Lancaster Museums bring art to the visually impaired with 3D printing

Lancaster Museums, City University and Galloway's Society for the Blind in Morecambe have collaborated to 3D print relief versions of paintings from the Lancaster Museums art collection. The objective is to give people with a visual impairment the opportunity to admire the works of the establishments. This project, called “Feeling as Seeing”, is led by two university engineering students. The latter will work in partnership with the museums of Lancaster and the company Galloway's. 

When visiting a museum, most people consider works of art as a purely visual object. Indeed, going to a gallery without being able to see them would not make sense. Therefore, innovative ways are needed to enable visually impaired people to interact and admire the works without seeing them. This is why the Lancaster Museum thought of 3D printing. This technology has already enabled blind people to make education more accessible . From now on, it will also be used for art and paintings. 

When 3D printing replaces sight with touch

As mentioned earlier, the “Feeling as Seeing” project will use 3D printing technologies. Thus, the pieces are imagined in such a way that visually impaired people can get an idea of ​​the work by touching it. Feeling the reliefs of the painting is similar to reading letters written in Braille. At the moment, the exact technologies and materials used for the project have not yet been revealed. However, in order to further accompany visitors, it is also likely that each 3D printed relief will include an audio description. 

In addition, to create these pieces, the two students and their partners will be helped directly by visually impaired people. This should make it possible to develop effective methods in order to achieve the best possible results. The tests will therefore be carried out by those concerned by the project. Professor Claudio Paolini from the Lancaster School of Engineering says: “One of the missions of engineering is to find solutions to overcome obstacles. I am delighted that the School of Engineering has contributed to this project, in collaboration with the Lancaster Museum and Galloway's, with our expertise in 3D printing to offer visually impaired people a new way to enjoy the magnificent works of art that make up the museums of Lancaster”. 

The long-term goal of the “Feeling as Seeing” project is to use 3D printing technology to create relief versions of paintings for all future exhibitions. Thus, art will become more accessible to those who do not have the ability to see.