Arius Technology

A 3D print of a painting by Claude Monet features raised brushstrokes

This laser-scanning startup is part of Verus Art, a venture that makes 3D-printed copies of masterpieces for clients like the National Gallery of Canada

In late February at the Permanent, a venue hall in a restored 1907 downtown Vancouver bank, black-and-white-clad servers manoeuvre trays of short-rib mini burgers among groups of people gathered around paintings. They’re familiar works, including Irises by Vincent van Gogh, A Stormy Sea by Claude Monet and the curiously ugly Woman With an Umbrella by Edgar Degas. The evening feels like the opening of a gallery exhibit, but small signs on the frames of the artworks tell a different story: “Please touch the paintings.”

If you do touch them, you can feel the surface textures of the artist’s brushstrokes. It’s not paint, though; it’s UV-cured polymer ink. The event marks the Vancouver launch of Verus Art, a partnership between local startup Arius Technology Inc., U.S.-based custom framemaker Larson-Juhl and Océ-Technologies B.V., a Dutch division of Canon Inc. that focuses on digital printing. The paintings are 3D-printed reproductions of works owned by the National Gallery of Canada, whose director, Marc Mayer, en­­thusi­astically joined forces with Verus in late 2015.

The precision of the scanning and printing technology could cause a “paradigm shift” in the way art masterpieces are shared, preserved and appre­­ciated, he says. The original masterpieces are often kept in storage; now the printed versions can be taken to remote schools as part of the gallery’s outreach program.

Mayer signed a licensing agreement with Verus allowing Arius to set up its laser scanning system in the gallery’s conservation labs. The system uses a robotic device developed by Arius that moves the scanner over the surface of the painting, taking about five hours to create a digital file. Once the image is digitized, Arius can correct damage due to oxidization, creating colours that are closer to those the artist originally chose.

“The beautiful thing from a technology perspective is that we can measure the surface of a painting down to 10 microns, which is about one-10th of a human hair,” says Paul Lindahl, co-founder and CEO of Arius. “The synergy with Océ is they can print down to the same level of resolution.”

The National Gallery’s reproductions are sold on Verus Art’s website for between $650 and $6,650, and at Art Works Gallery in Vancouver.

Verus has also struck a licensing deal with the Mauritshuis in the Hague, home to a noted trove of 17th-century Dutch paintings. Products of that partnership include copies of Paul Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring and Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch.