Using 3D printing to save the dinosaurs

A while back we wrote a story about the Stadsmuseum Lier museum using 3D printing to replicate a Mammoth (technically not a dinosaur) to protect and preserve the original fossils.

It would appear recently that more museums and paleontologist are using this method for their displays and studies, like Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum using 3D scanning and printing to reconstruct a T-rex.

This method helps tremendously with preservation of these delicate fossils and new ways to study them as Amy Kowalchuk, a Royal Tyrrell Museum 3D technician explains “Especially in paleontology, we’re dealing with priceless specimens that are very, very delicate and you really don’t want to be damaging them,” said Kowalchuk.

Most of her time is spent scanning and documenting the fossil fragments “You just have to take multiple photographs from multiple angles and then from that, you can triangulate them using computer programs, and then that gives you your 3D model.” Kowalchuk says

And with 41 pieces for just a skull we can imagine it takes a while.

François Therrien, another curator is using the scan data to further his research into the predator’s behavior. “Before, trying to reconstruct the brain structure or the brain shape of these extinct animals required a lot of work. We needed to break the bones or have skulls that were already broken and then pour latex in there, try to peel it out and then a cast of the brain cavity. Now we can all do that with a CT scanner and 3D printing, so we can ask a lot of questions that previously would have been impossible to do.”

Another museum trying to preserve the fossils is the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands and their Triceratops named Dirk. When Dirk was unearthed the paleontologist were disappointed to find some ribs, a horn, and part of the skull were missing. Using 3D scanning and 3D printing however they were able to assemble Dirk with his original bones and some printed bones.

 The 3D printed parts were hand painted to look like the real thing, but in a lighter shade so you can tell the diffrence.

“If we have, for example, a left bone and the right-side counterpart is missing, we can easily make a scan and a mirrored 3D print,” Schulp explains. “For some other bone elements, particularly the vertebrae, we were welcome to use a scan of a Triceratops skeleton in the collections of the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. Their Triceratops skeleton is very much complementary to what we found of Dirk.” Even some of the existing bone were deemed too fragile to display and were also 3D printed.


Naramore, Cameron. “Royal Tyrrell Museum Uses 3D Printing to Research T-Rex Behavior.” 3D Printing, 28 Dec. 2019,

Naramore, Cameron. “3D Printing A To-Scale Triceratops.” 3D Printing, 27 Sept. 2019,