How to Print a Photo with a 3D Printer

Article by Luis Doval updated March 21, 2013


The typical source content for a 3D printer is an STL file, it comes from two main sources, a new design modeled with 3D CAD software or 3D digital information captured from a real part using a 3D scanner.

Here at Javelin we tried an alternative method – convert a 2D photo into 3D printable material! To achieve this SOLIDWORKS Certified Expert Dr. Irfan Zardadkhhan wrote a program in C++ that reads a PGM (Pixel Gray Map) file and translates the data into an X, Y, Z table. In the table, X and Y represent the location of the point and Z represents height, which equates to the gray intensity value of a pixel (when 0 is black and 255 is white).

Source photo visible against the light

Once the XYZ file is generated as a plain ASCII file, using the ScanTo3D SOLIDWORKS Add-in product  the file is converted into a surface. Then SOLIDWORKS modeling tools are used to finish the 3D model data.

The model is then generated using a Stratasys Objet30 Pro 3D printer and the results are amazing. As you can see in the images the printed part contains a textured 3D face, the depth of the surface blocks provides the detail; and when you hold the part in front of a light source the original picture will show through.

3D Printed Photo

3D Printed Photo

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Luis Doval