In the future, we may not need to go to museums and other repositories of art in order to admire paintings and sculptures. We may be able to print inch-perfect replicas of artworks that, to the untrained eyes, look exactly the same as the original. Engineer Tim Zaman showed that it’s possible to make high quality and full color scans of paintings using off the shelf devices. But for now, it takes a rare and proprietary 3D printer to turn those scans into accurate replicas.
For his master thesis at the Delft University of Technology, Tim built a custom 3D scanner composed of two Nikon D800E cameras with 80mm PC-E lenses and a polarization filter and a picoprojector that also has a polarization filter. Tim said his rig enabled him to combine two 3D scanning techniques – stereoscopic scanning and fringe projection – allowing for scans with a resolution of 50 micrometers (μm) and a depth precision of 9.2 μm. Skip to around 1:52 in the video below to see Tim talk to the BBC about his project:
In his reply to a commenter on YouTube, Tim said that it takes him one day to scan a 1 sq.m. (approx. 11 sq.ft.) surface. Printing the resulting file can take up to a day as well. Not that you’d be able to do so with just any 3D printer. The miraculous machine in the video below and the 3D printing process it uses were developed by Océ, a printing company owned by Canon. The painting that was replicated here is Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride.
That is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my life. No doubt visual artists and art critics will have to come to terms with the off-putting consequences of this technology. What is the value of a painting if it can have infinite perfect replicas? Should one’s appreciation of a painting or sculpture be informed by the knowledge of its authenticity if you can’t tell the difference between an original work and its replica? But as Tim stated in his thesis, the fruits of his labor can also be applied to study, conserve and restore works of art. Head to Tim’s website or YouTube channel if you want to find out more about his research.