3D Printing and Modeling

Why Engage in 3D Modeling Projects?

Emily Stull Richardson

  • Immediate access to rare, delicate, or valuable materials
  • Exploration of large objects, land formations, buildings and cultural heritage sites
  • Allows protoyping products to test design integrity on small scale
  • Hands-on access for students facilitates sensory and participatory learning
  • Students in “Understanding Russia:  Symbols Myths, and Archetypes of Identity” printed models of St. Basil’s Cathedral, a Rubik’s cube, Soyuz rocket, and other items as representative of Russian identity, interacting with the objects directly rather than through images alone

What new “lens” can 3D modeling and 3D printing offer to academic teaching and research? To understand what 3D printing and modeling are and what they are not, recognizing the possibilities and limitations of 3D technologies is key.​

In a practical sense, the major affordances for 3D modeling and printing are scale and cost. Students and faculty who work with rare, delicate, or highly valuable materials can model and print objects to scale, allowing for more access and hands-on opportunities, and/or the ability to print multiples of objects. 3D modeling and printing also allows for exploration and research of the relationship between large objects, land formations, or other difficult-to-access materials, such as modeling a cultural heritage site. Finally, 3D modeling and printing allows users to prototype, testing design integrity before producing final products in large scale.

3D modeling and printing provide an epistemic opportunity to reexamine what we know, how we know, and what we consider to be knowledge in a particular discipline. From a humanist perspective, these technologies are a chance to examine our assumptions about, and the possibility of transforming, the objects we study.

Exemplary Projects

EEG Headset to Measure Brainwaves
(Ultimaker 2 Extended, Makerspace for Engaged Learning, Lawrence University)

University of Virginia, Scholars' Lab, Course Assignment

Understanding Russia: Symbols, Myths, and Archetypes of Identity
(Ultimaker 2, 3D printing in the classroom, Scholars’ Lab, University of Virginia)

Art History: Thing Theory
(Lawrence Makerspace, Lawrence University)

Lawrence University, Course Assignment

New Media in Art Assignment
(Conceptual reflections of 3D printing, Professor John Shimon, Lawrence University)

Penn State University, Maker Commons

Ocean Acidification and its Effect on Marine Life
(Maker Commons, Penn State University)


3D Printing and Molecular Models
(MakerBot Replicator 2, Barney Lab, University of Minnesota)

University of Minnesota, The Visible Heart Lab, materialise

Atlas of Human Cardiac Anatomy
(materialise, The Visible Heart Lab, University of Minnesota)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 3D Modeling and Animation

Virtual Canoe Project
(3D Modeling and Animation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Recommended Tools for 3D Printing and Modeling

Learn more about the following content management systems that can facilitate 3D printing and modeling tools.


(Advanced Imaging Service for Objects and Spaces) – The AISOS lab is a dedicated facility for macro- and meso-scale imaging of objects in two and three dimensions. It houses advanced technology, such as a GIGAmacro, photogrammetry tools, and reflected light capture, for exploring objects and artifacts with new levels of precision. AISOS is a joint project between the Department of Anthropology, researchers from departments across campus, and Liberal Arts Technologies and Innovation Services (LATIS) in the College of Liberal Arts.


(MakerBot Replicator mini) – a small-form 3D printer which works by extruding filament onto a print bed, building up the printed object layer by layer. These objects are based on special file types that can be created by anybody using 3D modeling software. Beginner level; no prerequisite knowledge.

Support Guide
MakerBot User Manual


Open source software application that allows you to create and edit 3D models of objects in order to produce photorealistic graphics and animations. It can also be used to create 3D printable objects. No prerequisite knowledge.

Support Guide
Blender Reference Manual


Software application that allows you to create and edit 3D objects in order to produce well scaled models for things such as architecture or interior design layouts. There are both free (SketchUp Make) and paid (SketchUp Pro) versions of this software. Beginner level; no prerequisite knowledge.

Support Guide
Getting Started in SketchUp



“3-D Printers Spread From Engineering Departments to Designs Across Disciplines.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 Sept 2012.

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