How Additive Manufacturing Is Entering Arts

This post is a guest contribution by CGTrader, a marketplace for sharing and selling 3D models.

Attempting to define art is a little like trying to describe a color to a blind person. It's an elusive concept that gains different meanings and forms in the eyes of different persons. Since the Stone Age, when the modern human had first made effort to depict the world around him using color pigments and produced what is now considered cave paintings, we exert enormous effort to make art. And art can be anything.


Due to the sheer volume of art pieces produced every day that vary in style, size, materials, and various other properties, artists are on a constant lookout for the next big thing, something that would help their work surface on the top and get noticed.

Perhaps, it’s the reason why so many creators are in awe of the endless potential of 3D printing technology that makes every wild vision a new possibility. When in hands of creative geniuses, 3D printing becomes an almost magical tool for creating, restoring, modifying and distributing art. And though a new influence in the art world, it has already made an imprint on the process and purpose of creating.

Restoring Art is a Form of Art

There are too many ways to ruin an ancient piece of art. Art restoration is a delicate and tricky business. In order to achieve the intended results and prevent disasters, it takes both knowledge and appropriate tools to return beauty to faded artefacts. The too well-known case of "restoring" a hundred-year-old fresco of Jesus that, as a result of the amateurish act, became better known as "the Monkey Jesus" is a good example of how art restoration can go horribly wrong.

Monkey Jesus Restoration

But how can 3D printing help those seeking to preserve our past? Experts have demonstrated a range of methods where 3D printing was utilized in order to preserve ancient artefacts and sculptures. Engineers in China have recently used scanning and 3D printing technologies to restore an 800 year old Buddhist goddess sculpture, which was carved into a cliff during the reign of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279). If done the traditional way, using molding and casting to reproduce the missing parts, the restoration would have cost a lot more time and money. Whereas with the help of 3D printing, incredible accuracy and speed have been achieved.

Buddhist goddess sculpture

The Chinese government is taking the risks posed by nature and human ignorance seriously and are planning to carry out a number of similar restoration projects in the future. As the solution of utilizing 3D printing technology for art preservation is gaining traction around the world, a mind-blowing idea that over a few coming decades all major cultural relics may be 3D scanned and stored on a hard drive, eliminating the possibility of ever losing the amazing ancient art to natural disasters or human ignorance, is beginning to look like a viable option. Can you even comprehend that?

Other major restoration projects successfully implemented by experts around the globe include rebuilding a ceramic lion that was smashed into pieces in Mesopotamia 3,000 years ago, restoring thousands of ancient relics from the Beijing Forbidden City’s Palace Museum, and even – hold your breath – replicating the legendary King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Luxor, Egypt, which has been experiencing rapid deterioration due to high volume of visitors.

Too many astonishing restoration cases that rely on 3D printing technology are there to be mentioned in this article, but, by now, you must be getting the feeling that the newly discovered process is not going anywhere. A bit like Google, 3D printing is soon going to make us wonder how we managed to get by before it came around.

Ceramic Lion

Image Source: Harvard Gazette

Forbidden City Relics 3D Scanned

Image Source: Wired

King Tutankhamun Tomb

Image Source: Mail & Guardian Africa

Impossible Art

Artists are flamboyant creatures. They have an incredibly sensitive and accurate inner compass when it comes to discovering new (and exciting) grounds. The fact that the art world has taken to 3D printing technology like a duck takes to water can only mean one thing – a new mind-bending dimension of the technology has been unlocked. As more and more artists embark on the journey of creating thought-provoking pieces utilizing 3D printers, the creative ecosystem begins to slowly shift from the originally skeptical to all-embracing approach to additive manufacturing.

In the recent years technology enthusiast had countless breathtaking (in a good way) moments that need to be recollected. A South African artist and former puppet maker, Michaela Janse van Vuuren, created an elaborate white horse marionette with a huge set of wings made of a number of interlocking parts that were all printed in one go. The sculpture had fully functional joints and movable wings, and no further assembly was required. No traditional manufacturing or handcrafting method could have brought this design to life.

3D Printed White Horse Marionette

Image Source: CNN

Artist David Van Ness has been dabbling with 3D printing since 2005 and his 3D-printed works enjoyed success around the world. His “Stacking Bulls” highlights the strong connection between 3D printing and sculpture as well as illustrates how the new medium is further expanding artists’ creative visions.

3D Printed Stacking Bulls

“Stacking Bulls” by David Van Ness. Image Source: 3Dprint.com

Having been one of the first artists to use 3D printing to bring extraordinary sculptures to the world, Joshua Harker doesn’t really need introductions anymore. The pioneer continues to produce mind-bending sculptures using nothing more than computer software and a 3D printer. One of his latest works “Monochromatic Radiance”, a kinetic sculpture made from nearly 2,000 separate hand assembled pieces, was presented at the 3D Printshow last year. “Undulating in a sine wave, the 12 arms depict the 12 musical notes in a chromatic scale, the 12 colors in a color wheel, as well as the representation of time & measure.”

Monochromatic Radiance 3D Printed
Monochromatic Radiance 3D Printed

Additive manufacturing is not going to replace the conventional technologies just yet for a couple or reasons. Firstly, it’s not suitable for everything. 3D printing is ideal for fairly small and complex designs that would be either too expensive or simply impossible to produce using the old methods. Secondly, we still haven’t grasped the real potential; it will take some time until we accumulate enough knowledge and experience to fully understand the capacity of 3D printing technology and find new applications for it. Exciting breakthroughs are announced every day, so the best thing to do for now is either let the experimenters lead the way on this, or join them.

Mass Distribution of Art

While in the old days the great masters used to spend countless hours just to produce one piece – be that painting or sculpture – artists of the modern world are exposed to a completely different creative environment. Thanks to 3D printing, they can produce as many copies of one design as they like. And many find this new development a complex concept to comprehend: 3D printing makes commercialization of art a one-click process which begs the question if this a good thing?

Well, this is a tough question to answer. If you look at it from the perspective that art is for people, rich and poor, and should be available to more people than a private gallery (or worse, a billionaire’s mansion) can accommodate, then yes – 3D printing is just the right tool to make art available to everyone who’s eager enough to enjoy it. On the other hand, if you feel that reproduction of the original design would copy by copy peel away the appreciation and thrill that the great works of art deliver, the option to print a piece of art in your living room is not something you’ll be exceptionally excited about.

And while we sit here pondering the impact of the new technology, additive manufacturing is catching on like a Justin Bieber pop hit. Let’s see what happens next!

I hope you enjoyed this guest contribution by CGTrader.com, feel free to leave your comments and questions below. In case you are looking for 3D Printing Models, have a look at the 3D Print Models section of CGTrader.com.

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How Additive Manufacturing Is Entering Arts | 3... - April 8, 2015

[…] While it is well established that 3D printing is beginning to disrupt manufacturing, it is also changing arts, restoration and sculpture. Read on to f  […]


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