"This is a complex surgery and its success is dependent on surgical planning," said Frank Rybicki from Brigham and Women's Hospital in the US.
"Our study demonstrated that if you use this model and hold the skull in your hand, there is no better way to plan the procedure," Rybicki added.
"The 3D printed model helps us to prepare the facial structures so when the actual transplantation occurs, the surgery goes more smoothly," said Amir Imanzadeh, research fellow from the Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Physicians at the Brigham and Women's Hospital performed the first full face transplantation in the US in 2011 and have subsequently completed four additional face transplants.
The procedure is performed on patients who have lost some or all of their face as a result of injury or disease.
In the study, the researchers assessed the clinical impact of using 3D printed models of the recipient's head in the planning of face transplantation surgery.
Each of the transplant recipients underwent pre-operative CT with 3D visualisation.
To build each life size skull model, the CT images of the transplant recipient's head were segmented and processed using customised software, creating specialised data files that were fed into a 3D printer.
"The 3D model is important for making the transplant cosmetically appealing," Rybicki said.
The researchers said they also used the models in the operating room to increase the surgeons' understanding of the anatomy of the recipient's face during the procedure.
The study was presented at the ongoing annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.