A 3D printing process transforms classical artwork like Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa into a tactile work of art, enabling blind people to experience masterpieces through touch.
Images have always been an important part of the developer of the technique John Olson's life. Now, Olson is transforming some of the most famous artworks into tactile images and transforming the lives of blind people.
"As a young man I decided I wanted to be a photojournalist," Olson explains. "Later on in my career I began to realize how important images had been to me. And I started to wonder what my life would have been like without them. And that prompted me to wonder, what's it like for the blind. So that motivated me to develop a printing process that blind people could see."
"It's a three step process, in which we in step one take any conventional two dimensional image and convert it to 3D data," Olson continues. "Once that data has been converted, we send it to a machine that sculpts the data out of a block of substrate. It gives that image length, width, depth and texture. And once that's been sculpted it goes through a printing process where we lay the image back down on top of the relief in perfect registration. So what you end up with is a three-dimensional print that has length, width, depth and texture."
After running his fingers over the artwork, blind writer and podcast host Romeo Edmead, says "it was kind of like opening up a new world."
"I've been blind since I was two years old. These things have always just been words to me. All my life we've all heard of famous painters and their works. But to me, that's all they were. They were like vocabulary words I could write down on the page but I didn't necessarily know how to put a physical picture together. And something like this presents that opportunity, that freedom to really get a better understanding. It's one thing to have something described to you. But if you never could see before and you have no memory of seeing like me it's a whole different ball of wax when you actually get to touch it."