Obama gets 3-D printed portrait at Smithsonian

A 3-D printed portrait of President Obama has been created by the Smithsonian, working with experts from the University of Southern California.
(Guenter Waibel / Associated Press)

Presidential portrait paintings are a time-honored tradition for all sitting chief executives. But the Smithsonian in Washington has recently broken new ground by creating a 3-D printed portrait of President Obama that is believed to be the first of its kind for a serving president.

Officials at the Smithonsonian Institution teamed with experts at the University of Southern California to use digital scanning technology to capture Obama’s entire face. They used a separate process involving handheld 3-D cameras and scanners as well as other equipment to create what would become the bust.

Obama sat for the scanning process in the White House for about five minutes, according to reports.


The finished work of art was created in a 40-hour process using a 3-D printing method that involved a laser that melted together thousands of plastic layers. The 3-D Obama portrait will reside in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

Smithsonian officials have likened the 3-D portrait to the plaster masks taken of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington while they were alive. The plaster process required the subjects to remain virtually motionless for long stretches of time under uncomfortable plaster.

The new digital process is part of the Smithsonian’s 3-D program that has sought to create 3-D renderings of items in its extensive collections.