What is 3D Fax (Binary Files over Facsimile and the Michelangelo Project)?

Last Update: August 9th, 2021

3D Fax is a term that has taken on two meanings – the first was a product introduced in the mid-1990s by InfoImaging, with the ability to transmit binary data over fax machines – a pre-internet method of sending complex data.

In recent years, the term “3D Fax” has evolved to mean the scanning and transmission of 3-dimensional data.

A project to record structures in their 3D format has been a project launched by Standford researchers at first labeled the “3D Fax Machine Project”, and now the “Digital Michelangelo Project.”

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InfoImaging’s 3D Fax

3d Fax was a program created to allow binary files (such as computer programs) to transmit by fax machine.

Created by InfoImaging Technologies to run on Windows, the software would be used to encode the binary file onto a printed page. A fax machine would transmit that page where it could be decoded back into binary format and turned into a computer file.

While it was revolutionary at the time (allowing people to transmit files before computer modems became popular), there were some problems.

  • The need to have 100% reliability from printing to faxing to decoding – if one part of the information does not transmit, then in most cases the file transmitted would be completely unreliable.
  • The sender would require a printer and fax, and the receiver would require a fax and scanner. All equipment would need to be of high quality
  • There was a limit of 50kb per page transmitted – anything further would require multiple sheets

The widespread adoption of the internet rendered InfoImaging’s 3D fax mostly obsolete.

3D Fax Machine Project and The Digital Michelangelo Project

Grown out of the interest for 3D recordings of real-life objects, researchers from Stanford University have embarked on a project to build a “3D Fax Machine” (since renamed The Digital Michelangelo Project) with the intention of recording Michelangelo’s works in 3D data.

The project has been able to record Michelangelo’s David and St Matthew both at 1/4mm resolution.

Since 2004 the project has been mostly stalled due to the need for extra funding.

The project’s archive of 3D models has samples of the work.

Additional Resources on 3D Faxing:

More on the History of Fax: