The Shrinky Lab

Today’s 3D scanning and printing technologies have many applications in the art world. Ancient artifacts have been preserved by scanning the object in to permanent archives. One example of this is the Michelangelo Project. Other artifacts have been restored using 3D technology to replace and attach missing pieces. But for my purpose, I just need more shelf space for more horses!

The process of shrinking a traditional sized model horse has many different steps. The model needs to be scanned in to the computer, that file needs to be altered to fit the specifications of the 3D printer, hours of printing brings the file in to form, and then that form can be molded for reproduction.

It all needs to begin with a computer capable of smoothly handling an intricate 3D rendering of 2.5GB and more. There are several ways of acquiring a 3D file for the computer. A sculpture can be created in digital programs, such as Sculptris, and then exported to a 3D modeling program.

Virtual reality is also an exciting way to create a sculpture. My mother uses the HTC Vive virtual reality system to enter an art studio where she can sculpt any size model (even life size) and then send the file over to a computer to be printed. The VR experience helps her to enjoy creating something even when her hands may be suffering from arthritis.

An existing model would need to be scanned in order to accurately shrink it. It is very important to take time with this process in order to capture all of the detail that we love on our models. We use a custom structured light source (SLS) scanning work station that was put together for us by a local digital image processing company. SLS scanning makes no contact with the model and can process color as well. Light source scanning can capture images as small as a fingerprint on a coin to as large as a building. There is really no size limit. It depends on the level of patience and dedication for the project. It is common to see scans of people’s faces. This summer I will be trying it on my real horse.

Using only light patterns and cameras, the scanning process begins with capturing 15-25 images from the model as it rotates on an automatic turntable. The process is repeated for the top and bottom of the model. Once the scans are in, they are all pieced together to form a 3D shell. The shell has to be cleaned of any floating fragments, and closely inspected for missing or misaligned areas. Any hard to reach areas need to be rescanned and pieced in. After the model is fused together the proper file can be saved according to what software is used next. 

There may be close to 50 individual scans on the raw model and now the topology needs to be optimized for the next software. This requires adjusting the model so that the file is small enough to be opened in the next program and within the maximum range for the printer to handle… all without losing detail.

Once the file is at the optimal size and quality it can be opened in the software that prepares the printing. In this program, the traditional size model becomes any size that you assign to the form. After shrinking it to the desired size the file is sent to the 3D printer over a wi-fi connection. Printing can take 4-72 hours, depending on the size of the model.


(above) gray prototypes

Stereolithographic printers provide the best detail for a prototype. They are able to print pointy parts and capture detail within 0.025mm. This type of printer uses resin to produce the prototype. The finish is very smooth and without lines. Lines can occur on the prototype when scanning however! 

The printer uses supports for the form it is printing. Those supports detach easily but they can leave a very small round spot that needs to be sanded down. The resin material that the model is printed in makes it familiar to handle. After the supports are detached from the model, and the model is cured, it is ready to go straight in to production. In the next process the model is molded for reproduction.


The process of shrinking models requires several very different technologies – from scanning to printing. The precision and accuracy of the final result has been very exciting to see! In an upcoming project, we will build a 3D realm that our customers can log in to and view our catalog of horses within a virtual online world.

Visit us at and have a look at 3D modeling through the online 3D viewers that are available now. Models can be rotated in any direction right from your web browser. Our foundry at Seunta is now reproducing models in resin, pewter, silver, bronze (small pieces only), and fine bone china. Our Charm size models will soon be turning in to actual charm bracelets. We hope to be able to bring you many more unique and fun things using 3D technology!


About the author
Sherry Carr finished her college degree, and post graduate studies, in computer science along with husband Johnathan Carr. Sherry’s family includes a long line of artists. Her Grandfather created pieces for Presidents Truman and Roosevelt, completed restoration work for the City of Atlanta, mixed colors for the US Navy and founded the first painter’s guild in the city. Sherry has enjoyed sculpting alongside her mother for many years. At Johnathan & Sherry’s company, Seunta LLC, art meets science and each piece is created with great admiration and reverence for the horse. Seunta LLC is located on the family farm where many generations of paint horses have been born.