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Journal of Cultural Heritage 26 (2017) 172–182

Available online at



3D printing: State of the art and future perspectives

Caterina Balletti ∗ , Martina Ballarin , Francesco Guerra
Dipartimento di Architettura Costruzione Conservazione, Università Iuav di Venezia, s. croce 191, 30135 Venezia, Italy

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: In the last years, the development of 3D technologies applied to the field of Cultural Heritage (CH) has
Received 31 August 2016 led to results of the utmost importance from the point of view of preservation, valorisation, communi-
Accepted 17 February 2017 cation and fruition of our assets. In particular, we experienced many interdisciplinary projects in which,
Available online 9 March 2017
thanks to the cooperation of different fields of research, incredible results have been obtained, through
the technological collaboration of computer graphics and documentation, of industrial engineering and
Keywords: preservation and access of CH. This paper aims at drawing attention to the actual technologies in use
3D printing
for solid printing (digital fabrication) used for the realization of material copies, therefore tangible, of
Cultural heritage
three-dimensional digital virtual models. Even though ulterior developments to these technologies are
Explorations possibilities to be expected, the process of 3D printing has gradually gained levels of accuracy, which can
Accessibility nowadays be deemed as satisfying. This is even more true in the industrial field (from the manufacturing
Museums industry to the design industry), but also in other fields, such as the medical one, for example, for the
realization of artificial limbs, and the CH field, which can benefit from new instruments for the restora-
tion and preservation of cultural assets in museums. The metric characteristics of precision and accuracy
of the model printed with 3D technology are the fundaments for everything concerning Geomatics, and
have to be related with the same characteristics of the digital model obtained through the survey anal-
ysis. In other terms, the precision of the printed product must be evaluated in relation to the precision
of the instruments used in the analysis. Thus, in the CH field there is the possibility of new systems of
access, cataloguing and study, where the models, both virtual and tangible, represent the fundament of
visualization and analysis of the form (also from the metric point of view) of each artefact of artistic and
historical interest.
© 2017 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.

1. Research aim must undergo might cause a difference between the geometry of
the printed object and that of the original object.
In this paper, we present the state of art and the potential and
large spectrum of applications of fabrication technologies in the
2. Introduction
CH. Through a brief history and characterization of the most com-
mon 3D printer technologies, we try to present a review of the
Digital technologies are able to offer an essential contribution
applications of 3D printing on CH, considering our experiences or
to the documentation, analysis and subsequent use of the cultural
those of other researcher. In the final part of this paper, a particular
assets, as they can be used in different forms and for different
aspect of solid printing is analysed: the level of accuracy reachable
aims: study and research, diagnosis, repair, preservation, protec-
in the creation of material models. This level of precision must be
tion, communication-divulgation, fruition and formation of the
related to that of the instruments of analysis through which the
cultural heritage.
artefacts are converted into digital format. We must not forget that
In the last years the use of electronic and Information Technolo-
the process that leads to the realisation of a material copy must go
gies (IT) has increased exponentially, creating new sceneries and
through a numeric model and that in this process there is a progres-
possibilities in the field of the CH. This evolution of instruments
sive loss of definition, both from the qualitative and quantitative
and methods is in partnership with a diffusion of instrumental
points of view. The simplification operations that the digital data
techniques for surveys; in particular, the 3D scan, which allows
observation of complex geometries impossible to analyse through
traditional methods.
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +39 04 12 57 15 09. Solid printing has gained a special role in this technological
E-mail address: (C. Balletti). development. The rapid creation of prototypes is a technique that
1296-2074/© 2017 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.
C. Balletti et al. / Journal of Cultural Heritage 26 (2017) 172–182 173

allows the production of material copies of objects with complex Before describing AM main technologies, we want to fix some
geometries directly from the mathematical model in relatively important dates to tell shortly how 3D printing was born:
short periods of time and often without being expensive. In recent
years, this technique has experienced a very strong development • in 1984 – Chuck Hull invented and patented a sterolithography
thanks to the large diffusion on the market of desktop 3D printers, aparatus (SLA) machine. Hull went on to co-found 3D Systems,
printers which are quite cheap and whose dimensions are reason- the first organization nowadays operating in 3D printing. The STL
able. They use a FDM technology (Fuse Deposition Modelling), an format file was born;
additive kind of technology, as will be described later, which creates • in 1986 – Carl Deckard, Joe Beaman and Paul Forderhase (with
material models through the superimposition of material layers. other researchers) developed the ideas of Chuck Hull and filed a
This innovative system has allowed a rapid growth of this tech- patent in the US for the selective Laser Sintering (SLS);
nology for ‘commercial’ uses, allowing less expert users to enter the • in 1988 Crump patented the Fused deposition modelling – which
world of 3D printing, creating a community of makers, comparable is printing with fuse material. This technique does not involve the
to the one which formed after the introduction of Arduino [1] to use of laser or dust and uses fused plastic to spread in strata to
the general market. create the object. Crump also founded Stratasys, another leading
The material objects are realised quickly and with quite low business in the field;
budgets, starting from numeric models, often with complex geome- • 1993 – was patented the Electron beam melting (EBM);
tries, converted in G-code, which is the programming language of • 2005 – Mcor Technologies Ltd – an Irish company – starts the
the machines working with numeric control (CNC). We are also Paper 3D laminated printing: a machine, which superimposes
experiencing a reduction in size and cost of these printers (Desktop sheets of paper and prints on them. The result is an additive
3D printer), a process which contributed to the growth of this tech- method, which includes the use of colours;
nology and favoured its commercialisation. The opening of FabLab • in 2005, thanks to the technology of the Self replicating rapid
in Italy (laboratories including machines for digital creation, able to Prototyper a 3D printer which prints itself is first realised (open-
transform ideas in prototypes and products and open to the general source RepRap and FAB@Home projects). The RepRap Project [5]
public) proves the development of this technology: in a study pub- is an abbreviation Replicating Rapid Prototyper, and it aims to
lished at the beginning of 2015, Make in Italy reports in detail on the develop a 3D printer, which prints on its own the majority of its
birth of FabLab and of makerspaces in our country and its growth own components. All the products created with this project are
in the last two years. There are more than 70 active labs spread published with open source licences;
throughout Italy, a community of more than 1000 FabLabs dis- • in 2008, Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer, and Zach “Hoeken” Smith found
tributed throughout 78 countries according to the Fab Foundation, MakerBot Industries.
an organization that emerged from MIT’s Center for Bits & Atoms
Fab Lab Program ( Thousands of Digital fabrication technology is characterized by the basic phys-
people, along with associations, industries, museums, universities ical process employed for the tangible object to be obtained.
and institutions of all kind, are investing time, resources and ener- The subtraction process consists in removing the unnecessary
gies in order to open laboratories including machines for digital material from a block to obtain the final object. The lathe is a tool
fabrication to the public. that allows to remove the exceeding material from a block placed
3D printers have demonstrated effectiveness in many other on a rotating platform, thanks to a series of tips of different shapes.
fields of application, in particular that of the Cultural Heritage. It has been used for centuries: the first hydraulic lathe is more than
Thanks to the recent innovations in the IT technology and mul- 500 years old, but the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians used it as well,
timedia it is now possible to develop new forms of analysis and creating the first tools which allowed them to rotate a plate using
fruition of the Cultural Heritage, which are used along with more a pivot with their feet.
traditional methods. Modern lathes are more complicated and versatile; they use
Models, first digital, then material, have introduced new pos- engines instead of human strength and can have quite a high level
sibilities of access, cataloguing and study of the cultural assets as of automatism. However, they are based on the same principle with
they form the basis for both the visualization and the metric anal- which our ancestors created the first vases regularly shaped.
ysis of any artefact both from the artistic and historical point of Milling machines are more modern machines, which allow the
view. As far as museums are concerned, for example, there is the realization of complex products.
possibility of creating identical replicas, both digital and material, of They work very similarly to drills, but instead of creating a hole,
spaces and three-dimensional objects. Exhibitions and collections thus using the tip of the tool, they cut laterally. The simplest milling
can take advantage from digital fabrication as the access to their machines work on three axes, while the most complex ones work
information becomes customised according to the user, the con- on five or even six axes, supporting rotation around multiple axes,
tent and the complexity of the given message. All this brought 3D so that they can reach almost any part of the product.
printing to repute as one of the most important possible outputs, Milling machines can work with a vast range of resistant mate-
at the same level of more traditional digital or paper. rials, from wood to metals.
Lathes and milling machines are born as tools controlled man-
ually, but in the meantime some numerically controlled machines
3. The subtraction and addition process were created, called CNC (Computer Numerical Control), and con-
trolled by a computer which handles the passage from a 3D model
In order to realise an object we might use two techniques radi- realised through a CAD application (Computer-Aided Design) to the
cally different from each other: the subtractive, referring today to production of the object. The linking chain is a new kind of software
Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machining, and the addi- called CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing), which transforms
tive, concerning the Additive Manufacturing (AM) processes [2]. the digital model of the object in a series of commands to impart
AM, popularly called 3D printing, technologies today are used by to the machine. The file format is a standard one called G-code,
makers all over the world, but its inception can be traced back in the which includes information like N40; G82; X1500, automatically
1980s, at which time it was called Rapid Prototyping (RP) [3]. RP was generated by specialised software.
conceived as a fast and more cost-effective method for prototypes 3D printers are also CNC machines; the only difference is that
realization for product development within the industry [4]. instead of removing material they add it, which makes them an
174 C. Balletti et al. / Journal of Cultural Heritage 26 (2017) 172–182

Fig. 1. FDM approach applied to the façade of S. Giorgio’s church in Venice. Supports for protruding parts are designed in the slicer software and will be removed then from
the final printed model.

additive technology, allowing three-dimensional objects to be cre- from the software of the printer. At the end of the production, it
ated by adding material to material layer by layer (AM). will be necessary to remove all the additional supports generated
The flux followed in the additive process is analogue to the sub- and not included in the original drawing. The printers with one
tractive one: it begins with a numeric model in 3D and then a nozzle create supports with the same material of the final object,
G-code is generated. which implies that the supports must be removed once the print
After the model is ‘sliced’ in many thin layers with a specialised is complete, meaning that this removal might not be precise and
software called slicer, the G-code commands allow the machine to sometimes it might damage the quality of the final product.
build the object superimposing the single strata, reaching levels of The printers with two nozzles on the other hand might create
complexity which are impossible to replicate with other technolo- the additional supports with filaments made of different material
gies: for example, with a milling machine it is impossible to realise from the principal object, which means they are not fused and thus
an empty sphere. more easily removable, even manually.
There are various techniques used in 3D printing; here we Some materials used to create the supports can also be made
describe some of them briefly. out of soluble materials, which would dissolve in water or other
The most widely used technique among printers, especially for liquid substances. In this case, the removal of the support would be
domestic ones is the Fused Filament Fabrication type (FFF), which ‘chemical’.
was born from another previous technique Fused Deposition Mod- The result of a FDM print is not comparable to the quality level
eling (FDM) developed by Scott Crump at the end of the 1980s and obtained with other industrial techniques involving laser, but the
commercialised in the 1990s by Stratasys [6]. value for money is surely closer to the expectation of the public.
Both techniques are based on the stratification of liquid plastic Another industrial technique is Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): it
materials. Casting is based on additive principle, so that each strata is a technique which uses a laser as a sintering source of plastic
once deposited is covered by the following one, forming superim- material (polycarbonate, nylon, ABS), ceramic dust or a metallic one
positions which can create roughness, depending on the material, covered with thermoplastic resins which mingle with each other if
on the casting dimension, on the nozzle and on the casting preci- heated (laser beam). The laser is conducted in the points of space
sion. The functioning is quite easy: a nozzle is heated in order to defined by a 3D model in order to create a solid structure through
melt the material (filament) and can be moved on three axes, hori- sintering.
zontally (axes X and Y) and vertically (axis Z), from an numerically Different from the process of fusion, the thermic process of sin-
controlled engine, commanded by a CAM software. The plastic fil- tering is intended for the use of dusts. The final product (Fig. 2) is
ament (solid) is unrolled from the reel in which it has been put, in completely smooth without the conventional roughness (though
order to pass through a heated area with a high temperature. From minimal) of the FDM technique.
here, thanks to the push of a pinion linked to the stepper engine, The main advantages of these techniques are:
the liquid plastic is expelled from the nozzle, where the flux can be
started and stopped. • the possibility to use different materials;
The framework which supports the structure of the plate (where • support structures are not necessary to create pieces with under-
the material to form the 3D object is collected) and of the engines cuts as the very dusts are deposited in strata and are not sintered
must be controlled on a control sheet with a driver for the so called to work as a support.
stepper motors. These engines are used to obtain increased velocity
and precision and because they guarantee an elevated torque motor The un-sintered dusts are to be removed at the end of the pro-
and a very satisfying twisting movement. duction process, though they are partly reusable.
There are different parameters that cooperate in creating the Sterolythography (SLA) is a printing technique that uses a tank
quality of the finished product. First of all is the kind of material filled with a particular liquid resin able to polymerize if exposed to
used: PolyLactic Acid (PLA, which is a vegetable, biodegradable light. A laser is projected through a system of mirrors in order to
plastic), or ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a petrol derived complete a scan of the surface. A piston lowers the tank with the
from plastic, useful to realise mechanic objects thanks to its high liquid resin for the following scans. The scanning process repeats
resistance), and the section of the filament, obtaining resolutions itself until the three-dimensional object is completed (Fig. 3). At
ranging from 100 to 300 micron. the end, the object is taken from the liquid resin and exposed to
It is also possible to use printers with more than one nozzle, ultraviolet light to complete the polymerization process. As for the
which allow the use of different materials and colours. FDM technique, a limited set of materials can be used and it requires
The FDM technique also requires the creation of a support struc- the removal of supports from the finished product.
ture (Fig. 1) during the creation of the object, especially for the Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM): this technology uses a
empty spaces or projections. These are supports projected directly millworking system to obtain thin layers of material, later selected
C. Balletti et al. / Journal of Cultural Heritage 26 (2017) 172–182 175

Fig. 2. The hypothetical reconstruction of Guggenheim Museum in Venice (Ca’ Venier dei Leoni). The tactile model was printed with a SLS technology with a high level of
decorative details.

and united. The material is formed by special sheets of paper, cut which is more apt for the needed type of application, as also
according to the need and glued one on top of the other on the explained in the examples that follow.
previous sheet. Dimensions are quite extended, according to the
product volume. The support is formed by exceeding paper and
requires an ulterior passage in order to remove the unnecessary 4. Applications in the contest of CH
material with tools for woodcarving.
In Scopigno et al. [7] authors summarize, as can be seen in Fig. 1, 3D printing is leading a revolution across many sectors and
the fabrication technologies that we described and they present a a wide range of applications, including those that until a few
brief qualitative evaluation, with which we agree just considering years ago would not have even been considered appropriate for
our personal direct experience. They compare the different tech- this technology: industrial production, design, health. In the med-
niques in terms of material costs, use, resolution and geometrical ical field some important results have been achieved: engineers
accuracy especially considering the CH application (Fig. 4). and physicians are able to develop 3D-printable prosthetics that
From personal experience and from those described in essays, are fully customized to the wearer; e.g. the German para-cycling
it is clear that for the Cultural Heritage, these technologies have champion Denise Schindler worked with Autodesk to become the
reached a good level of quality, but one has to choose the technology first to compete with a fully 3D-printed prosthetic leg at the Rio

Fig. 3. SLA printing techniques: the reproduction of the bust of Francesco II Gonzaga, in the City Museum of Mantova, is taken from the liquid resin once completed and
exposed to ultraviolet light to complete the polymerization process.
176 C. Balletti et al. / Journal of Cultural Heritage 26 (2017) 172–182

Fig. 4. The comparison done by Scopigno et al. (2015) of the different techniques in terms of material costs, use, resolution and geometrical accuracy especially considering
the CH application.

2016 Paralympic Games [8]. Or today complex surgical proce- Digital fabrication of tangible 3D replicas can replace any CH
dures can be pre-planned using 3D printed organs [9–12]. artwork which has to be removed from its original position, e.g.
Special attention should be given to the realization reducing in a museum if the original object has to be restored or lent to a
times and costs of CH all types of reproductions: archaeological temporary exhibition; or the replacement can be permanent, for
finds, sculptures, architectural elements, paintings and artworks in example to protect the originals from further degradation caused
general. [25]. Since preservation involves keeping statues or architectural
Replicas can be used in many ways: elements in their existing state and preventing them from decay-
ing further and reducing the damage caused by the flow of water,
chemical agents and different types of pests and micro-organisms,
• for study and research;
digital fabrication demonstrates that it has many potentiality at this
• to set up alternative museum exhibitions, such as tactile museum
level of intervention.
tours for the blind and visually impaired;
Preservation suggests moving these works from their original
• for restoration, re-creating missing portions of an object;
position to more protect environments, such as exhibition rooms
• to organize workshops with schools;
or museum warehouses. But, just to revive the original concept or
• for museum merchandising (e.g. producing, with cheap repro-
legibility of the historical site, 3d printed copies are made. In [26]
duction technologies, accurate small-scale replicas of the
authors describe the potentialities and criticalities of prototyping
artworks conserved in a museum or in a CH institution).
systems in a replica of the statue of a Prophet, originally located
beside one of the entry to the Florence Cathedral.
The realization of replicas usually is through the use of rub- For this purpose, different technologies and materials were
ber moulds over the original artworks, which were then used for tested. Two solid model of the whole statue, at 1:1 scale, were
the subsequent production of gypsum or resin copies. This pro- made: a first one in polystyrene and a second one in marble, evalu-
cess requires a direct contact with the object, sometimes risking ating their accuracy, in terms of in geometric details, and resistance.
compromising its preservation. 3D printing technologies can contribute also to CH restoration
Now, thanks to the 3D surveying methods, from laser scanning methodologies reproducing the missing components of a statue or
to photogrammetry [13–23], digital models are realized with a high other artwork such as for the Ebe statue of Canova [27], where pro-
accuracy, and 3D printing gives the possibility to obtain true copies totyping allows to study possible static strains and stress applied
of the original, ensuring safety of the artwork. on supporting critical points, or the restoration of the Madonna of
A special consideration should be addressed on the materials Pietranico, a terracotta statue fragmented in several pieces due to
to be utilized in the final use of replicas, as in the particular case the earthquake in Abruzzo [28]. A reconstructive hypothesis of the
of archaeological finds: these objects are characterized by a com- statue was built by working on the digital models of the scanned
plex geometry and a high level of details, that must be preserved parts; then the reassembly of the pieces was helped by the use of 3D
in order to be explored. In this case, the FDM printing is not suit- printed innovative supporting structures. The structural properties
able because the final result can be damaged by the inability to (e.g. minimal visual impact, resistance to vibrations and transporta-
adequately remove the supports necessary to print the most pro- tion hazards) were considered while designing a proper holding
truding parts of the model, affecting the “tactile” quality of the structure.
replica. These difficulties are compounded by the desire to create Within the scope of regenerating geometries, that cannot be eas-
copies that are true to the original not only in form but also in mate- ily generated via traditional techniques, the Sala di Cristoforo Sorte,
rials, to create a tactile experience as complete as possible. For this a room of the Palazzo Ducale of Mantua, is a good example: the
it is preferred the use of SLS technique with marble powders, which room had a very damaged double crown moulding of the sixteenth
make the physical model more mimetic to the original. century, decorated with Ionic and lesbian kyma, with numerous
Moreover, the visual accuracy of the reproduction can have a and large gaps. The reconstruction [29] has focused on the integra-
key role in many CH applications. Today few 3D printing devices tion of those missing elements alongside the traditional restoration
are able to produce coloured replicas; therefore, their colouring has methods with reverse engineering and rapid prototyping technolo-
to be made manually to obtain good quality results [24]. Therefore, gies. Two different approaches were tested using a FFF printer with
any improvement in the colour reproduction features of available PLA filament: the first, printing the missing parts and apply them
technology could be really beneficial for CH applications. within the gaps; the second, creating and printing casts of the
C. Balletti et al. / Journal of Cultural Heritage 26 (2017) 172–182 177

mould by using 3D scanning, used for reproducing the decoration of knowledge for them occurs prevalently through touch and the
avoiding any contact with the original. use of alphabetical forms, such as the Braille alphabet.
In [30] authors describe the Opus Digitale project: an inter- Just because some researches demonstrated that physical mod-
esting application of high resolution laser scanning survey, with els have been shown to enhance learning experience among
photogrammetry data integration, in order to create, noninvasively student populations as they include their sense of touch [34], 3D
and without any contact with tesserae, a digital 3D model of a printed copies can be a support to allow everybody to know and
portion of a Byzantine mosaic later reproduced by rapid proto- explore CH with fingers, from sculptures to paintings, to bring even
typing technology. Digital technologies are combined with skilful two-dimensional art closer to being accessible.
craftsmanship, creating a production of plaster polychrome replicas This can be done just producing a tangible replica or inte-
of historic mosaics, faithful to the original. The goal of the project grating the surface of the printed object with other sensors to
is the preservation and future dissemination of our cultural her- obtain a multisensory experience (Fig. 5), for example with con-
itage: new technologies will perpetuate as long as possible both textual audio information, relevant to the part of the object that is
the matter and the essence of artworks. being touched in a specific moment. Tooteko [35] is a smart wear-
Today physical model, which was traditionally used to antici- able device that combines touch and hearing to help the visually
pate and see what had not yet been realized, becomes a true copy impaired to visualize objects that they could not experience other-
that will replace the original, becoming a monument itself. 3D wise. It enables blind people to perceive the world through touch
printed replicas can replace a lost heritage to prevent its memory, and hearing. Tactile models of artworks, obtained by laserscan-
as it was planned for the city of Palmira, in Syria, where monuments ning or photogrammetry, are transformed into speaking models by
were recently destroyed. A very ambitious project plans to recre- the use of NFC tags, thus allowing an interactive and independent
ate the ruins of the archaeological site by replacing them with their exploration.
physical copies made through robotics and 3D printing. Projects Haptic experience heavily depend on the question of scale, but
like this make it obvious that there is the need to assess how much digital fabrication brings objects to a human scale, so tactile models
the printed model corresponds to the original. fit in our hand and details are adapted to the size of our fingers [36].
As an example, in the Project Mosul [31] 3D models of arte- The project Tactile Painting [37] present a computer-assisted
facts, destroyed by Islamic State (Isis), are reconstructed with a workflow for the creation of tactile representations of paintings,
pioneering crowdsourcing system. The items are 3D prints of virtual suitable to be used as a learning tool in the context of guided tours
models of four ancient pieces created by a group of archaeologists in museums or galleries. Starting from high-resolution images of
by applying digital technology to simple tourist photos. Scale repro- original paintings, data suitable for rapid prototyping machines are
ductions were displayed at a private event at the Museum of Arts generated to produce the physical touch tools. CNC-milled textured
and Design in Manhattan. The Million Image Database Project at the reliefs render fine details, like brush strokes and texture suitable
Oxford Institute [32] for Digital Archaeology distributed cameras for the sense of touch, so the haptic output is quite faithful to the
to volunteers across the Middle East to collect 3D photos of sites. original paintings.
As well as creating 3D models, they recreated full-scale artefacts, Finally, 3D printing technologies can contribute also to contem-
sites, and architectural features using cement-based 3D printing porary art: for example, Marc Quinn, in collaboration with Factum
techniques [33]. This started with a recreation of the arch from Arte, realized some of his sculptures [38] on the base of real shells
Palmyra’s Temple of Bel, placed in London in April 2016. forms. An STL file of the found form is obtained from scanning the
A peculiar application is the tactile exploration supporting blind shell in three dimensions. Then, it is enlarged using a 3D printer
and visually impaired people (haptic exploration): the transmission and cast in aluminium, concrete, stainless steel or bronze [39].

Fig. 5. Tooteko multisensory system allows to navigate any 3D surface with finger tips and get in return an audio content that is relevant in relation to which part of the
surface you are touching. Tooteko is made of three elements: a high-tech ring that detects and reads the NFC tags and communicates in wireless mode with the smart
device; a tactile surface tagged with NFC sensors and an app for tablet or smartphone. During the tactile navigation of the surface, when the finger reaches a hotspot, the ring
identifies the NFC tag and activates, through the app, the audio track related to that hotspot. Thus, a relevant audio content relates to each hotspot.
178 C. Balletti et al. / Journal of Cultural Heritage 26 (2017) 172–182

5. Case study: considerations about 3D printing precision of the object in its entirety, a rotating stage has been used which,
through the Minolta software Range Viewer, allows obtaining a first
The widespread use of solid printers has highlighted, on the one alignment of the different scans using the ICP algorithm (Iterative
hand, the problem of building digital models that need to be printed Closest Point). During the acquisition phase, the objects were pos-
and, on the other hand, that of the conformity of the copy to the itioned at a distance between 600 and 700 mm. By imposing the
original. rotary plate on a 30◦ angular step, we obtained 12 scans for each
To identify the different applications of such reproductions, it is object and ensured a sufficient overlap for its orientation.
now necessary to determine and verify metric accuracy of the dig- The processing phase of the digital product has been carried
ital and physical models: only in this way will the copy effectively out using the Geomagic Studio software. In this environment, the
replace the original in various fields, especially in the event that this numerical model obtained was subjected to processing that has
must be preserved and its usability is limited to exposure. Physical optimized the data for printing, maintaining the original geometry
models, in fact, are more and more frequently used on the occa- of the object as much as possible. First, each single scan – that the
sions in which physical contact is necessary; for example, museum instrument returns already in the form of mesh – was cleaned and
exhibits devoted to children or the visually impaired. the marginal portions have been eliminated, in correspondence of
This contribution is part of a broader research, with the pur- which there is a degradation of precision. Second, the orientation of
pose to optimize the path that goes from the acquisition of a point the scans has been refined by applying an additional ICP algorithm.
cloud of an object (i.e. vase, statue, architecture, urban area) to its As a result of these operations, it was necessary to close the
representation in a scaled 3D model. In this process, one must of surface, by completing via software the model where the data had
course take into consideration, on one hand, the accuracy of the not been acquired. The last operation carried out was a decimation
acquisition tools (multi image photogrammetry, TOF laser scanner, of the final mesh, because the printers’ software products do not
triangulation laser scanner) and, on the other, that of the final out- allow you to work on models consisting of a number of triangles
put device: FDM, CNC, SLA, SLS printers, etc. to avoid diseconomies much greater than one million.
dictated by the different instrumental precision and resolution. The printers used in this test phase were chosen not only
The main purpose of this first phase of the research is to analyse because they use two different printing systems, but also because
the metrical characteristics of the printed model in relation to the they belong to two diametrically opposed worlds. The first is a
original object. We want to focus, in particular, on the methodology CraftBot Plus (CraftUnique) [41], a 3D desktop printer, which is
used: the acquisition in digital format of an artefact has given rise to very affordable and uses a FDM system, an additive manufactur-
two physical models, created by two different devices. Obviously, ing technology in which the plastic material – in this case a PLA – is
the procedure below should be extended using other printers, sup- melted using an extruder (Fig. 6b). This extruder is moved on two
porting other materials, technologies. That is why we would like to axes (X and Y) by stepper motors, which deposit the filament in
share our data (the original scanned model) with those interested different positions. The displacement along the Z-axis is guaran-
in the testing. teed by a third motor of the same type; it affects the plate on which
Both models have undergone a scan process and compared with the material is deposited and determines the layer’s thickness. The
the original. Since the object of our study was the precision that manufacturer guarantees an accuracy of displacements of a few
can be reached through these solid-printing systems, the test was microns, while the layer can be of different thicknesses: from a
designed so as to maintain unchanged conditions for the acquisition maximum of 300 to a minimum of 100 microns. The size of the
and processing of products as much as possible. printing area is quite small: 250 × 200 × 200 mm.
The second printer used is EnvisionTEC Ultra [42], which uses a
6. Data acquisition and 3D printing SLA technique and, therefore, a system of projections of ultravio-
let light sections on a volume of liquid resin (Fig. 6c). In this case,
The scanned object is a vase of dimensions such as to be printed the device consists of two distinct elements: an optical-projective
on a 1:1 scale. The artefact was first acquired in digital form by system determines the creation of the pattern on the XY plane,
means of a triangulation laser scanner, the Konica Minolta Range 7 while a mechanical system moves the plate on which the pat-
[40], which allows reaching sub millimetrical precisions (up to 40 tern is formed, ensuring its three-dimensionality. The cost of the
microns) (Fig. 6a). The tool allows us to scan small objects from a tool is significantly higher than the previous one and the reso-
distance between 450 and 800 mm and can use two different lenses, lution of the final model arrives to a maximum of 25 micron in
tele and wide-angle, which guarantee the acquisition of a portion of Z and 45 micron in XY. The maximum size of the printing area
variable reality, based on the optics used and on the distance from remains rather limited: 264 × 164 × 203 mm. Another difference
the object, in a range which goes from 79 × 99 to 267 × 334 mm (on compared to the previous device consists of the fact that, after prin-
the XY plane). ting, the model must be immersed in a bath of alcohol to remove the
In the case presented here, a “tele” optics was used, subjected residue of non-solidified resin and finally “baked” in an ultraviolet
beforehand to a special calibration process. To ensure the scanning ray oven.

Fig. 6. The instruments used in this project: a: on the left, the Konika Minolta Range 7; b: in the centre, the CraftBot; c: on the right, the EnvisionTEC.
C. Balletti et al. / Journal of Cultural Heritage 26 (2017) 172–182 179

As previously stated, the products have been printed on a 1:1 an ultra-fine gypsum spray, specifically created for the scanning
scale and acquired in digital format. To eliminate the variable of objects with very small details. Nevertheless, the presence of
introduced by the various instrumental accuracies, the same tri- gypsum could affect the success of the test, because it was about
angulation laser – Range 7 – has been used, trying to maintain adding an additional layer to the printed object, which, being a
unchanged the conditions of acquisition that could somehow affect spray, may not be distributed evenly.
the accuracy of the digital model. In fact, the purpose of these texts In light of these considerations, it was necessary to run a first
was only the comparison between the different printers. comparison test between the scanning of the original vase and
For the same reason, the methodology of processing the a second scan of the same vase covered with a layer of gyp-
acquired data was also kept unchanged as much as possible, to sum. The result shows an average distance of 0.064 mm between
ensure comparability of the final results. the two surfaces, which was considered insignificant. The layer
of gypsum did not form such a thickness as to compromise the
7. Analysis of the results However, the tests carried on the EnvisionTEC pattern have led
to unexpected results: the comparison between the two data shows
In the first place, it was considered necessary to conduct a com- an average distance of 0.248 mm, therefore higher than the one
parison between two different scans of the same original object. In found for the CraftBot pattern.
this way, we were able to verify the stability of the scanning process The first analyses indicate that both the physical copies are
and the subsequent data processing. smaller than the original, data supported by the confrontation on
The module used for the analysis of the two data sets is con- the volumes of the three meshes.
tained within the alignment menu of Geomagic, which uses the In light of this, a scale factor to the EnvisionTEC pattern was
same ICP algorithm used for the orientation of the scans, and it imposed, calculated on the basis of the relationship between its
allows you to display a series of basic information for analysis: volume and that of the original, which has led to the acquisition
the maximum distance between two comparable points in the of an average distance comparable to that of the CraftBot pattern
two meshes and the average distance and the standard deviation (Fig. 7).
(s.q.m.). The scale variation, being greater in the EnvisionTEC pattern,
The two data show an average distance of 0.035 mm between could be caused by the material used by the printer: the solidifica-
the surfaces; it is concordant with the instrumental precision, a tion process to which it is subjected in the ultraviolet ray oven may
result which allowed us to proceed with the subsequent analysis. reduce its size.
The second test was performed on the pattern printed through It is important to emphasize, in fact, that the scale factor iden-
CraftBot, maintaining a “high” print resolution, therefore a thick- tified is isotropic, and consequently it cannot be caused by a
ness of the layer of 200 micron. The pattern shows an average misalignment between the optical-projective system, which works
distance of 0.0122 mm from the original, data, which exceeds our on the XY plane, and the mechanical system, which governs the
expectations, especially considering that this type of device is displacement of the plate along the Z axes.
designed to “consumer” applications. However, the use of stepper To check the reliability of these results, the same analyses were
motors guarantees high precision in the movements along the three performed on a different object: the bust of Francesco II Gonzaga
axes and thus a great precision of the creation of the final pattern. [13] (Fig. 8). In this case, the original object did not have the size
Major problems, however, were found during the test on the needed in order to be printed on a 1:1 scale. However, it was con-
pattern printed through EnvisionTEC. First, the material of which sidered appropriate to take as “original” the digital model already
it is formed is not acquirable via laser scanner, because the resin scaled, and which gave rise to the two physical copies. These copies,
allows the blade of light to enter. Therefore, we had to resort to in fact, had been printed in the past years, when the two output

Fig. 7. The comparisons made on the three different reproductions of the vase: the CraftBot model, the EnvisinTEC one, and the scaled one.
180 C. Balletti et al. / Journal of Cultural Heritage 26 (2017) 172–182

Fig. 8. The bust of Francesco II Gonzaga: the original bust, its digital reproduction and its two copies.

Fig. 9. The tests performed on the bust: the CraftBot model, the EnvisinTEC one, and the scaled one.

Fig. 10. A detail of the two reproductions of the bust: the copy made with the SLA technique is much more definite than the FDM one.
C. Balletti et al. / Journal of Cultural Heritage 26 (2017) 172–182 181

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