Touchy Feelings: Helping Blind People “See” Photos Using 3-D Printing

“We purposefully focused on creating an experience that could only be made possible by 3-D printing.”

One day soon, 3-D printers will be as commonplace as the sputtering old inkjet versions collecting dust in your parents’ living room. They’ll have all sorts of practical applications, from protective phone cases to replacement parts for your coffee maker.


But before the maker movement can truly catch on, it’ll need to communicate to would-be buyers that there is also a human element hidden in there… somewhere. That’s the seed of a new project by Spain-based creative agency named Lola–on behalf of the folks behind Pirate 3D, a company that just so happens to build one such printer–which is putting a touchier-feelier spin on 3-D printing. The project, Touchable Memories, enlists Pirate’s 3-D printer to re-create old photographs for people who have lost their eyesight.

“We realized that most people were not interested in purchasing a 3-D printer for their homes because they didn’t know what use they could give to the technology,” project lead Fred Bosch explains to Fast Company in an email. “We purposefully focused on creating an experience that could only be made possible by 3-D printing.”

The tactile printouts look a bit crude on camera. But it’s hard to deny that the film’s subjects seem genuinely touched by the results.

“There were very long silences while we saw emotions wash over their faces as if they were being transported in time, but Daniela was perhaps who stands out the most,” says Bosch. “She chose a memory that not only brought her back to her childhood and the ski holiday she spent with her family, but also reminded her of intimate details that she had forgotten, like the wool cap she was wearing at the time and the crunch of the snow beneath her boots.”

He adds, “She even joked that the experience must have been similar to what the first person that saw himself in a photograph felt.”

Learn more about the project here.


About the author

Chris is a staff writer at Fast Company, where he covers business and tech. He has also written for The Week, TIME, Men's Journal, The Atlantic, and more.