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Old Masters for Our Times

Artwork kept under wraps at London’s Tate Britain and Tate Modern will be showcased using new 3D printing technology that can brings old masters back to life.

Art lovers will from this spring be able to view copies of paintings locked away in Tate’s storage facilities in London, thanks to a new state-of-the art 3D scanning and printing system developed through a EUREKA partnership.

Swinging by Kandinsky, Mountains of Moab by Sargent and Peace, Burial at Sea by Turner are just some of the works that have been scanned and printed and will be sold in printed editions. The prints capture the detail of the original brushwork and colours and were done by Canadian company Arius Technology and Océ, a Canon company based in the Netherlands.

The Tate has just 20 percent of its collection on display, which is higher than the Louvre’s 8 percent and the Guggenheim’s 3 percent, according to a BBC report.

Most art is locked in storage facilities due to a lack of space to display works, because they don’t fit with curators’ current visions or because exhibiting them could damage them.

“Our prints can reproduce the colour and texture of the brushwork of a painting by measuring it to 10 microns, a tenth the size of a human hair,” says Paul Lindahl, CEO and co-founder of ARIUS Technology. The scanner’s level of detail means that once a painting is on the computer, the image can even reveal signs of deterioration over the years. “We could repair the damage in the digital version, turning back the clock, so that our scan and print could be truer to the original work than the real one today,” says Lindahl.

Digital inspiration

The Tate collaboration is the latest venture unlocked by what proved to be a dream EUREKA partnership. Prior to connecting with Océ, Arius was looking for uses for its new 3D scanning technology developed by National Research Canada. The technology had already been used to scan the Mona Lisa in 2005 to allow researchers to analyse its condition to better preserve it.

But when Arius met Océ, which had invented an inkjet printing technology to print hundreds of layers of ink on top of each other, new opportunities for fine-art printing opened up. On the EUREKA project the pair modified the 3D scanner and invented a supporting robotics system and data processing pipeline to allow a painting to be scanned and printed without the printer and the scanner even needing to be in the same country.

‘Our scan and print could be truer to the original work than the real one today’ – Paul Lindahl, CEO ARIUS Technologies

The pair took the prototype to the National Gallery of Canada to print copies of works by masters like Monet and Van Gogh. “Those paintings can have brush strokes with thick layers of paint, but they can also have a very tiny structure of cracks, called craquelé,” says Stephan Koopman, of Océ’s strategic planning department. Both are very precisely reproduced thanks to the scanning and printing technology.  “Even adding a few 10ths of a millimetre to a reproduction makes it much livelier than a flat print.”

At the Mauritshuis in The Hague, when the Girl With A Pearl Earring underwent major conservation, the reproduction was displayed in its place while museum-goers watched conservationists at work on the original in an adjacent room.

Applications for the technology go beyond art museums. In 2019, the two companies intend launching a service for contemporary artists to allow them to work on a creative platform they call “Elegraph™” printmaking, where a painter scans his or her work and digitally alters or merges other artistic media, creating unique fine art print editions.

The scanner’s next stop after the Tate was to a Luxembourg storage facility. Insurers want accurate scans of the state of expensive art they are insuring for analysis in the event of a claim. “If you have a 100 million dollar painting, you may not want to hang it over your fireplace,” says Lindahl. “But we can print you one for the office, one for your house and one for your yacht while the original is locked safely away.”


This story is based on two Eureka Network projects. Find more details below.


Project #1:

Acronym: ARIUS3D         Project ID: 9 910

Start date: 01-07-2015   Project Duration: 18months

Project costs: 570 000.00€

 Ucl Consultants Ltd. University

 Conservation By Design SME

 Arius Technology Inc. SME


Project #2:

Acronym: A3D                 Project ID: 11 670

Start date: 01-11-2016   Project Duration: 12months

Project costs: 410 000.00€

 Oce Technologies Research & Development Large company

 Arius Technology Inc. SME


Contact: Paul Lindahl