Creating a 3D Printed Optical Illusion Face Vase using Google Drawing and TinkerCAD

3D Printing

Inspiration – the Rubin’s Vase

Developed around 1915 by the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin, this famous optical illusion demonstrates the figure ground relationship. While the positive space forms a vase, the negative space forms the profile of a face. This phenomenon gives insight into how our brains process information – recognizing a shape that actually isn’t there.

Student work examples

Here are two examples of Rubin Vases designed by students, based of photos of themselves.

Creating the face vase trace

Find a suitable image. In this case we’ll use a silhouette of Abraham Lincoln, but students love snapping a photo of themselves and using those for this process.

Bring the image to a new Google Drawing

In this example we will use Google Drawing to make a vector trace of an image. Depending on student experience and skill level, Adobe Illustrator or other vector tools are options.

There are many ways to add an image to Google Drawing, but one is to drag the image over the Google Drawing Tab, then drop the photo on the canvas.

Flip the Image so the face is facing left

If needed, use the side handle to drag the image so it’s facing left

The face is now facing left

The image should look similar to the one below

Use the Polyline tool

Select the polyline tool from the tools list

Zoom in if needed

Adjust the zoom as needed. In this example we’ll zoom into 200%.

Carefully trace the face

Using the polyline tool, carefully create a shape similar to the one in the following step. Be careful to move slowly and give enough room between clicks.

While the polyline tool only creates straight lines, a curve can be created by carefully using many small lines to create a fairly smooth curve.

You may need to repeat this a few times to get the feel for the process. Practice makes perfect!

The Face once completely traced

Once the face is traced, your image should look similar to the one below.

Zoom out if needed

Adjust the zoom as needed.

The final trace

Here’s our final trace – if you’d like to download this to follow along rather than trace your own, you can access this Google Drawing here.

Download as SVG

In Drawing, go to File -> Download as -> Scalable Vector Graphics (.svg)

The SVG file format is a vector format that works well with most CAD packages. We’ll now use this svg in TinkerCAD to create our 3D model.

TinkerCAD: Creating the 3D vase

Log in to TinkerCAD ( and Create a new design.

Open the Featured Shape Generators

On the left, open the featured shape generators

Open the SVG Revolver

Open the SVG Revolver generator

Add your SVG

Drag the SVG you created in Google Drawing to the generator

The default rotation

Your rotation follow the default settings. Let’s modify those to create our vase.

Modify the settings

Change the settings as needed to create a vase:

  1. Set the height to a level that works well for the design.
  2. Set the Inside Diameter to the minimum (1)
  3. Set the Number of Sides to the maximum for the smoothest vase
  4. Change the rotation if needed. This will likely only need a very small adjustment, if any.
  5. Set the Revolve Angle to 360

Plug the bottom hole

If you rotate (Control and drag), you’ll notice there’s a hole in the bottom of the design. Let’s fix that.

Add a Cylinder to fill the hole

Resize the cylinder

Align the cylinder

The hole filled and properly aligned

Group the object

With both objects selected, merge the shapes into one by selecting the Group icon

The shape succesfully merged

Your shape should look similarly after merging.

Export your design for printing.

Export your design for 3D printing by clicking the Export botton.

Download the design as an .STL file

Download the design as an STL file.

The example completed vase

If you’d like to download or view the example Face Vase, you can find the design on TinkerCAD here.

Print your design

Using your 3D printer’s software, upload the STL and prepare it for printing.

In this case we are using an NVBot, which offers a web based file submission workflow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *