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Blind People Can Now “See” Paintings Thanks to 3D Printers


We’ve heard of some pretty impressive things being 3D printed over the last couple of years – from arms for children right through to houses. There’s no denying that this technology is going to create some incredible and world-changing inventions over the years. One of the most recent things to be 3D printed may actually bring a tear to your eyes.

The Gift of Sight

While scientists may be a little way off from helping the blind see at this moment in time, one 3D printing company has given many the gift of sight… In a very different way! They’ve turned some of the world’s most famous paintings into models that can be touched and experienced by the blind, so that they can “see” artwork. Pieces such as the “Mona Lisa” and “Dr. Gatchet” have been 3D printed by the New York-based company, 3DPhotoWorks. This truly creative idea is likely to change the way many people, not just those who are visually impaired, will see artwork forever.

The Process

By using a combination of clever computer software and 3D printing, famous paintings from around the world are being converted into pieces that the blind can touch, feel and “see”. 3DPhotoWorks scans in copies of the 2D paintings, before turning them into digital data. Specialists can then manually add in data to add depth to the paintings, which are then sent to a 3D printer. Texture is added to the piece through 3D printing, which creates around 4.5cm in depth – more than enough for the visually impaired to get a real feel for what the picture looks like. It’s a bit like braille, only far more in-depth, and a fully exciting prospect for those who are blind. After all, they’ve likely heard what some of the world’s most famous paintings look like, but many of them will never have been able to see for themselves. This 3D printing of artwork as sculptures will truly change that.

Around the World

The company was first founded by photojournalist and engineer John Olson, over eight years ago. It occurred to him what life would be like without sight, and what it felt for the blind who couldn’t see some of the world’s most incredible paintings. The company has come a long way over those eight years, including starting a Kickstarter campaign back in 2015. While the company didn’t manage to reach its $500,000 target, that hasn’t stopped John Olson from taking his 3D paintings all over the world. In fact, exhibitions have already been planned in North America this year, including one in February at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Instead of showcasing world famous paintings in this exhibition, there will be 3D printed sculptures of photographs taken by 13 different people with visual impairments.

This is truly an exciting time to be alive, and not just for those who are blind or have visual impairments. Artwork is something that should be accessible to all, and 3DPhotoWorks may just be able to make that dream a reality. More details of their process, history, and upcoming exhibitions can be found on their website.

About the author

Rebecca Walton

Rebecca has always been fascinated with the business and tech world, having grown up with parents in the industry. She has a real passion for science - particularly space and the unknown realms that surround the planet! Rebecca has been writing for different publications for nearly 6 years and is now an editor at Pangaea Express.