PUL delves into 3D scanning technology through a workshop series

Eric White, Jen Grayburn, Roel Muñoz, and Ariel Ackerly attempt structured light scanning of a Lyons typeface piece in the Digit

Eric White, Jen Grayburn, Roel Muñoz, and Ariel Ackerly attempt structured light scanning of a Lyons typeface piece in the Digital Imaging Studio in February 2023. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson.

What comes to mind when you think of 3D? Those horrible glasses from the 90s? Maybe a 3D doodler? This fall, Princeton University Library (PUL) embarked on an educational campaign to introduce university staff to various applications of 3D capture through a series of workshops. 

Organized by Jennifer Grayburn, Assistant Director of Research Data and Scholarship, and Ariel Ackerly, Makerspace Specialist, the workshop series covered the capture and preservation of 3D Data. 

The impetus for the series stemmed from an acquisition by Princeton University Library Special Collections. “In 1868, small printing metal pieces were found at the bottom of a river in France,” explained Eric White, Scheide Librarian and Assistant University Librarian for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. “These turned out to be pieces from a 15th century printer, which are the oldest European printing pieces that are known to exist.”

Examples of the typeface that prompted the 3D scanning workshop series.

PUL acquired 20 of the 200 pieces that were found, which are the only such pieces in the United States. The rest remain in libraries in France.

White brought together a group of PUL's specialists in 3D applications — including Grayburn, Ackerly, and Roel Muñoz, Library Digital Imaging Manager — to figure out how best to capture the tiny type set pieces. 

“Eric reached out to us about 3D modeling these pieces, maybe 3D printing replicas for teaching, and to find out what we could learn from the data,” Ackerly said during her and Grayburn’s Intro to 3D Data Capture workshop. One of the challenges was that the pieces are tiny, no more than two inches in length, black, and coated in a glossy finish. 

After Ackerly’s initial attempts to scan the typeface with structured light scanning proved unsuccessful in capturing the piece’s fine details, Grayburn and Muñoz settled on using photogrammetry in the Digital Imaging Studio to digitally replicate the typeface. 

While structured light scanning uses a pattern of projected light to take measurements of an object, photogrammetry uses a series of photographs to determine lines of sight and measurement data.

“Credit also goes to the Preservation and Conservation team for helping us figure out how to mount the typeface to be able to photograph it,” Grayburn noted.

Once the 3D scan was completed, Ackerly was then able to recreate a larger-scale model of the typeface, complete with the various imperfections — crevices and grooves — found on the object’s surface.

Joseph Hu props up a shell during an attempt at structured light scanning at the PUL Makerspace.

Joseph Hu props up a shell during an attempt at structured light scanning at the PUL Makerspace. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson.

In addition to Ackerly and Grayburn’s introductory workshop, Jeff Evans, Manager of Visual Resources and Photographer, and Joseph Hu, Visual Imaging Specialist, from the Princeton University Art Museum hosted a session discussing the Museum’s successes, failures, and their technology choices for 3D data capture of the collection. The results of some of their efforts are available on the Art Museum’s website.

The workshop series included structured light scanning workshops (lead by Ackerly), and photogrammetry workshops (lead by Grayburn) for Library employees. The series culminated in a lecture delivered by Matt Cook, Digital Scholarship Program Manager at Harvard Library.  

“My favorite part of working with 3D is the ability to experience and work with an object in ways not always possible in real life, such as situating an artifact in a virtual reconstruction of its original context and generating new measurement and visualization data,” Grayburn said.

“I like seeing what people bring to the 3D scanning workshops,” Ackerly said. “Everybody brings a different object that may or may not be meaningful to them, whether it's a little tchotchke of a plastic crab or something handed down from their grandparent. We get to experiment in the workshop, and ask, ‘Is this technology going to work for this item?’”

Beyond the workshops, all of the equipment used in the workshops is available for use through the PUL Makerspace. Library patrons can also use virtual reality headsets at both the Makerspace and Stokes Library

Related Reading: PUL and CITP host virtual reality panel

Published on January 17, 2024

Written by Brandon Johnson, Communications Strategist