HOWTO produce a 3D printed skeleton from a CT scan of a living animal

Evan Doney, a grad student in Matthew Leevy's biological imaging facility at the University of Notre Dame, has published a method for creating a 3D printed, life-size, accurate skeleton of a living animal by converting a CT scan of the animal to a printable file. They produced a detailed HOWTO as well, which, unfortunately, is paywalled.

The idea to print skeletons from CT scans came from Evan Doney, an engineering student working in the lab of Matthew Leevy, who runs the biological imaging facility at the University of Notre Dame. ”At first I didn’t really know what the killer app would be, I just knew it would be really cool,” Leevy said. But he began to see new possibilities after striking up a conversation with an ear, nose, and throat specialist during an office visit for a sinus problem. “I actually got out my computer and showed him some slides, and by the end of it we were collaborating.”

Doney used several freeware programs to convert data from CT scans into a format that could be read by a 3-D printer. As a proof of principle, he and colleagues printed a rat skeleton in white plastic and printed a removable set of lungs in green or purple. They also printed out a rabbit skull.

I have a 3D print of my femur in bronze and stainless steel, courtesy of my wife and her raid on my MRIs. Sounds like you get an even better shapefile from a CT scan, if you don't mind receiving the radiation equivalent of 800 X-rays.

How to 3-D Print the Skeleton of a Living Animal [Wired/Greg Miller]


  1. I went to see a dentist for an impacted wisdom tooth this winter. He had a stand up CT scan machine hooked up to a PC. The software on the PC took the data from the CT scanner and created a 3D model of my skull and jaw, complete with the teeth and gums, and whatever else was within the scanning area. He could fly a camera around all the teeth, and each one was modeled in high detail. I kick myself for not having a drive on me at that time, because I’m positive that somehow that software could have exported all that data in a format (such as OBJ or DXF) that I could then have used to create a 3D printable file (such as STL) and have a reproduction of that section of my skull made from it. I’ve actually been thinking about getting in touch with him to see if he has that data in my chart…

    1.  They keep’em on file (or are supposed to). A friend did some artwork with some old MRIs of mine, and all I had to do was submit a request to the hospital. That said, they were 2d JPEGs; don’t know if it’s a bigger deal to make such a large 3d file available.

      1. that confused me at first as well, the mri images are composed of a few dozen 2d images that are the dicom data, and then converted to a 3d model based on the voxels compiled from those 2d images.  ( it’s a bit of a simplification  but that’s how I usually think of it)

  2. I’ll just leave this here  (they have a CT scan/3d print of the mueseum Owner’s skull on display)

  3. Killer app potential here for the medical field? Completely non-invasive exploration of injuries and defects sounds like a really cool use for this.

  4. The link doesn’t seem to be paywalled for me- it says “Open Access”.

    I’ve only scanned it but it looks really great- and timely, my dad had a CT scan of his skull recently (he’s fine) and I’ve been thinking a really great birthday present for him would be a scale model of his own skull. I tried to use a program called Osirix to get the data into a format that I could print and was unimpressed with its output. This looks a lot more promising!

  5. I was renovating my house, sledgehammering through a wall, and found an intact mouse skeleton that looked just like the picture. I gently touched it and fell into a hundred pieces. I kept the skull, which had a perfectly preserved, dehydrated brain inside. It was fairly robust. Several months later it got knocked to the floor and I inadvertently stepped on it. It was dust. Not a single fragment of bone remained. 

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