Speed Reads

art of the future

Smithsonian uses 3D printing to create Obama bust, life mask

Forget marble or plaster — the latest presidential bust will be 3D printed.

The Smithsonian Institute scanned President Obama and printed a 3D bust and life mask, both of which will become part of the National Portrait Gallery collection. Both were shown during an event at the White House on Wednesday. "We think we've really added a new genre to portraiture," Gunter Waibel, director of the Smithsonian's digitization program, told The Associated Press. "It will be fascinating to see how that will be picked up and how down the line other administrations will also use that particular tool."

For the bust, the president's face was scanned by a "light stage" face scanner and 3D scanners. It was printed by a 3D machine that used a laser to melt plastic together, which makes it durable. The bust took about 40 hours to print.

The life mask was much easier for Obama than it was for previous presidents: Back in the day, people had to sit still with plaster on their face, using straws stuck in their noses in order to breathe. Today, the team scanned Obama's face in about five minutes. "You can see down to the wrinkles in the skin and the pores on his face," said 3D imaging specialist Vince Rossi.