Textural printing lets you get handsy with famous paintings

The act of enjoying paintings and photography has always been a visual experience, one where you look, but don't touch. However, at the quinquennial (once every five years) Canon Expo this week, the company showed off new technology that might change your relationship with the images on your walls, turning them into objects your fingertips can appreciate as much as your eyes.

A textural printer works by putting down UV ink layer by layer -- similar to how a 3D printer builds an object out of plastic filament. It determines the appropriate amount of layers by looking at both color and grayscale versions of the image, examining traits like the shadows and highlights to figure out where extra ink will need to be laid down. The whole process can be rather lengthy, but when it's complete, you have a printed image with actual physical depth. That means noses and chins that protrude from portraits, and defined muscles on an athlete's thighs, calves and butt that you can stroke (that last part was very popular with Canon Expo attendees).

However, as fun as it might be to grope photos of incredibly muscular people, textural printing has the potential to change how we interact with fine art as well. The tactility of a piece can be replicated, whether it's made of metal, cloth or other materials. This means that small physical details from paintings like the weave of the canvas, or the drips, ridges and cracks of the paint itself -- things that normally can't be perceived in reprints -- can be recreated as well. This makes it possible to create a true-to-life reproduction of a painting like Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring and exhibit it anywhere in the world without fear of damage to the original object. And though Canon will never be able to replicate the thrill of seeing the real thing for art aficionados, being able to touch the paintings will probably make school trips to the art museum a little less boring for kids.

[Image credit: Canon]