Collaborative documentation to inform future reprinting: Acquiring additively manufactured objects at Tate and Science Museum, London

Libby Ireland and Vanessa Applebaum


Over the past decade, additive manufacturing has become a popular method of production, most often referred to as 3D-printing. Unsurprisingly, the increased recognition and use of additive manufacturing techniques has resulted in the emergence of additively manufactured (AM) objects in the museums and cultural heritage sector. Within the conservation field, research has been done to understand some of the polymers being used to create these objects, but there is less material available on archiving of the related digital files, and re-printability of AM objects. All of these aspects need to be considered when acquiring AM objects and devising a conservation strategy with relevant stakeholders.

When printing an AM object, there are a large range of variables which can impact on the final object. Even with the same digital files and the same model of printer, decisions such as layer thickness, placement on the printing bed and location of supports can cause aesthetic changes. This is also compounded by a rapidly evolving industry where materials are trade secrets whose components may be modified by manufacturers, and processes and machines will evolve with available technology.

This paper will outline collaborative work done across Tate and the Science Museum in London to understand the information that different museums need to collect at the acquisition stage of an AM object. Having certain discussions and gathering technical information at this stage can be vital to the long-term care of an artwork or artefact. By speaking with AM specialists in the UK, a list of the controllable variables when fabricating using AM technologies was compiled. This was used to produce a documentation template which can be sent to fabricators and artists to ensure salient technical information about fabrication is captured, and can act as a prompt for discussions about care strategies such as future replication. This documentation also highlights the copyright complexities around reprinting, to ensure any future reprinting can be done ethically without infringing on copyright or the artist’s wishes. Care was also taken to ensure the document is flexible for different types of artworks, objects and processes, and that it does not act to fix ideas around how the artwork should be cared for.

Using case studies of AM components from Tate and Science Museum, two museums with very distinct collections, the paper will illustrate how the documentation can be used, and where it can be problematic. This will demonstrate the complexity and scope of the knowledge required for the acquisition of additively manufactured objects, and the need to collaborate with relevant specialists. We hope that by sharing the methods developed, we can create a space for discussion around acquisition processes for AM works and open the documentation template to suggestions and collaboration.

2022 | Los Angeles | Volume 29