How to Convert Medical Scan Data Into a 3D Printable Model (also, Dinosaurs!)




In this instructable I'll walk you through how to turn data from CT or MRI scans into a 3D printable model. While I will use a dinosaur skull as an example, you can use any data in DICOM format to do the same thing.

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Step 1: Get the Software

I'll be using a software package called Osirix, which is designed for medical imaging. Download and install the free version from here. It is available for Mac only, if you are using a PC check out a similar package called Invesalius, developed by the Brazilian government and made available for free.

We'll also be using Meshlab and Netfabb Studio Basic (the download link is hidden on the right of the page), so go ahead and download those too while you're at it. It's all free.

Step 2: Get the Scan Data

Most (all?) medical scanners will produce files in a format called DICOM. This usually takes the form of a folder filled with a bunch of files with a .dcm extension. 

For the purposes of this example, I'm using the Euoplocephalus skull from the Witmer lab at Ohio University. Download it here and unzip the .zip file.

Step 3: Get the Scan Data Into Osirix

Launch Osirix. In the top left corner of the screen is an Import button. Click that, and browse to the folder that has your DICOM data.

Tip: when the FOLDER name is selected in the dialog, press the Open button, and Osirix will load all the files contained in the folder.

Another tip: It will ask you whether to Copy or Link the files - use Copy, that way Osirix will copy the files to its own database, and you can delete the downloaded .zip file and the copies of the DICOM data. 

Step 4: Open the Scan Data in a 3D View

Once your files are imported, select your data set in the top panel, and then double-click the thumbnail image down below. It will open in a 2D view - you can use the the scroller along the top to go through all the various "slices".

You will get a warning message about the software not being medically certified, proceed anyway, the patient in this case has been dead for 65 million years.

To open it in a 3D view, look in the top toolbar for a button with a gear labelled 2D/3D. It is a drop-down menu, you want 3D Surface Rendering. Accept the defaults, and wait a bit, you'll get a 3D view of your skull. You can move it around by dragging on the view cube.

Step 5: Export Scan As 3D Model

In the top toolbar, there is a button with a gear, labelled "Export 3D-SR". That leads to a menu with different export format options, you will probably want OBJ or STL formats. Go ahead and export your model, and save it somewhere where you can find it.

Step 6: Clean Up the Model

Quit Osirix and open Meshlab.

Load up your STL or OBJ file that you have exported in the previous step.

You'll notice that there are some loose bits floating around, and that the texture of the model seems to reflect the resolution of the scan (noticeable as a kind of stair-stepping effect).

To clean up the loose bits, turn the model so that the loose parts don't overlap any part of the skull, and use the rectangular selection tool to select them, then delete them using the filter menu.

To smooth it, go to the Filters menu, and go to the Smooth sub-menu. Choose the Laplacian Smooth filter. When you open it, change the parameter for Smoothing Steps from 3 to 1. (Otherwise it will be too smooth and "blobby"). Apply it. You should notice a dramatic improvement in surface texture.

Go to the File menu and Export the Mesh. You can export as STL or OBJ, though generally OBJ files seem to be more robust when used in other tools. Add a suffix to the file name to differentiate it from the file you exported from Osirix - I generally add "-smooth" to the filename.

Step 7: Prepare for Printing

In order to more easily print the resulting skull, I want to slice it into two pieces. (If you have a fancy printer that uses support material, you can probably skip this step.)

Start up Netfabb Studio Basic, and import your cleaned up STL (or OBJ) by going to the Project menu and choosing Open.

Use the View menu to rotate the part until you can see it in the most useful orientation for making the cut. In this case, I want to cut it into a front and back piece, so I am seeing the skull from below. Using the XYZ sliders on the right, choose where you want the cut to go. Select the Cut and Execute Cut buttons as appropriate. Make sure the Triangulate Cuts checkbox is marked, so that it will fill in the cut surfaces.

The model is now cut into two parts. Select each part in turn, and using the Part menu, export each as an STL.

Step 8: Print It!

Load the two halves of your model into Makerware (or whatever print utility you are using), and get ready to print!

Top tip: Make sure that you do not allow Makerware to automatically scale your parts - wait for them both to be loaded, select both, and scale them at the same time. Otherwise the two halves won't match!

Depending on your model, you may or may not need to enable support material. Your call.

Once printed, glue the halves together, take a picture of it, and enjoy!

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58 Discussions


3 years ago

If any one is interested - I am the VP of Technology for a company doing 3D visualization of DICOM imagery, that is used today for planning and supporting brain surgery.

Our website is My mail is

3 replies

Reply 7 months ago

Thank you for sharing, Nissim.
This work is an incredible development. I am really interested to learn more about your process, so I'll send you an email. I'm a student at City College of New York, and I'm working on making a 3D model of my brain from an MRI.


Question 1 year ago


We are a medical equipment company in Viet Nam. We are looking for 3D printer which can print from MRI or CT scans. So do you provide that printer? Or you just doing printing service?

Pls contact me by email:

1 answer

Answer 1 year ago

This website is a "how to make things" website, not a sales site.

This project should allow you to turn your scan data into a file that most 3d printers can use - look for a printer that can produce the resolution you need in materials suitable for medical uses.

These articles might help:


3 years ago

hello ,

i m a laparoscopic surgeon . that is for sure that 3 D printing could help us before the surgery and also to train our resident in what we call lap trainer . but we need to print other things than just the shape of the organ . does anyone want to work with me to be able to print also artery-veins inside and find a way to make it more real for the training and more usefull than just shape for surgery .

11 replies

Reply 3 years ago

I am a cross sectional radiographer in the UK. I have successfully created a skull model from an x-ray phantom. I have built my own 3d delta printer and I am involved in developing a new delta printer. I am very keen to get in to bio fabrication. I am very interested in finding medical applications for 3d printing, and working with others interested in this new field. I use GE and Philips MRI scanners at work and GE CT scanner. We also have a vascular fluro room. Please contact me if I can be of any help. I also have a physics degree and programming skills.


Reply 3 years ago


I recently handled a case in which I modeled the walls of heart for visualizing the shape of the hole and also the aortic arch for a patient. I would like to work on other projects. Please feel free to drop a mail at


Reply 3 years ago

Hello Jerome,

I have a masters degree in CAD/CAM Engineering and I would be very interested in working with you. Please feel free to drop a mail at


Reply 3 years ago

I am also interested in this project. We are the leader in tangible user interface for stereoscopic objects. Please contact me at

Thank you,

Dave Woods

Founder 3Di LLC


Reply 3 years ago

I am creating 3D stereoscopic software which would enable touch interaction. Please visit my website at

I am looking for people in the medical field to help bridge my tangible user interface3 with the medical field.

Please contact me so we can see if a collaboration would be mutually beneficial.

Thank you,

David P. Woods

Founder 3Di



Reply 3 years ago

Hello jeromeb13
I had cancer in my intestine, and had it removed , he part of my intestine removed . And 3D printed and using stemcells to grow new intestine, Dr gave me 3 months to live back in nov 2015 now fit


Reply 3 years ago

Jerome, that is exactly what I am attempting to arrive at. I am a respiratory therapist and recognize the medical uses of 3D printing. Please feel free to contact me at I am still getting the hang of this printer but I have a huge print volume bed and can easily get a set of lungs or heart etc. I was planning in a few months to start marketing to surgeons and other specialists. Currently, I am practicing using ABS filament but I have access to nylons of several types which can give you some textural feel and one that can make clothing or shoes. I would like to talk with you.


2 years ago

hello all,

does anyone have methodology, platform, ect. for non irradiating medical imaging i.e. 3D ultrasound DICOM to 3D printable format?

1 reply

Reply 2 years ago

We are planning this for MakePrintable, you will basically be able to upload the file and get a 3D printable version in a couple of minutes and a couple of clicks. would love to connect with you so that I can understand more how we can streamline the process for medical uses.