Tag Archives: printing

The Smithsonian is going 3D

The Smithsonian has unveiled its X 3D Collection along with a new 3-D explorer in an effort to make museum collections and scientific specimens easier for the public to access and study. 

According to Günter Waibel, director of the Institution’s Digitization Program Office, the Smithsonian X 3D explorer and initial collection of scanned objects are the first step in showcasing how 3D technology is capable of transforming the work of the Smithsonian, as well as other museums and research institutions.

More specifically, the above-mentioned X 3D Collection features objects from the Smithsonian that highlight different applications of 3D capture and printing, along with digital delivery methods for 3D data in research, education and conservation including:

  • The Wright Flyer (National Air and Space Museum): The 3D scan of the Wright Flyer allows users to explore the fine details of the artifact, providing a window into the Wright’s inventive genius and understanding of the principles of flight.
  • Cassiopeia A Supernova Remnant (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory): This multi-wavelength 3D reconstruction of Cassiopeia A uses X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and optical data from NOAO’s 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak and the Michigan-Dartmouth-MIT 2.4-meter telescope.
  • Fossil Whale (National Museum of Natural History): Smithsonian paleontologists and 3D staff conducted a time-sensitive documentation of the skeletons from the site (Chile) and captured essential data about the arrangement and condition of the skeletons before they were removed and the site was paved over.
  • Cosmic Buddha (Freer and Sackler galleries): To study such low-relief compositions, scholars have traditionally made rubbings with black ink on white paper, which give stronger contrast to the outlines. 3D scanning, used with a wide variety of imaging techniques, can give even more clarity to the designs.

To view these and other objects scanned using 3D technology, the Smithsonian and San Francisco-based Autodesk created the Smithsonian X 3D explorer which allows users to easily rotate models, take accurate measurements between points and adjust color and lighting. The explorer is also equipped with a storytelling feature, enabling Smithsonian curators and educators to create guided tours of the models.

In addition to viewing objects using the explorer, the raw 3D data itself will be made available for downloading and printing, both for personal and noncommercial use. Teachers and other educators can use the data to create realistic 3D models of these objects for use in the classroom.

It should be noted that additional support for the Smithsonian’s 3D efforts was provided by 3D Systems, which helped scan, design and print objects from several Smithsonian museums, including one of the large fossilized whales found in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

3D printing museum artifacts

Did you know that museums across Europe house valuable collections of blueprints which could be used to print 3D copies of historical artifacts?


Access to such a comprehensive treasure trove of information may soon be possible, facilitated by the recently launched museofabber project which seeks to open the archives to the general public and educational institutions.

“We want this accessibility to be given to the public and especially for educational purposes. In the UK, for example, they have made it a priority to make 3D printers available in schools,” Nikolaos Maniatis of museofabber told Wired UK. “[I’m] trying to work out how to match up this cultural accord with the school curriculums and figure out the easiest and most immediate commercialization of the process.”

According to Maniatis, the blueprints are technically available, although the relevant data still has to be mined in the right way.

“There is a huge cauldron that just sits — 3D digitization is part of the process of the professionals anyway, either for documentation reasons or for research,” he continued. “A lot of money has gone in, especially public money, so it’s finding a way to try and monetize this cauldron that already sits there and is not giving as much as it could, because what you can get from 3D is the 3D — if it’s still on a computer screen it remains 2D in a reality. But the feeling of touching, that’s how you appreciate more the material culture.”

Maniatis also noted that he was working on various copyright, IP and distribution issues related to the 3D printing of archive content.

“The [ultimate] dream application [for 3D printing museum archives] will be something like where a teacher can go in knowing the curriculum that they’ll have to teach, choose the collection, or make up the collection that they want, print locally if they have access or order it from an online service and actually use it in the classroom,” he added.

Transform your world with MakerBot’s 3D Digitizer

MakerBot is currently accepting pre-orders for its new Digitizer 3D scanner, with shipping slated to kick off in October. The Digitizer is currently priced at $1,400, plus an optional $150 for MakerCare, a comprehensive service and support program.

Essentially, MakerBot’s Digitizer allows users to quickly “transform” (scan) objects and items into 3D models that can be easily modified, shared and printed on 3D printers like the company’s Atmel-powered MakerBot Replicator 2.

“With just two clicks, the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner’s simple yet sophisticated software creates clean, watertight 3D models that are ready to 3D print,” the MakerBot crew explained on the company website.

“We’ve optimized the whole process to work seamlessly with MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printers, but you get standard design files to use on the 3D printer of your choice. You don’t need any design or 3D modeling skills to get started, and it all happens in just minutes.”

Indeed, the MakerBot Digitizer outputs standard 3D file formats, so Makers can improve, shape, mold, twist, animate and transform objects in a third-party 3D modeling program. There is no patching, stitching, or repairing required, so Makers are able to skip straight to the creative process. Adding one 3D model to another is easy, like putting a hat on top of a gnome. Plus, Makers can either scan a second object, or search for it on Thingiverse.com, scaling down and multiplying targeted objects to create charms or game pieces.

Additional information about MakerBot’s 3D printer lineup and Digitizer is available here.