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3D Printing: 6 Real-World Uses For Arts And Heritage
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3D Printing: 6 Real-World Uses For Arts And Heritage

Picture of Leah Nichols
Updated: 12 December 2015
There has been a lot of buzz around 3D printing over the past couple of years; however, it’s not always easy to see the practical applications of the technology, particularly for arts and heritage industries. 3D printing is the creation or replication of an object produced via computer aided design. This design, once refined, is broken down into hundreds of horizontal layers and the 3D printer then prints these layers one by one on top of each other to create the finished object. As a result, the possible uses for 3D printing are almost limitless! Here are just six fundamental uses of the technology in the arts and heritage industry.
AV Core Archive © Hannes Grobe/Wikimedia
AV Core Archive | © Hannes Grobe/Wikimedia


Art galleries and museums are being increasingly encouraged to digitise their collections, making them available to art and heritage enthusiasts the world over. Whilst it is current practice to publish a series of photographs of an object online, 3D technology can prove to be an even greater resource. The ability to tingle the senses further with increasingly accurate and detailed scans enriches the digital viewing experience. The technology allows objects to be viewed in a much easier and more varied way. An individual could scan, process and print his or her own favourite object at home or use the services of the many 3D printing companies springing up all over the UK.

No Admittance © OpenIcons/Pixabay
No Admittance | © OpenIcons/Pixabay

Preservation (Environmental Factors)

Deterioration and decay are inevitable processes for objects despite our best efforts to store them correctly and treat them with care. 3D printing allows us to have detailed replicas of unique and rare objects so they can be studied and appreciated without aiding the process of decay. The technology also allows replicas to be rigid and able to withstand regular handling, thus enhancing the very experience of going to a museum by decreasing the number of objects behind glass.

Partially Destroyed National Library in Sarajevo in 1992 © Rama/Wikimedia
Partially Destroyed National Library in Sarajevo in 1992 | © Rama/Wikimedia

Protection (Man-Made Factors)

If an object does become lost to decay then 3D technology allows a copy to be created based on photographs, written descriptions and artistic interpretation to gain a visual representation of an object destroyed thousands of years ago or re-synthesis an object that may have only been lost a few decades or centuries ago. Thus, lost treasures can find their place among art enthusiasts once again. This could prove to be a significant help in learning about our past and the way different cultures developed, which is particularly relevant today with the rise of ISIS and its intent to destroy cultural sites and museums in Iraq and Syria.

Education Keyboard Button © GotCredit/Flickr
Education Keyboard Button | © GotCredit/Flickr


3D technology and printing can have a huge impact on education within a variety of different disciplines. From 3D technology lessons to an Egyptology class where kids can create a 3D printed model of the Sphinx in Giza, learn about how and why it was built, what it represents or even develop their creativity by painting the sphinx to represent how it may have appeared in ancient Egypt. Other applications include aesthetic and functioning representations of organs, detailed maps, architecture, sculptures, product design and so many more. The possibilities are almost endless.

Baby Artist  © Weistock/Pixabay
Baby Artist | © Weistock/Pixabay

Expose New Artists

The art world is a tough one to crack. For young upcoming artists, particularly sculptors, 3D printing could prove to be a way of exposing their skills and talent to a wider audience. With the cheaper materials 3D printers use, sculptures can be more accessible to art lovers who can’t fit the bill for original pieces of art. For example, with the ability to print replicas in plastic instead of cast bronze, cheaper limited edition prints could allow the artist to have control over how many are produced and still increase their foot print as an artist.

3D Printing © cclark395/Flickr
3D Printing | © cclark395/Flickr


3D printing exhibitions at various museums and fairs are becoming increasingly common to show off what 3D printers can really do and convey the significance of the technology. The established reputation and academic prowess of these museums allows for the self-promotion of the technology. The learning environment also encourages visitors and other industries to see the real world benefits of the displays and become involved in related activities. Just some institutions using the technology are: The Science Museum, The Museum of Design Atlanta, The Design Museum London and the Printing Museum in Beijing, China which opened in 2013.

By Leah Nichols, Scan the World Project

The Scan the World Project, in association with My Mini Factory, uses 3D printing and scanning technology to develop an online digital archive of sculptures, artefacts, architecture and monuments for the purposes of education, preservation and distribution of art to the masses. This project seeks to engage with art enthusiasts of every classification from around the world and inspire them to ‘scan’ their world, thus sharing the collective beauty of local art and sculptures on a global scale. Follow this link for a quick tutorial on how to Scan the World.