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Explore How 3D Printing Is Restoring Museum Relics

 |  Katherine Rundell

Essential Guide To How 3D Printing Is Restoring Museum Relics

3D printing is no longer something out of a science fiction movie. In fact, additive manufacturing, together with 3D scanning, makes it possible to recreate physical objects that you can’t distinguish from their original counterparts.

And right now, this technology is even being used to preserve and restore historic artifacts for the next generation. 

Thus, heritage is safeguarded, and the future generations can enjoy the relics and art like people of today like never before. With 3D printing, it opens opportunities for:

  • Artifacts and artwork being available to future generations.
  • Reviving the physical experience of said artifacts and artwork.
  • Educational purposes.
  • Reinventing library collections.
  • Implementing the best of both 3D scanning and photogrammetry.

In this article, we’ll show you five initiatives that work to integrate 3D printing into museums. Additionally, we’ll look at some of the challenges that come with such technological advances, but, as you’ll see, despite the challenge, 3D printing might be onto something!

Let’s jump right in!

  1. Future Generations

From bloody battles to natural catastrophes, many ancient places, buildings, and more were either lost, stolen, or destroyed over time. One major example of this is the ransacking of the Palace of Versailles following the French revolution – some of the pieces there had once belonged to the last reigning monarchs of France.

However, initiatives like the Victoria & Albert Museum in London were able to successfully recreate a chair that had once belonged to Marie Antoinette. Historians used molds, 3D scanning, and 3D printing to make this recreation possible, and whatever some parts were missing, historians could scan, and reverse 3D-print them, which they were able to recast into a non-chemical material, then toned and gilded to match the original pieces.


  1. Educational Purposes

3D printing has also paved the way for schools and universities to teach their students about the world around them. 

One of the championed pioneers of this initiative has been the British Museum, which 3D prints a large number of artifacts every year, thanks to Sketchfab. The museum was able to bring many artifacts to life by scanning and uploading 3D models using a method called photogrammetry – a process when multiple photos are taken in a strategic pattern around the object (an artifact, in this case). Afterward, visitors can view them in VR or online. Plus, the museum sells replicas of certain artifacts, thanks to English 3D printing company ThinkSee3D.

SelfCAD team also have managed to 3d print museum replicas to help the students who are visually impaired. You can watch the video below to learn more about thee 3D printed replicas.

As a result, such initiatives contribute greatly to extending accessibility to visitors everywhere, including students. That means that schools find it easier to educate their students about historic artifacts and relics.


  1. Bringing History To Life

Artifacts need the utmost care, especially when they’re being preserved. So, with 3D technology, the difficulty of preserving artifacts is eased. Without even disturbing the object, pieces can be replicated.

While most artifacts in the world are either lost or destroyed, 3D printing can at least try its best to restore them in any way possible, which can even make it possible to predict as to what some historic pieces may have looked like way back when. It is done, so that people can actually dive into what life was like back then, based on the artifact, even if the replica or restoration was made with a different material than the original.


  1. Digitally-Preserving Library Collections

Library collections continue to grow as time goes on. And, many of the world’s great libraries hold renowned collections of art and antiquities stored away for safekeeping and preservation. While physical original books are kept stored, many have been converted into electronic books, which has freed up not only storage space but also that for substantial viewing. As a result, the libraries can use the extra space to showcase their collectibles and antiques, or, they can relocate certain artifacts from less vulnerable storage areas to the main areas where patrons are present. Now, while some people like the idea of saving space in storage and library collections, critics point out that this technology-driven change can put irreplaceable artwork and antiques at risk of either altered and or tampered with.

3D Scanning Vs. Photogrammetry

When it comes to technological advances, two have stood out when it comes to implementing 3D printing in museums: 3D scanning and photogrammetry (the first implementation being the latter).

First, photogrammetry strives to recreate lost and destroyed artifacts for the sake of saving them for future viewings. It builds 3D models from the sequences that it makes from overlapping 2D photographs, which allows historians to create estimations of 3D structures based on the camera’s position and orientation and local motion signals. With photogrammetry, the algorithms can help historians do the following:

  • Utilize the principles of solid photogrammetry.
  • Determine the parameters of orientation from subsequent frames, AND THEN.
  • Create a dense point cloud of the object.

However, the challenging part of photogrammetry is that it’s difficult to develop highly accurate photogrammetric imagery processing software for ground truth measurement.

In contrast, 3D scanning (or laser scanning) can achieve higher accuracy than photogrammetry, especially in larger areas. While this method requires more complex and pricy equipment to do, it has managed to pave the way for 3D photogrammetry.

A good example where 3D scanning and photogrammetry was used is when historians at Brazil’s National Museum photogrammetrically scanned the skull of Luzia. Not only did they do so cheaply, but they were also able to allow regular camera functions (even from smartphones) to experience the artifact as if it was reconstructed for public viewings.


While 3D scanning and printing show some promise, they also come with their own obstacles. Some challenges include the following:

  • The need for developing cost-effective solutions that are accessible to museums worldwide (especially in developing countries).
  • How fragile artifacts and artwork can be, which will call for special care.
  • Physical handling and moving.
  • The need to ensure that 3D printing can evolve with the ever-changing technologies – in other words, will this same technology be relevant in the future?
  • Making sure that 3D printing respects heritage sites.
  • Making sure that certain artifacts aren’t lost or destroyed before they can be digitally cataloged.

So, what happens when an artifact is lost or destroyed before being cataloged? Well, the good news is, they’re not gone forever. In fact, the website Rekrei was created by two university students as a resource for historians and history enthusiasts to use photogrammetry to reproduce something from the past that had has never been scanned before. Patrons can then see the artifact, along with the photographs that make the relic. The website even requests people to send in their photos of the artifacts that they’ve taken a picture from.


As you can see, 3D printing was, is, and will continue to transform historical relics and places as we know them. And, with these examples, you’ll see how 3D technologies are reproducing, restoring, and educating everyone about history. In other words, how people will access the past will be more than what you see in a history book, and museums will take on a whole new meeting while, perhaps, getting a steady flow of visitors.

So, with 3D modeling, digitization, and printing, the future is bright for museum-goers, along with the establishments themselves.

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About the Author

Katherine Rundell is a tech writer at the Dissertation writing service. As a professional writer, she specializes in tech topics such as 3D printing, digital preservations, and library archives.


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