How to Build a 3D Imaging Program: An Overview of Technology, Skills, and Labor

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title




3D imaging shows great promise for a range of scientific and humanistic fields. While lower costs and greater computational power have made 3D technologies financially realistic for a broader variety of institutions, there remains an absence of community standards and practices for producing, managing, and preserving 3D content. Librarians at four research universities will present their experiences staffing, funding, piloting, and launching 3D imaging programs at their institutions in order to demonstrate their approaches to production, management, preservation, and dissemination of 3D images.

The discussion begins with the limitations and applicability of a 3D project which is influenced by technology and various stakeholders. Stakeholders that influence outcomes and processes of a 3D project include a principal investigator who initiates and participates in the development of a particular project, the technical service provider who creates and/or processes 3D data, the audience who dictates the product and impact of a 3D project, and funders and administrators who have sway over how the project is shaped. There are various methods to create digital 3D data, and program managers should know the benefits and limitations of each each. Examples include structured light scanning, photogrammetry, laser scanning, and LiDAR scanning. Understanding the desired outcome drives the choice in methodology, as each has its own strengths and limitations. This panel will go into detail about the opportunities and challenges that each technology affords.

The hardware and software for creating and capturing 3D digital data are even more varied than the methods. Choosing the technology and hardware can be daunting and expensive. Setting up the environment and post-processing are both skill and time intensive. The skills required to apply each tool may vary. Potential limitations include time, expertise, funds available, and the envisioned user experience. These factors all have varying influence on the decisions regarding technology hardware and software.

Access and discoverability is another area with a lack of standardization of practices across institutions engaged in 3D imaging. Repositories, such as Sketchfab, allow sharing of digital 3D models. There are also subject-based 3D focused repositories, such as Morphosource and subject based repositories that will accept 3D, such as tDAR. In many cases these data are openly shared. Some methods for displaying 3D digital data include embedding via html iframe into contentDM or WebGL / javascript libraries to display 3D online without plugins. Metadata greatly improves discoverability, but no common standard has emerged for 3D metadata, and the platforms mentioned here lack a number of essential preservation and discoverability criteria.

Preservation is essential to maintaining the integrity of digital data. Preservation actions are taken to prevent loss and obsolescence for all kinds of data to ensure that data is in shape for long-term access and reuse. 3D data are particularly vulnerable to data loss, often by the nature of their creation. This creates a preservation challenge for the raw data, as well as other issues. This session will share lessons learned from each panelist and allow ample time for audience questions.



3D imaging, Workflows, Digital scholarship, Digital preservation, Data management, Virtual reality