’ll move on to to something in the 800 grit range and sand until the print feels smooth. After that, grab something 1500+ grit and wet sand until your print feels velvety. Sanding prints till they’re optically clear takes a while, so don’t rush it.
When you’re happy with how your print’s sanded, clear coat it with your preferred spray or coating. I like Rustoleum’s Crystal Clear Enamel. For my print, I left the back surface uncoated in order to diffuse the light coming through. It really made the colors pop!
If anyone makes their own, I’d love to see photos!