Museums are experiencing an increased presence of 3D printed objects in collections and higher instances of use in preservation activities, amplifying the critical need for preservation guidelines and resources for the museum professionals caring for these objects. An incredible variety of materials can be printed with 3D technologies, and new developments within the 3D printing industry continue to push boundaries. This material diversity presents major challenges to collections stewardship given that very few studies have investigated the preservation of 3D printed objects, let alone identified the extent of material variety found within museums.
A grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded in August 2021 is supporting IPI’s foundational research in this area. Project outcomes, including resources for 3D printing and preservation, will continue to be added and updated on this page throughout the project period, September 2021 – August 2024. IPI’s research aims to lay a foundation for 3D print preservation by identifying the most common 3D printed materials found in museums, the range and variety of those materials, and how each is being used within a museum context, with a special focus on objects entering collections and materials used in preservation activities.
Materials printed are plastics/polymers
Source: Ultimaker 3D printing sentiment index 2021
USA has the highest 3D printing adoption and investment rate
Source: Ultimaker 3D printing sentiment index 2021
Expectation of 3D printing market by 2026
Source: Hubs additive manufacturing trends report 2021
Evaluating the Mechanical Stability of 3D Printed Materials to Inform Collections Care Decision Making
This research aims to evaluate the mechanical stability of 3D printed materials used in preservation and access activities. Digital scanning and printing technologies are finding increased use by cultural institutions as they offer new opportunities to reduce the risk of damage to objects during treatment and exhibition preparation by enabling custom-tailored solutions in minimally invasive ways. While 3D printing offers improved efficiencies and outcomes for certain applications, the mechanical and chemical stability of printed materials used in these contexts remains understudied. This project will assess mechanical properties of 3D printed materials exposed to changing environments and as they apply to three major areas of use in preservation and access, namely i) dimensional change of 3D printed materials used for object infills, ii) creep behavior of 3D printed mounts, and iii) damping properties of 3D printed materials in response to dynamic loads.
National Endowment for the Humanities
2024 - 2026
Meredith Noyes, PhD
Foundational Research to Inform Preservation Guidelines for the Creation, Collection, and Consumption of 3D Printed Objects in Museums
Museums are experiencing an increased presence of 3D printed objects in collections and higher instances of use in preservation activities. The diversity of 3D printed materials presents a major challenge to collections stewardship given that few studies have investigated the preservation of 3D printed objects, let alone identified the extent of material variety found within museums. This project will consist of 1) a national survey to identify critical preservation challenges associated with 3D printed materials and technologies found in museums, 2) interviews with 3D printing industry leaders to inform a web-based resource that will support preservation of 3D printed objects in museums, and 3) the creation of a 3D printed study collection to support continued research and educational opportunities. These resources will provide a platform for the development of preservation guidelines and will be made available for free from the IPI website, immediately benefiting the global community of museum professionals responsible for preserving objects created by these emerging technologies.
Institute of Museum and Library Services
2021 - 2024
Meredith Noyes, PhD
Museums, libraries, and archives have seen a growing presence of 3D printed objects within the past 10-15 years, both in the context of objects entering collections and as a tool for preservation and access activities. As consumers of the technology, collecting institutions have applied 3D printing in areas such as conservation treatments, in the storage, display, and transit of objects, and education and public engagement activities. This webinar will provide an introduction to 3D printing for preservation professionals. Information covered will include an overview of 3D printing processes, terminology, commonly printed materials, and application areas within a cultural heritage setting. This webinar will also discuss findings from a recent field-wide survey on 3D printing and 3D printed objects in collecting institutions and highlight ongoing research at IPI in this area. This webinar is provided at no cost, thanks to funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
In May-June 2022, IPI conducted an online survey assessing how collecting institutions are using 3D printing and interacting with 3D printed objects and materials. The survey covered three major areas: 3D printed objects and artwork found in collections, conservation treatments of 3D printed objects, and 3D printing in preservation and access activities, including its use as a tool in conservation treatments of non-3D printed objects, exhibition and display, and collections transportation. A preliminary report containing a few of the survey highlights was released in August of 2022. The full-length report presented here provides a more comprehensive list of the questions asked in the survey and summarizes the overall survey findings.
As part of a new research project titled "Foundational Research to Inform Preservation Guidelines for the Creation, Collection, and Consumption of 3D Printed Objects in Museums," IPI conducted an online survey in May-June 2022 assessing how collecting institutions are using 3D printing and interacting with 3D printed objects and materials across a broad range of activities. Participants were able to choose different sections of the survey to take depending upon their professional experience with 3D printing. Highlights and preliminary findings from the survey are summarized in this initial report. A full length report will be forthcoming and posted on this page.
Objects acquired in museum collections
Fine art and sculpture
Fashion and jewelry
Furniture and decorative arts
Materials used to house, exhibit, and move objects
Exhibit components/support structures
Materials used for restoration/treatment of objects
Objects made by museums for primarily educational purposes
Hands-on engagement and education
Accessibility (ex: exhibits for visually impaired)
Sign up to receive more information as it becomes available regarding the research project, Foundational Research to Inform Preservation Guidelines for the Creation, Collection, and Consumption of 3D Printed Objects in Museums