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3-D Printing The Museum Store

A wealth of cultural heritage is now potentially at anyone’s fingertips.

3-D Printing The Museum Store
[Screen shot: courtesy of Sketchfab]

Starting this week anyone can download 3-D models of sculptures and artifacts from the collection of the British Museum. The models are available online in file formats that are ready to be used by any 3-D printer.

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Through a partnership with the British Museum in London, Sketchfab is making these files available for download for free, under Creative Commons Attribution licenses. So far, the pieces that have been scanned and posted online are mostly from the museum’s Ancient Egypt collection.

“This is a huge move for accessing cultural heritage,” says Alban Denoyel, cofounder and CEO of Sketchfab. “3-D capture of cultural heritage is close to our heart. It’s the only way to make sure that history stays accessible forever. Plus it’s a great use case for 3-D scanning technologies.”

Sketchfab has become known as one of the easiest ways to display 3-D models on the web. Using the WebGL JavaScript API, it allows any browser to display and interact with 3-D models. Now Sketchfab is branching out to not just display 3-D models, but also allow users to download and print models themselves.

Some potential uses of this growing treasure trove of digital assets include:

  • Artists can study and touch full-size replicas of famous works of art, even incorporate them into their own remixes
  • A linguistics class studying early writing could actually print a column with inscriptions from Ancient Egypt on it
  • 3-D scans of objects from antiquity could be incorporated into video games (including virtual reality like the Oculus Rift)

By 3-D printing works of art, museum collections could become accessible to a far wider audience. “It brings art and history to your home,” Denoyel says. “You can now print a statue from Easter Island, in the material of your choice!” Playfully, he also notes that the variety of materials with which anyone can 3-D print means you could turn one of these statues into “the top of your wedding cake.”

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Still, Denoyel acknowledges that the market for this kind of technology is a bit unclear. “The market is pretty new,” he says. “For now it’s mostly makers, schools, and educators.”

You can view the full gallery of Sketchfab’s downloadable 3-D models here.

About the author

Jay is a freelance journalist, formerly a staff writer for Fast Company. He writes about technology, inequality, and the Middle East.

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