The World’s Largest Museum Complex to 3D Print Copies of Priceless Artifacts [VIDEO]

A pair of model makers — Vincent Rossi and Adam Metallo — are taking on the task of digitizing the Smithsonian Institute’s 137 million-piece collection with high-tech scanners and 3D printing.

Once the process has been perfected, 3D printing will create close copies of artwork and specimens. The mammoth task of replicating and web archiving the almost two-century-old collection will allow the institute to display one-of-a-kind art at multiple locations and interactively on the web, according to a CNET report.

There’s only so much room for the art in Smithsonian locations and affiliate museums. An official statistic says, only 2% of the collection is on display at one time. Digitizing the art, making items viewable on the web, will help broaden the museum’s reach.

A printed replica of Thomas Jefferson at the National Museum of African American History in Washington D.C. was the first to be replicated.

The sculpture was the largest 3D printed museum quality historical replica on Earth, according to the institute.

For the Thomas Jefferson project, the Smithsonian team worked with Studio EIS to generate the 3D model and RedEye on Demand — a third-party company that specializes in 3D prototypes and digital manufacturing.

The Thomas Jefferson model was pretty spot on (see for yourself in the video above). But, Rossi and Metallo say there won’t be 100% accurate replicas until software is available to re-create geometrics of certain shapes. The process of 3D printing is essentially printing layers of material on top of layers.

SEE ALSO: 5 Ways Museums Are Reaching Digital Audiences

How did these two fine art model makers make the big-time in 3D printing — creating the largest collection of 3D scanned and replicated items ever? This isn’t the first big task to document artifacts, according to Spar Point Group. In 2010, the duo found themselves documenting finds at a prehistoric whale graveyard in Chile.

The 123D Catch and a Z Corp printer were used to print objects from scans. 3D replicas of 5-million-year-old whale fossils. The replicas were scaled down to a fraction of the actual size.

What do you think about seeing replicas of original artwork and historic specimens in museums soon? Tell us in the comments below.

Update: We stated that RedEye on Demand is a Smithsonian partner in the video above, but in fact, they are not. We stated the Smithsonian Institute scanned the Thomas Jefferson statue, when in fact, a company called Studio EIS was contracted to create the detailed 3D model. We regret the error.

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