3D Printing in Art Classrooms

Post in News by AdamHerman on 15th January 2020


While 3D printers have tremendous utility across a wide range of content areas, they are most often used in a STEM capacity. Though this is a great way to utilize a printer, many schools miss the opportunity to use 3D printers in art classes, where 3D designing and printing can unlock new learning opportunities. Below are some suggestions for how 3D technology can be used in your art classroom.

Painting prints

When doing 3D printer training, I often suggest that teachers print in white whenever possible. This is because prints can be painted over after completion for a variety of purposes. If an art teacher and social studies teacher are working together, they can teach a lesson exploring how artists in ancient Greece painted their statues in bright colors that faded over time. Students would print out models of statues, some painting them, and others leaving them in the white color that most people visualize when considering ancient sculptures. This can lead to a variety of interesting conversations around the materials artists have used over the years as well as how much control artists should have over how their works are interpreted.


Another idea is to integrate art and science. Students can print a brain or cell and then use paint or markers to label important parts. This gives students a tangible artifact to use when reviewing content. This idea can also be tied to the field of medical illustration or forensics, around which many high schools offer courses.

Interacting with and remixing famous works

Another great aspect in the world of 3D printing is that many models are open source – free for downloading and printing. This allows students and teachers to download and print some of the most famous works in the world and bring them into the classroom for study. With a quick search, a teacher having students learn about sculptures can print the David. For architectural design, some of the most famous structures in the world are available, including the White House, Statue of Liberty, Florence Cathedral, and the Sagrada Familia. Obviously, there is also tremendous opportunity for cross-curricular teaching with a social studies class. With the art teacher leading the study of the work while the social studies teacher reviews the historical context of the work with the students.

Another possibility is having students take famous works of art and make it possible for people to interact with it in a new way. Taking cues from the Prado Museum, teachers can have students create 3D renderings of famous works so that people who are visually impaired can interact with the art. This would also force students to consider concepts of depth and focus on works in a new and interesting way.

Exploring a new medium

Many artists have already begun using 3D prints as the main medium that they work in or as part of mixed medium pieces. For example, French artist Gilles Azzaro, has begun 3D printing sound waves of different speeches then, playing the speeches using a laser. A video of what this looks like can be found here.

Art teachers can also teach 3D design in general. There are a variety of programs that teachers and students can use for building in 3D spaces. Websites like Google Poly are great for seeing how other artists are utilizing the possibilities of 3D digital art.

Final thoughts

If you would like to learn more about using 3D printers, check out our courses on our online professional development platform OTIS for educators, or schedule a PD session without onsite staff. For other ideas, the Thingiverse Education page has several printable activities and lesson plans.

I hope you found some great strategies for incorporating your printers into the art classroom. Happy printing!

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