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Scan the World Preserves Cultural Artifacts By Scanning them into 3D Objects

A non-profit initiative wants your help to collect 3D scans of artifacts from around the world.
A 3D print of a scan from the Scan the World archive shared by community member Martin PMP. All images courtesy of Jonathan Beck.

Traditional sightseeing etiquette dictates that we only take pictures and leave only footprints of the places we've visited, but a non-profit initiative is trying to help take the sights with us by turning them into 3D prints. Scan the World intends to give more people the opportunity to experience 3D printed representations of cultural artifacts, so that we can access content we might not otherwise experience.


Scan the World founder Jonathan Beck tells The Creators Project, “My focus for the project is to continue on the democratization of the art object all whilst building a strong community of art lovers, hobbyists, academics and curators alike to continue being the largest record of such art forms. Driven by the values of innovation, accessibility, openness and quality, I intend to acquire inaccessible global content by encouraging a worldwide community to contribute; a means of saying thank you in helping the project is through sending the scanner a 3D print of the sculpture they scanned for free.”

A 3D scan from an event at The Victoria and Albert Museum. 

There are a number of ways to participate in the Scan the World initiative, but the most straightforward is to add an object to the archive, which is as simple as taking about 50 photographs. According to the Scan the World tutorial for creating your own 3D scan, the photographs need to capture the entire object from every angle, making sure that it’s properly lit, and including close-ups of any important details. Once you’ve uploaded images that will produce a good scan of the object, Scan the World will send you a 3D print of your scan, so that you can see the results for yourself.

Scan the World has already compiled more that 4,500 objects. The process of scanning and printing cultural artifacts from around the world makes the role of the museum visitor more interactive by allowing them to take in the artifacts as they document them, and then by allowing them to share their experience with others as a 3D print. “The project disrupts cultural institutions, adding a new aspect to the idea of the future museum,” says Beck. Part of the disruptive quality that the project provides is the opportunity for its users to create derivative works from the Scan the World archives by manipulating the digital information.


A 3D scan from the archive being printed.

The initiative is already working with cultural institutions to make the visitor experience more interactive. “Most recently I exhibited with The Victoria and Albert Museum as part of their World of Fragile Parts show; since then I've been scanning their works and exploring how doing so can demonstrate the vast potential in elevating the appreciation of sculpture when complemented with new technologies,” says Beck.

A derivative work from the Scan the World community gallery by Casey Richardson.

For those who are interested in learning more about Scan the World’s activities, there will be a “young people’s event” at The Victoria and Albert Museum on December 10th. To see the entire Scan the World archive and participate in it as well, be sure to take a look at their website.


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