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How to Convert Images (JPG/PNG) into STLs for 3D Printing

Picture of Alexander Issal
by Alexander Issal
Aug 3, 2019
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Want to 3D print an image without CAD knowledge or complicated software? Quickly learn how to convert PNG and JPG to STL with this convenient guide!

Converting PNG and JPG to STL But First, a Disclaimer

Image of: But First, a Disclaimer
A 3D model of a face. (Source: newatlas.com)

3D modeling can be intimidating for a newcomer. Creating models from 2D images could be a more intuitive way to enter the field. In fact, there are several ways to convert JPG and PNG files to STL files in order to derive a 3D model from an image.

But before we explain these methods, let’s talk about what they’re not: Though it’s true that 3D models can be made from flat pictures, the methods described in this article will not produce complete, detailed 3D models.  Instead, the methods we’ll be discussing are more suited for giving flat 2D designs a three dimensional, yet still more-or-less flat, physical form.

So if you’re wondering if you’ll immediately get a bust of the Mona Lisa using a picture of it, the answer is no (unless you flex your artistic muscles a little). But that doesn’t mean the following methods don’t have their uses!

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Converting PNG and JPG to STL Option 1: 3D Builder (Windows)

A Fortnite logo printed from an image.
A Fortnite logo printed from an image. Source: pinshape.com

The first and probably easiest option is to use the 3D builder app that comes pre-installed on almost any up-to-date Windows computer. The app has a feature that can convert an image into an STL or OBJ file very easily. Note that this will not work on Mac, only on Windows 10. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. If you don’t already have the 3D builder app on your computer, download it from the Microsoft Store.
  2. After you have downloaded and installed the app, drag your image onto the workspace or click “Add” in the “Insert” menu and choose the image.
  3. Adjust the “Levels” and the “Smooth” sliders until your image is crisp and clear. You can also change between the methods “Contour”, “Height Map”, “Edge”, and “Stamp” to get different effects.
  4. When 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 a great idea to lock the proportions by clicking the lock in the same menu.
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Converting PNG and JPG to STL Option 2: Cura

The Cura workspace familiar to many a maker.
The Cura workspace familiar to many a maker. Source: ultimaker.com

If you don’t have a Windows computer, another option is to use a built-in feature of Ultimaker’s Cura. The tool is not as powerful as the one in 3D builder but works perfectly fine and can even be used for making lithophanes. This is also much easier if you’re using Cura as a slicer because you don’t need to export and import as much:

  1. Download the Ultimaker Cura slicer from the Ultimaker website if you don’t already use it.
  2. Import your image into Cura by dragging it into the workspace.
  3. When you have imported the image, there will be a menu with different settings. Here you can change the height, width, thickness, smoothness, and more.
  4. Finally, you can export it as an STL or OBJ by clicking “File”, then “Export”, or you could slice it for 3D printing right away.
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Converting PNG and JPG to STL Option 3: Lithopane Converter

A lithopane only works with a light source behind it.
A lithopane only works with a light source behind it. Source: ajfilmnfx / Reddit

Another way to convert an image into a 3D printable file is to make a lithophane. What’s a lithophane, you ask? A lithophane is a three-dimensional object that uses thickness differences to change the amount of light passing itself. These variations create the dark and light parts of an image, seemingly “embedded” in the object. The image is therefore only visible when there is light behind, and it can’t be made out of more than one color.

There are many ways to make a lithophane but the easiest is to use the image to lithophane converter, a much stronger tool with more settings and better results than the Cura method.

  1. Click on the “Images” menu and upload your image to the website.
  2. Choose the form of your lithophane in the “Model” menu.
  3. Go into “Settings”, then “Model settings”. Change the “Maximum Size” to the biggest size that you think you will scale the image to.
  4. Go into “Settings”, “Image settings”. Here, you can change many different settings, but the only required change is the first slider to “Positive image”.
  5. Go back into the “Model” menu and click refresh and then download. If you are going to 3D print it, it’s important to print it vertically with 100% infill.

Feature image source: www.dailymail.co.uk

License: The text of "How to Convert Images (JPG/PNG) into STLs for 3D Printing" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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