3D printed reproductions of historic paintings

3D printed reproductions of historic paintings, Tim Zaman, Rembrandt and Van Gogh
You’ve probably seen by now some of the examples of very high resolution art images, on the Google Cultural Institute: Art Project if not elsewhere, and you may have heard of the process of 3D printing, in which ink-jet like printers can print three dimensional physical objects by the computer-controlled application of layers of sprayed material.

Tim Zaman, a dutch researcher, has built a system using high resolution photographic imaging, along with structured light 3D scanning and fringe projection, to image the topographic surface of well known paintings, along with their image and color, and pass that information to special 3D printers from Canon’s Océ group, resulting in three dimensional replicas of the paintings.

These show the three dimensional characteristics of the brushstrokes and other details of paint application. In the experiments shown in this article on designboom, paintings by two painters with very distinct three dimensional character to their work were scanned and reproduced: Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

There is more information on Zaman’s website, as well as a group of (oddly poor) photos in a DropBox set.

The designboom article suggests that the technology presents potential issues of forgery, but I don’t think that’s likely. I don’t know what kind of material they’re using to print the replicas, but I can’t imagine that it’s oil paint in its normal form; it would simply be unsuitable to being sprayed through printer nozzles without being chemically altered in a way that would be easily detectable (it’s hard enough to put oil paint in tubes by machine without adding chemical agents).

No, I think beyond the idea of rich folks, (at least at first) having three dimensional replicas of famous paintings in their houses, which seems the likely application for this technology, the more interesting question is how this might affect the practice of museums loaning valuable and easily damaged works to one another for exhibitions. It even raises questions about museums putting 3D replicas of works in their collections on their walls, and hiding the irreplaceable originals in storage.

Food for thought.


2 Replies to “3D printed reproductions of historic paintings”

  1. As art is challenged by technology, art responds with innovation. Photography began with imitating the painter (see early photographs of portraits, nudes, still life, etc.) Then, artists imitated photography and eventually, photography became an art. Art responded by rejecting realism (expressionism.) The same will happen with 3d prints. The dialectic between art and technology is not a threat, but a stimulus.

  2. I, for one, would find it inspirational to have access to good 3D reproductions of paintings to study their surface and the artist’s brushstrokes. Unlike the real thing, you could touch them and put your nose right up to them. Maybe someone will start renting copies out on a rotating basis to those of us who couldn’t afford to buy one. Have a Rembrandt in your house for a week!

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