Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science

The 3D reproduction of art

3D printing as a conservation strategy for paintings

The reproduction of artworks has been a topic of debate since Walter Benjamin (1936) described that reproduction changes art’s historic value (‘aura’) into one of exhibition value. However, 3D printing offers possibilities Benjamin could have never imagined possible: to three dimensionally print artworks, preserving their visual and material qualities in every minor detail. Even though 3D printing has just started to develop, with the rapid speed at which technology is developing it will only be a matter of time before the products become more accurate, cheaper to manufacture and accessible to everyone at any time.


This research gives insight in how we can use – or not use - 3D printing as a conservation strategy for paintings. It will provide a way of understanding how we can deal with the technical, art historical and ethical discussions this technique provokes. Drawing from various disciplines such as conservation studies, museum studies, art history, reproduction technology and material science, this research aims to provide theoretical and practical ways in which 3D printing can be used in overcoming binaries in conservation practices. This research also investigates 3D printing as a durable and sustainable conservation strategy that works in the advantage of the material, aesthetic and authentic qualities of originals.


By working closely with Dutch museums, this research will provide ways in which museums can use this technology to keep original artworks meaningful to our changing society that will deal with more replicas, digital reproductions and converted representations than ever before.

Photo: Liselore Tissen/Leiden University

A 3D print of Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride (left) and the original (right) displayed at the Rijksmuseum. Jewish Bride, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1665-1669, oil on canvas, 122 x 166 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, SK-C-216. Image by Tim Zaman

Principal researcher

Liselore Tissen (Leiden University & Delft University of Technology)

Type of project


Participating researchers

  • Kitty Zijlmans (supervisor)
  • Joris Dik (supervisor)

Institutions involved

  • Leiden University
  • Delft University of Technology

Expected completion date

September 2024

Published by  NICAS

24 June 2019