Imaging Properties of Additive Manufactured (3D Printed) Materials for Potential Use for Phantom Models


Over the last few decades, there has been growing interest in the application of additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing for medical research and clinical application. Imaging phantoms offer clear benefits in the way of training, planning, and quality assurance, but the model’s availability per catalog tend to be suited for general testing purposes only. AM, on the contrary, offers flexibility to clinicians by enabling custom-built phantoms based on specific interests or even individual patient needs. This study aims to quantify the radiographic properties (ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, and computed tomography) of common additive manufacturing technologies and to discuss potential opportunities to fabricate imaging phantoms. Test phantoms were composed of samples from the three most common AM styles, namely PolyJet, fused deposition modeling (FDM), and stereolithography (SLA). Test imaging of the phantoms was performed on ultrasound, MRI, and CT and reviewed and evaluated with radiology software. The ultrasound images showed clearly defined upper and lower edges of the material but did not demonstrate distinct differences in internal echogenicity between materials. The MR scans revealed a distinct signal intensity difference between the model (17 grayscale value) and the printer support (778 grayscale value). Finally, the CT images showed a slight variation between the plastic (82 HU) and rubber (145 HU) materials. The radiographic properties of AM offer a clear opportunity to create basic two- or three-material phantoms. These would be high-accuracy and cost-effective models. Although the materials currently available are not suitable for complex multi-material applications as realistic as true human anatomy, one can easily foresee the development of new materials with broader density in the near future.

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We would like to thank Glenn Ferrick (MR), Patricia Mecca (CT/MR), Colleen Flowers (CT), Lamont Hill (US), Marcy L. Hutchinson (US), and team for assisting in the scan of phantoms.

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Data will be made available on request. The authors have the right to share the data used in this research and will provide it upon request.

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ES and RS participated in the conception and design of the study, data analysis, and interpretation. ES fabricated models and oversaw scanning. KB and ES completed scan interpretation and data collection. All authors drafted the manuscript and approved the final version.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth Silvestro.

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Table 1 Machine details. Details of each printing style used in this study
Table 2 Method-application chart. This chart summarizes the potential application of each printing style and its application in the production of phantoms
Table 3 Hounsfield comparison chart. This chart compares each of the printed materials to anatomical features with comparable Hounsfield values

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Silvestro, E., Betts, K.N., Francavilla, M.L. et al. Imaging Properties of Additive Manufactured (3D Printed) Materials for Potential Use for Phantom Models. J Digit Imaging 33, 456–464 (2020).

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  • 3D printing
  • Additive manufacturing
  • Phantoms
  • Simulation