Monday, 21 April 2014

3D printed art - a pointless exercise?

Making art pieces using a 3D printer may in some respects seem a pointless exercise. "won't it just get 3D scanned and copied?" is a common response. If you can copy it then it is not unique and it has less inherent value.

In theory yes you could scan and 3D print a copy of a 3D printed artwork, but there are a number of reasons why this is not a likely outcome. Some reasons for this are:
  • A functional prototype is finished to a different standard to an art work. In one the physical attributes of the part are key where as the other surface finish is key. Achieving quality surface finish is likely to be achieved more with human labour than with the 3D printing system alone. All 3D printing currently requires post processing which usually involves physical human input and additional processes that make parts unique. With colour 3D printing, parts needs cleaning up and a strengthening resin applied and possibly further finishing to protect the part. Not all colour 3D printer technicians use the same techniques and finishes and each produces parts that have a distinct appearance to the trained eye.
  • 3D Scanning an artwork is likely to be difficult, the presence of occlusions would mean that it would take a lot of time would be needed with the piece. Some areas of parts may not be possible to scan. You could not just scan an artwork while wandering around a gallery. The quality of scans makes it difficult to reproduce a part to to the same standard as the original. 
  •  3D Print technology is constantly changing after 5 to 10 years it would be difficult to find an original 3D printer running the right materials to reproduce a part. After 20 years it would be almost impossible. 

It would certainly be possible to make an imitation 3D print, but it would be as difficult to make a true copy of a 3D printed art piece as it is of a traditional print or even a contemporary painting. It could be done but it would not be easy. It would take an amount of time and expense that would raise the bar to a counterfeiter undertaking this work. Considering that most art pieces take many years to rise in value it may become more difficult to achieve as pieces rise in value and technology becomes obsolete.

Techniques that may be used to make more difficult for counterfeiters include adding signature or watermark voids into the part that cannot be seen without special equipment, adding unique chemicals to binders or resins, inserting RFID tags etc. 

Many of the 3D printed pieces that we made for Adam Nathaniel Furman's "Identity Parade" will be on public view at the Hospital Club from 22nd April for 2 months. You can make up you own mind how easy or difficult it would be to reproduce this amazing collection.

The Hospital Club
Endell Street

For more information about Lee 3D visit