Roman Samian Ware fragments

Partially-sighted individuals in England my soon be able to touch and examine 3D printed replicas of museum treasures. The Leicester City Council Arts and Museums Service has commissioned the Digital Building Heritage Group (DBHG) to find out whether pieces of historical art like the Roman Samian Ware pictured here can be recreated using additive manufacturing. If the pieces can be accurately reproduced they will be made available to the public as a way to "Improve the museum experience for partially sighted visitors through touch." DBHC said in a recent article. "The use of replicas in this way relies upon very accurate reproduction of the shape characteristics and surface details of objects so that partially sighted visitors can 'see' the objects through their fingers."

DBHG chose to use 3D printers to produce the artifacts because of their ability to accurately replicate the intricate scans of the items. "The challenges of this project were to scan the objects at very high resolution using our laser scanner in a non-contact process, circumnavigating issues of the reflective glaze-like surface to capture the beautiful motifs and designs of the relief-decoration (mainly hunting scenes) and then to get as much of that detail as possible into a 3D print."

A comparison of a 3d printed fragment to the original

DBHG used an SLA printer to replicate the Samian Ware. The results were so accurate it is difficult to tell the reproduction from the original piece; unless you pick it up. The original piece is made from pottery, the printed piece from UV curable plastic. The reproduction has also been rubbed with simulated soil in order to bring the details into greater relief for the visually impaired.

After printing DBHG had both the original and reproduction artifact examined by independent sources. They were able to confirm, "the level of detail and fidelity is very high and convincing enough to use both for its intended purpose of informing partially sighted visitors but also in displays for the sighted public."

DBHG believes being able to touch and hold the simulated pieces could take the museum experience to the next level for visitors. Although the Leicester City Council Arts and Museums Service have not officially confirmed they intend to continue the project with other pieces, DBHG was positive about the results. "We believe that reproduction of archaeological artifacts by laser scanning and 3D printing offers a number of possible uses within a museum and research environment, particularly where such a convincing level of detail can be achieved."

This isn't the first time the Leicester City Council Arts and Museums Service has used 3D printing to recreate treasures from the past. Last year they used the technology to reproduce the remains of King Richard III.