July 25

How the Tourism Industry is Meeting 3D Printing Challenges Concerning Authenticity

Today, 3D printing is rapidly resolving production issues for certain products, making more economic sense due to lower costs and zero waste. But these amazing machines that print physical objects one layer at a time based on digital designs face challenges surrounding the issue of authenticity in the tourism industry. Here are important 3D printing challenges to keep in mind if you plan to invest in this innovative technology.

Authenticity Issue of Souvenirs

When tourists visit an historic site, they expect to see authenticity, meaning real artifacts. But not all relevant artifacts can be preserved at a museum, so for educational purposes, it sometimes helps to present props that represent antiques. The advent of 3D printers has made it possible to create replicas of items with historic interest. One of the 3D printing challenges for the tourism industry to overcome is making printed objects that represent history look authentic.

The concept of authentic itself may need deeper discussion, since different people have different perceptions of what "authenticity" means. For some people it means recapturing the past but for others it can mean having qualities that invite discovery of something new and creative. Both of these ideas can be embedded as brand value in souvenirs, which tourists enjoy purchasing as tangible evidence of their experiences. Well-crafted souvenirs help tourists preserve memories of their visit.

Tourist perceptions of 3D printed products are important, although many people are still unfamiliar with the technology. The key to selling 3D printed items within a heritage site is to retain the emotional value associated with the original reference. A souvenir must already be an object that triggers memories of a visit to a site that embodies historical knowledge. Tourists naturally make emotional associations with the places they visit, so it's a matter of how well a 3D printed object provides matching memory cues.

Understanding the Aura of Original Art

Authenticity has been a concern among purists since the beginning of the industrial revolution, which opened the door to mass production. Duplicated items can lose their emotional value in the context of perceiving them as part of a mass production process. Economic theorists have pointed out that workers can become detached from the products they produce through labor, while hand-crafted objects have a more human artistic "aura" associated with them.

Understanding the relationship between authenticity and aura is not a new or futuristic topic. Philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) wrote a compelling 1935 essay called "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" that identifies how duplication counters the perception of authenticity in relation to art. While mechanical reproduction ushered in many benefits of convenience, it defies the meaning of art, according to Benjamin.

Benjamin viewed "aura" of art to be a quality of emotional presence in time and space that cannot be communicated through mass-produced items. An obvious example of this perspective is a painting of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. The original painting was made in 1503, but in the modern world there are many replications of the painting that simply do not carry the same aura.

Tourism businesses must pay attention to 3D printing challenges relating to authenticity and preserving the integrity of original artwork. If the products are made with these concepts in mind, they can be accepted as mass-produced artifacts that serve as reminders of a visit to an historic site.

3d printing

Watch the replay of "Made to Order" to learn about the latest trends, challenges, predictions, tips and more, surrounding 3D printing technology.

Tourists understand that copies of the work do not have the same aura as the original. That's why there's a greater sense of value for tourists to witness the original painting of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. This legendary museum has existed since 1793. While tourists still appreciate seeing replicas of the art in other museums, there is a much more profound aura associated with the original. Due to its expensive value, the original artwork is well-guarded, as observers must view it from a certain distance.

The authentic aura of an original artifact is reduced or eliminated when people are allowed to hold a replica of it in their hands, according to Benjamin. He viewed the aura of original artwork as traditionally dependent on ritual. His perceptions on this concept developed in the age of flourishing photography in which a negative can be the basis of endless copies of the same photograph. He believed that film and photography altered perceptions of art.

At one time, art appealed to elitists who could afford traveling to a physical site to view an original painting. The concept of reproduction made it possible for broader audiences to experience the art, but in a different way with a diminished aura. This loss of aura contributed to the devaluation of art. Benjamin, a German Jew associated with the Frankfurt School, feared this loss of aura could facilitate a fascist state. He was concerned that artists or politicians could use mass-produced art as propaganda to alter community views. Making art available to the masses through duplication challenged the way art could be interpreted by an individual.

Research on 3D Printer Authenticity

In 2014, design researchers conducted an art study at Stirling Castle in Scotland, funded by the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council. The study sought to compare visitor impressions of onsite 3D printed souvenirs versus generic souvenirs. Tourists were able to observe the 3D printer as researchers observed how tourists engaged with the machine. Participants were interviewed about their perceptions of the 3D printer as it printed souvenirs.

Researchers wanted to know how much the presence of the 3D printer affected the perceptions of the products it made. They found that the printer noise and its lights in a dark space attracted people to get a closer view. The study found that impressions of 3D printed souvenirs related to values associated with:

  1. Function as imitation of local culture
  2. Expression of individuality and identity
  3. Factual significance
  4. Material dimensions and mode of production

Visitor comments revealed the tourists perceived 3D printed souvenirs to be "constructively authentic" if the reproduced materials matched the historic nature of the attraction. In other words, they perceived the items to have authenticity if they were true to traditional materials.

The study further found that children were more likely to view plastic items as "toy-like," resulting in a positive impression. On the other hand, adults 46 and older were less impressed by the plastic products, but saw the educational benefits of the 3D printer.

How to Deal with Authenticity Challenges

The concerns of Benjamin still exist today relating to the duplication of art. Another concern about 3D printed art that replicates earlier work is that it can have defects in mechanical reproductions that create nuances an artist did not intend. Size and dimensions may become distorted, which can misrepresent the original work.

The 3D printer is here to stay but must be used in strategic ways when it comes to duplicating art, antiques or other items that associate with historic value. Tourist attractions can market souvenirs from 3D printers as long as the finished products maintain a connection with the original work they represent.


Tourism businesses must pay attention to 3D printing challenges relating to authenticity and preserving the integrity of original artwork. If the products are made with these concepts in mind, they can be accepted as mass-produced artifacts that serve as reminders of a visit to an historic site.


3D printing challenges, 3D printing technology, 3D-printed artifacts, authenticity challenges, tourism tech

You may also like

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to our newsletter now!