Figure of a Dancer,” uploaded by the Smithsonian Institution

Without setting foot inside a museum, 3D printer owners can now recreate some of the most recognizable items from institutions around the world. In conjunction with Creative Commons and museums like the Smithsonian Institute, Sketchfab has launched a virtual collection of 3D models free and available to the public in an effort to promote open access to cultural heritage items. 

Headrest With Three Lions,” uploaded by the Cleveland Museum of Art

The first wave of models will offer 1,700 3D scans from 27 organizations in 12 countries. The program is ongoing, so there are plans to add 3D models to the collection. With the help of Creative Commons, the models will be published with the license of CC0 Public Domain, available everywhere and anywhere for free. 

Buste d’Auguste couronné de chêne,” uploaded by Musée Saint-Raymond

The 3D models range from fossils to artifacts, samples from the natural and ancient worlds. You can reprint a model of the Apollo 11 capsule from the Smithsonian Institute, opera glasses from the virtual museum Morbase, a Greek amphora from the Cleveland Museum of Art, or the skull of a T-Rex from the Digital Atlas of Ancient Life.

The participating organizations have pooled together items from museums as varied as Minneapolis Institute of Art and Cleveland Museum of Art, international affiliates like the Museus de Sitges in Spain, Scottish Maritime Museum, Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Chile, National Gallery of Denmark, and Musée Saint-Raymond in France, as well as digital-first organizations like Digital Atlas of Ancient Life at the Paleontological Research Institution and Digital Heritage Age.

Neck Amphora,” uploaded by the Cleveland Museum of Art

As for creators who would like to reuse and remake these 3D scans in their own vision, the models are free to use without prior attribution or credit. The model files are imported with the help of software and made ready to use for most major 3D programs. If museums are interested in contributing to the growing collection, Sketchfab has invited interested organizations to contact them

Monica Castillo is a writer and critic based in New York City. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Village Voice,, Remezcla, the Guardian, Variety, NPR, and Boston...