Heightfield as a tool to make relief portraits

Trying to turn figurative portraits into a relief for 3D printing. Currently, image files are grayscale jpeg format. Is Heightfield the best tool or is there a better tool in Rhino for this kind of work. The finished files will be 3D printed.

Heightfield is giving me some strange results.

Heightfield is probably not sophisticated enough to do what you’re after.
Have a look at the RhinoArt plug-in.

You can use ApplyDisplacement in Rhino 5 as another option and OffsetMesh>solid to prep for 3D printing.

Hi NGV- in plain Rhino that will work OK, as well as MeshHeightfield; but there are some things to keep in mind -
-Smooth and noise free grayscale is more important than high res. JPEG is not ideal as it tends to be noisy.

  • if you have a file that is exactly the same resolution as the points in UV you want in the heightfield, that is best- one pixel per point. This will tend to make for a fairly low res image.
  • There is an external tool written by a Rhino user (jim) that generates an IGES (read it into Rhino) file and which has some built-in image filtering tools. You can get that from here: ZSurf4


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Using greyscale info from a single photo to produce depth rarely produces pleasing reliefs without some additional work. Or, in some cases, a lot of additional work.

(However, If you are making lithophanes you can produce a relief that will work with very little effort.)

There are applications like AGIsoft’s Photoscan which can produce good quality 3d models from MANY pictures.

If you understand how the greyscale representation works to create the depth, you could actually use a program like Photoshop to modify the portrait image so that it will work.

Its also possible to use some 3d modeling apps (ie ZBrush or other) to modify the relief so it looks the way you want. There is a program called Leveller that is very low cost and specifically does relief modeling. Its marketed as a terrain modification or creation app, but it has all the necessary tools for this work.

Modifying images or meshes are your only options for doing this type of work. Nurbs surfaces are not suited for this kind of modification, so if you needed a nurbs model for any reason, the very last step would be to convert any of the sculpting work to nurbs.

Thanks for all the replys! All the feedback is helpful. I will download Rhino Cam tomorrow and do some experiments.

I found the ZSurf4 worked pretty well, but it does simplify the image quite a bit. Hoping for a fairly simple solution as this is only one simple set in the process.


did you manage to get any satisfactory results? I’d like to do something very similar and am trying to find the best technique.