#CreativeFriday – Sandra Canning and 3D Printed Photographs

Lithophanes have been around since the 1820’s, and now 3D Printable lithophanes for use on desktop 3D Printers are starting make this technique more accessible for all. Pre-created and downloadable lithophanes have been published on content libraries like Thingiverse for a while as well. However, trying to make your own from your own Photographs or even artwork requires specialist skills and knowledge of 3D applications. Since earlier this year, Photoshop CC now has the ability to create 3D printable lithophanes from your own images and makes this process really easy. The way to use Photoshop CC to achieve this, is covered in depth in a previous blog.

3D Printed photographs are an exciting new concept for Photographers and a very unique way to show off your work. One such Photographer who is active in printing 3D lithophanes is Sandra Canning.

Sandra Canning BW

I asked Sandra if she would be interested in join me for an interview and share her thoughts and motivation for creating 3D Printable lithophanes for my readers.

Richard: Sandra many thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview and thank you for your time. Similar to yourself, I am very excited about the possibility of being able to print Photographs using 3D printers, both on the desktop as well as using an online services as well. Can I first ask what is your background as a creative / photographer?

Sandra: Fine art photography is my specialty. My preferred subjects are landscapes, seascapes, architecture (using long exposures). I am an amateur, but my goal is to eventually pursue my creative projects full-time. I am mostly self-taught and started to seriously develop my skills about 3 years ago.

Richard: What inspired you to invest time in photography and what is your focus when taking images.

Sandra: I pursue photography for purely selfish reasons. Creative expression is how I reconcile a world that seems to be going increasingly mad. By creating beautiful things I can balance the other negative emotions that are a part of everyday living. Photography is my first love. I desire to share the uplifting spiritual connection I get when creating. I believe that the world and its people are just as capable of miracles as they are mayhem. I simply choose to focus on the good. Sales are starting to pick up so it’s also nice to know that others appreciate the work. I am also grateful for the awards and recognition I have gotten.

Richard: What inspired you most to become interested in 3D and 3D printing photographs?

Sandra: Around May-June of 2014, I wanted to find something new to do with my pictures, and I stumbled on some articles about 3D printing. The creative possibilities blew my mind. I had heard about it prior, but it never seemed relevant to me. I remember gawking at the impossible design innovations in sculpture, fashion, jewellery etc. But when I looked for 3D Printed applications for photography there was much to be desired. I came across 3D printed lithophanes, but the pictures were not fine art quality. This breakthrough technology also seemed to have a content problem. The lithophanes I found were of Yoda and cats. At that moment, I got the bug to create 3D printed, fine art quality lithophanes of my photos. I have been on that mission ever since.

Richard: What do you think are the biggest obstacles in moving into and taking up 3D printing?

Sandra: I started this a few months ago with no background in engineering, design, or 3D printing whatsoever. So, I can only speak from my very limited experience. My biggest issues are: costly high-resolution printers, limited and expensive materials as well as the difficulty of creating printable 3D models. Spending thousands of dollars to make a small plastic item is not a compelling use case for an artist trying to sell “fine art objects”.

Richard: What do you think is missing in the move to 3D and 3D printing that would help others adopt this technology / technique?

Sandra: Unless you already are a 3D designer, creating a 3D model is a very time consuming, anger inducing, and expensive to outsource. Going from an idea to 3D model has to get easier, be more accessible and more fun. Thankfully this is being addressed. Lithophane actions (and the other 3D tools) in tools like Photoshop CC can make it fun to generate a printable model. I have not tried Photoshop CC yet as i have been using specialist people, but I have been following the advancements and plan to give it a test drive soon. If you are a professional photographer, I am not sure that you will make much of a profit just yet. Current at-home 3D printers are expensive and the build volume is small. Galleries want BIG. In the short term, I would rather pay for a maker space pass or use a service bureau for printing the final part. I think that in the next year the high-definition machines will be far more powerful, larger build volume, better reliability, better materials and will be half the cost of today’s machines.

Richard: I hear that you have had 3D photographic exhibition, can you tell us about that and what was the reaction of your guests?

Sandra: I never would have been able to do the exhibit without the help and support of Prototyping Solutions (http://prototypingsolutions.com/). What made the collaboration with them a success was that it was fun for these hard core engineers to get a chance to flex their artistic muscles. It was a treat for them to do something that was not the typical widget. They saw the vision and jumped in head first. Attendees at the exhibit were visibly impressed when I explained that the same machine used to make the 3D printed photographs could also build a small car or industrial prototype. The lithophanes were printed at 16 micron layer height in Vero White on a Stratasys Objet260 Connex 3D printer. Each part took around 30-45 minutes to build.

Richard: What would you like to see develop to further enhance this technique that you are now pursuing?

Sandra: The lithophanes I exhibited were beautiful, but my vision was to create a little time-machine and bring back lithophanes from the 1800’s. I need a different material (translucent porcelain). I would love to see the lithophanes in full-colour (for the next exhibit ;-). I also have some other ideas for 3D applications for 2D photos.

Richard: Do you think you will ever look at real 3D modeling or will this be your focus moving forward?

Sandra: I will do as much as I can with the limited time I have. I wish I could devote all of my time to the many ideas I have been getting since embarking on this journey. I have some new ideas for sculptures, tableware, and jewelry. It blows my mind that 3D/3D printing allows a non-traditional sculptor to create sculptures. Never before in history have creators had this kind of power. I plan to start taking classes in 3D design.

Richard: What creatives do you follow, and why do they stand out from others in your opinion?

Sandra: The lines between creative disciplines seem to be blurring if not completely disappearing. I refer to it as the BIG RETHINK. The people who inspire me are the revolutionary thinkers who are not afraid to venture into foreign territory. Iris Van Herpen’s collections are great explorations of so many specialties. By combining 3D printing, biology, engineering, architecture, and innovative materials, she is refashioning the boundaries. Neri Oxman is one to watch because she has the eye of an artist and the mind of a scientist. Her revolutionary ideas on “material ecology” have had a clear influence on design theory moving forward. The Metal Series of shoes by Bryan Oknyansky still has me speechless.

Richard: What social networks do you like most?

Sandra: I am actually suffering from social media fatigue at the moment. Reluctantly, I’m on Twitter, Google +, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, 500px. I need to find time to work on my Google Gallery.

Richard: How do you think these networks will showcase artists and Photographers better in the future?

Sandra: We may have a problem. Remember when Taylor Swift said in her WSJ Op-Ed piece, “In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans—not the other way around.” I think this is also true for photographers on social media. So many people have mastered social media and have a million followers although their work is just borderline. The networks have to pander to people with lots of followers regardless of the quality of work, and sometimes that means seeing the same people over and over. Not sure how this will play out.

Richard: What are you looking forward to in the future?

Sandra: Bringing to life some sculptures, jewellery, and tableware I have been thinking about. I also have to perfect the 3D printed lithophanes. Right now they are quite good, but they can be improved.

Richard: Do you have any future projects that you would like to talk with us about?

Sandra: 3D scanning and depth cameras are high on my list to investigate. I love the idea of going from 3D scan to 3D model. I intend to do quite a bit in the future with 3D scanning. When I realized there would be no going back for me and that as a creator I had to master these skills, I formed a Meetup group to share and learn with others. Check it out here http://www.meetup.com/ArtOf3Dprinting. The mission of this group is to popularise 3D printing through fun and engaging events. I have to thank 3D Systems for sending Megan Innes to Miami to demo the iSense 3D scanner on October 25th. I am always on the lookout for partners to lead workshops, so please contact me if you have compelling products or talents that would make a fun workshop. You will find an eager audience in South Florida. I am excited to create more events.

Richard: Is there anyone that you would like to thank in this shift to 3D and 3D Printing?

Sandra: I feel like I stumbled into 3D/3DP blindly. The real miracle is the incredible amount of people who reached out to grab me as I stumbled. In the end I didn’t do it alone. I am so happy I was not my usual stubborn self, Miss Independent. I am happy I did not let the fear of knowing absolutely nothing stop me from pursuing my vision. I have met some of the kindest, smartest, and creative people on this journey. Collaboration has been the key to my success so far. When we start regularly cross-pollinating engineers and artists, things will become even more exciting.


I owe 1000 thanks to Prototyping Solutions for 3D printing the lithophanes of my photographs for the exhibit. The full list of people who helped is on my blog.


Thank you, Richard, for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts on these very exciting new tools for creators.
I would like to thank Sandra for this interview, if you would like to see more of Sandra’s work, then please head over to her website.

Sandra’s original photograph.

Tree in Key  Biscayne

The printed output on Vero White on a Stratasys Objet260 Connex 3D printer

Unlit Tree in Key Biscayne Lithophane

The final result is back lit and hung on the wall.



Sandra created many more examples and displayed them in a galley for her follows to view.

Proteus Rising From the Sea-Lithophane


Sea of Love Lithophane


3D Printed Lithophanes on display at Sandra’s exhibition.


Lithophane Art Exhibit Sandra Canning


Sandra Canning

This is the serendipitous journey of a female photographer unveiling beauty in all her disguises. Canning is noted for saying that sometimes she finds the pictures, but quite often they find her. Her mission is to go beyond the veil to reveal the beauty that is hidden in plain sight. Canning’s vision when creating an image is based on sharing our “Beautiful Whirled” as she sees it: through the prism of optimism, lit by hope, inspired by awe, and ruled by beauty.

Her belief is that when we commune with beauty, we touch the Divine. Her typical subjects include seascapes, landscapes, & architecture. Canning is mostly self-taught. Long exposure is her preferred technique. She says this is because it provides a photographic record of something that lies somewhere beyond “real life”.

Photographing the fourth dimension (time) allows her to transport the viewer to a world between worlds. Canning has been published in numerous magazines, won awards, sold to collectors and the hospitality industry. She was born in Trinidad, and grew up in St. Thomas USVI. She has lived all over the world, and I now resides in South Florida. www.sandracanning.com


3D Printed lithophanes from the Stratasys Objet Connex 3D printer can also be made in the UK by the good folks at IPF.

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