Three-dimensional printing allows for the production of highly detailed objects through a process known as additive manufacturing. Traditional, mold-injection methods to create models or parts have several limitations, the most important of which is a difficulty in making highly complex products in a timely, cost-effective manner.
However, gradual improvements in three-dimensional printing technology have resulted in both high-end and economy instruments that are now available for the facile production of customized models. These printers have the ability to extrude high-resolution objects with enough detail to accurately represent in vivo images generated from a preclinical X-ray CT scanner. With proper data collection, surface rendering, and stereolithographic editing, it is now possible and inexpensive to rapidly produce detailed skeletal and soft tissue structures from X-ray CT data. Even in the early stages of development, the anatomical models produced by three-dimensional printing appeal to both educators and researchers who can utilize the technology to improve visualization proficiency.
The real benefits of this method result from the tangible experience a researcher can have with data that cannot be adequately conveyed through a computer screen. The translation of pre-clinical 3D data to a physical object that is an exact copy of the test subject is a powerful tool for visualization and communication, especially for relating imaging research to students, or those in other fields. Here, we provide a detailed method for printing plastic models of bone and organ structures derived from X-ray CT scans utilizing an Albira X-ray CT system in conjunction with PMOD, ImageJ, Meshlab, Netfabb, and ReplicatorG software packages.