As with most things, 3D digitization projects can benefit greatly from establishing a goal or set of goals from which can be derived a plan and strategy to achieve the desired result. End goals for a 3D digitization project can be very general (e.g., “We wish to experiment with new technology”) or very specific (e.g., “We need an accurate 3D model to facilitate production of a new gallery wall mount”). Either way, it is essential to establish agreed-upon goals that you, your colleagues, and service providers can reference during the planning, implementation, and execution of your digitization project. Furthermore, clearly defined goals make it much easier to verify the effectiveness of a project at its conclusion, paving the way for further activity, or curtailing that which is deemed ineffective.1

4.1 Target Audiences

Deciding on the intended audience for your 3D content will help dictate the 3D capture or creation methods you will use, the 3D outputs you will produce, and how your 3D data will be made available. Identifying audiences (e.g., “schoolteachers”) and needs (e.g., “to illustrate and 3D print in relation to history curriculum subject ‘The Romans’”) will help you define both the cultural resources to be captured or created in 3D, as well as the most beneficial resolutions, file formats, display platforms, and dissemination methods for the resulting 3D data.

Identifying a primary audience establishes the need for 3D production; identifying secondary and tertiary audiences (along with an accompanying strategy to reach them and facilitate serendipitous re-use) multiplies the value of the 3D data you are producing.2 Identifying these audiences does not foreclose serendipitous uses—they merely help in focusing your efforts. While your audiences may vary, the following recommendations will help you think about the needs of various general audiences.

4.1.1 Scholarly

For in-depth investigations, the highest-fidelity 3D geometry and textures likely will be the most useful.3 It should be noted that achieving this grade of 3D data can require a greater financial investment in equipment and training, as well as staff and machine time required to compute 3D data and document workflows. At the same time, even lower-resolution files can still be useful in many scholarly contexts.

Regardless of the resolution of a given 3D model, it is crucial to offer extensive meta- and paradata alongside a 3D model offered for scholarly use. Meta- and paradata can help scholars contextualize low-resolution 3D models with errors by allowing them to understand how and under what conditions it was created. In this manner, even a well-documented low-resolution and error-filled 3D model can be of benefit to researchers.

Some examples of 3D data made available primarily for scholarly use can be found via the Natural History Museum London’s Data Portal and MorphoSource by Duke University.

4.1.2 Education

Instead of forming the core of scholarly analysis, educational uses of 3D models rely on the models to facilitate the learning of a related subject. They can be used to illustrate a type of jewelry feature or allow students to explore a species of insect. This application differs from what we describe as “scholarly” uses in that the 3D models are not necessarily the focus of the educational experience or research. Instead, the 3D model is used to facilitate learning about a related subject.4

In conjunction with the expert knowledge associated with a cultural resource, 3D models are a perfect match for teaching about cultural heritage as part of an object-based learning program.

Some examples of 3D models being used in the classroom are provided below:

4.1.3 Public Engagement

3D models increasingly make up part of a “complete” digital offering for GLAM institutions seeking to engage members of the public with cultural heritage and history. Alongside text, audio, and images, 3D offers yet another way to examine and experience historical themes and narratives.

It is now easy to share and embed 3D on any website, blog, social media platform as part of outreach, education, marketing, and digital strategies. Examples of embedded 3D can be explored at the following institutions’ online collections:

Derivative 3D outputs like 3D prints and video are equally helpful for connecting general audiences with GLAM collections. The British Museum has incorporated 3D prints in their offering to primary schools during major exhibitions5 and video derived from 3D scans in their permanent galleries.6

4.1.4 Commercial

Whether in-house at a cultural organization or at an external private company, there are many opportunities for 3D models to become part of a commercial endeavor. There is nothing about making cultural resources available on an Open Access basis that is inherently incompatible with offering physical and digital versions for sale as well.

3D models can be used to create accurate physical replicas of cultural resources, which can be offered for sale in physical and online retail stores.7 Similarly, as long as the 3D data is generally available on Open Access terms, institutions can offer a license to use the institution’s name and brand to associate the use with the institution and officially verify its accuracy. Taken a step further, the institution may also make its experts available to consult with users on appropriate and accurate uses of the model.

Furthermore, all 3D data made available under an Open Access program remains available to the publishing organization to exploit in support of its own established commercial models. Offering rich, 3D-based on-site digital experiences such as those at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Swedish Historical Museums, and Natural History Museum, London can attract visitors to physical venues where patrons may take advantage of paid exhibitions, gifts shops, and restaurants.

4.2 Portion of Collection

At present, in most cases producing a 3D model of each cultural resource in cultural institution is not yet scalable in terms of cost, technology and workflow.

The easiest way to narrow down the scope of a 3D digitization project is to direct efforts at the part of the collection that relates to the needs of your primary audience. Depending on the identified audience need, a select portion of a collection can be further refined by digitizing only prime examples of a given type of cultural resource.

The defined number of cultural resources you wish to digitize should be achievable within the timeline and budget of your project. If you are undertaking a 3D production project for the first time, it may be prudent to limit the portion of a collection that you plan to digitize even further. This will give you greater leeway to account for unexpected delays or mistakes.

4.3 Budget

Your available budget has a direct impact on the quality of 3D models that you may produce. Consider the following expenses when planning your project:

Digitization and PostProduction

  • Equipment
  • Software
  • Training
  • Staffing (in-house, outsourced)
  • Digital storage and off-site backup
  • Preservation


  • Web servers
  • Service subscriptions
  • Promotion

4.4 Partners

Identify desired partnerships as part of the goal-setting process based on aspects of your project where you feel you need assistance or support. Partnerships can be valuable at all stages of a project: planning, digitization, post-production, and dissemination.

Partnerships can take many forms, such as collaboration with local universities and volunteers,8 online communities,9 or commercial companies.10



  1. Europeana has released an impact playbook to help institutions understand who they are engaging with their open access collections and how to measure that engagement as it occurs. Impact Playbook, Europeana,, last accessed October 29, 2020. 

  2. These audiences may be new communities or existing communities that have historically been underserved. For example, 3D models can help create tactile objects (real and virtual) to help reach blind and low-vision members of the public who might not otherwise have a rich or meaningful experience in a predominantly visual environment. See Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, Ann Cunningham, and Matt Gesualdi, Staying in Touch: Addressing Concerns to Allow Tactile Exploration at Museums, American Alliance of Museums (2020), 2020/07/01/ staying-in-touch-addressing- concerns-to-allow-tactile- exploration-at-museums/

  3. These investigations can serve a wide range of purposes, even within the context of a single object. One research team used a scan of Jackson Pollock’s Alchemy to assist with diagnosis, conservation, and interpretation, as well as with the creation of an interactive kiosk that allowed viewers to explore the geometry of the work and a 1:1 physical model to help the public interact with the work. See Marco Callieri et al., Alchemy in 3D: A Digitization for a Journey Through Matter, Digital Heritage (2015), 2015/CPPDPLS15/DH2015%20(Post)%20- %20Alchemy%20in%203D%20A%20Digitization %20for%20a%20Journey%20Through %20Matter.pdf

  4. Digitization can also be used as part of a program to make the resources more physically accessible to the public. The Smithsonian Institution used a digitized version of the Cosmic Buddha to create a cast concrete replica that incorporated bronze contact points that activated pre-recorded narration. Chinese Sculpture Replica: Cosmic Buddha, Concept Realizations, chinese-sculpture-replica/, last accessed June 2, 2020. 

  5. See e.g., British Museum Schools, Twitter (October 11, 2016), status/785832150276988930 

  6. See e.g., Virtual Tour of Great Shrine of Amaravati, British Museum (March 11, 2018), soluisgroup/posts/2346489868709732 ?tn=-R 

  7. Daniel Pett and Andrew Shore, A New Dimension in Home Shopping, British Museum Blog (July 31, 2017), a-new-dimension-in-home-shopping 

  8. Derby Silk Mill, Co-Producing A 3D Imaging Programme at Derby Museums, Sketchfab (December 12, 2017), community/co-producing-3d-imaging- programme-derby-museums/ 

  9. Bart Veldhuizen, MicroPasts: Crowdsourcing Cultural Heritage Research, Sketchfab (February 11, 2015), community/micropasts-crowdsourcing- cultural-heritage-research/ 

  10. LAPID, Using 3D to Recover Heritage Lost in a Fire, Sketchfab (January 24, 2020), community/lapid-using-3d-to-recover- heritage-lost-in-a-fire/; see also How Cultural Institutions Use Sketchfab, Sketchfab,, last accessed April 16, 2020 (providing links to success stories from museums and cultural partners).