Turn an image into a full-color edge-lit lithopane

The Lit-O-Pane! 

A lithopane is an etched or molded artwork in thin translucent porcelain that can only be seen clearly when backlit with a light source. Ryan Branch’s creation, the Lit-O-Pane, however is something much different, involving more colors, an Arduino, RGB LEDs and several panes of acrylic. It might not be immediately obvious from the video below what’s going on, but the idea behind it is really neat, and took a lot of experimentation to perfect.


To make this ‘Pane, red, green, blue, and white from a single picture were separated out using the GIMP image manipulation program to form four images. These separate images were then etched with a laser onto their respective panes. Each pane was lit up the correct color, and when one looks through the four panes together, a coherent image containing all the colors is produced. A separate white pane is needed because combining the three colored panes didn’t display white as needed.


An Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) is used in this assembly to control the NeoPixel RGB LEDs because the colors need to be adjusted slightly depending on the image. Using a microcontroller makes things really convenient adjustment-wise, since instead of having to play with resistors, a value can simply be programmed in as needed. Branch warns that you shouldn’t program this device with the LEDs hooked up, as you could end up drawing excessive power from your computer’s USB port.

Intrigued? Head over to Branch’s project page here.

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