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3D Scanner Buyer's Guide

20 Best 3D Scanners of Fall 2018

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by All3DP
Sep 12, 2018

Check out our 3D scanner buyer's guide to the 20 best 3D scanners (DIY, handheld, desktop, and tripod mountable) in fall 2018, plus an introduction to 3D scanning technologies.

The 3D scanner market is a diverse space with a wide range of products that come in all shapes, sizes, capabilities, and prices. Such choice, while a great thing in itself, can make sorting the goods from the duds a chore.

Well, we’re here to help. After trawling through the forums, marketplaces and best-seller lists, we can say with confidence that these are the 3D scanners worthy of attention right now. Each featured for their own distinguishing features, technology, price point or a combination of factors, we’ve tried to cover the spectrum from super affordable consumer devices to those suited to small business (and even a little beyond that).

Our 3D Scanner Picks of Fall 2018

Top Pick
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Shining3D EinScan-Pro+

The EinScan-Pro+, our "Top Pick for 3D Scanner of Fall 2018", is a professional-grade handheld 3D scanner at an inexpensive price point.

Best Value
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Shining3D EinScan SE

Ideal for the classroom, the EinScan SE offer auto- and fixed scan modes at 100 microns of single shot accuracy.

Budget Pick
Product image of Matter and Form 3D Scanner (MFS1V1)

Matter and Form 3D Scanner (MFS1V1)

The Matter and Form 3D Scanner is an affordable, high resolution 3D scanner that is compact, portable, easy to use, and fully assembled right out of the box.

Choose your budget:

Affordable: Under $1,000
Professional: $1,000 – $10,000
High-End: Over $10,000

20 Best 3D Scanners of Fall 2018

Product Style Technology OS Compatibility Market Price Check Price
Xbox One Kinect Sensor Handheld/ Stationary Time of Flight Windows, Mac, Linux $50-100 (approx.)
BQ Ciclop Stationary/ DIY Kit Laser Triangulation Windows, Mac, Linux $115 (approx.)
FabScan Pi Stationary/ DIY Kit Laser Triangulation Raspbian (Raspberry Pi) $100-$200
Murobo Atlas Stationary/ DIY Kit Laser Triangulation Windows, Mac, Linux (all via web browser) $209-$244
Occipital Structure Sensor Handheld Structured Light iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux $379
3D Systems Sense 2 Handheld/ Stationary Time of Flight Windows 8-10 (x64) $400
Matter and Form 3D Scanner Stationary Laser Triangulation Windows 7-10 (x64), Mac $499.99
Matter and Form 3D Scanner V2 Stationary Laser Triangulation Windows 7-10 (x64), Mac $749.99
Shining3D EinScan SE Stationary Structured Light Windows 7-10 (x64), Mac (beta) $1,199
Shining3D EinScan SP Stationary Structured Light Windows 7-10 (x64), Mac (beta) $2,299
NextEngine 3D Scanner Ultra HD Stationary Laser Triangulation Windows 7-10 (x64) $2,995
Rangevision Smart Stationary Structured Light Windows 7-10 (x64) $3,000 (approx.)
HP Structured Light Scanner Pro S3 Stationary Structured Light Windows $3,899
Shining3D EinScan Pro Handheld/ Stationary White Light Windows 7-10 (x64) $3,999
Shining3D EinScan Pro+ Handheld/ Stationary White Light Windows 7-10 (x64) $5,299
Artec EVA Lite Handheld Structured Light Windows 7-10 (x64) $9,800
Artec Eva Handheld Structured Light Windows 7-10 (x64) $19,800
Creaform Go!SCAN 20 Handheld Structured Light Windows 7 - 10 (x64) $20,000 (approx.)
Artec Leo Handheld Structured Light Windows 7 - 10 (x64) $25,800
Zeiss T-Scan CS Handheld Laser Triangulation Windows $50,000 (approx.)

The Best 3D Scanners Under $1,000

3D Scanner Xbox One Kinect Sensor

Image of 3D Scanner: Xbox One Kinect Sensor
  • Product Xbox One Kinect Sensor
  • Style Handheld/ Stationary
  • Technology Time of Flight
  • OS Compatibility Windows, Mac, Linux
  • Market Price $50-100 (approx.)

The second version of the Xbox One Kinect Sensor gaming sensor array is a fully fledged TOF 3D scanner. It wasn’t built to be one of the best 3D scanners in the world, but a combination of affordability, hackability and pretty decent tech makes it so.

Sticking to Microsoft’s walled garden when using the Kinect as a scanner leaves you using a dedicated program from the company, which allows for basic to 3D scanning with the Kinect. You can specify the dimension of the space to be 3D scanned and the scan resolution itself — the means by which you scan is also up to you, be it stationary or handheld. The flip side of the program is that it runs only on Windows 10, exporting meshes into Microsoft’s 3D Builder. Only here can you choose a file format and access repair tools.

Beyond this, Kinect has seen widespread adoption in teams and companies willing to hack the inexpensive device for their own uses. The low price point and relative quality of the scanning tech make it a solid choice for above average scans without breaking the bank.

That being said, Microsoft has discontinued production of the Kinect, and no longer even supports it on its own consoles. That means what’s left out there hardware-wise is it. The official support from Microsoft will degrade in time, but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker since the hacked usages for the Kinect as a 3D scanner are way more interesting. One for the tinkerers.

Product image of Xbox One Kinect Sensor

Xbox One Kinect Sensor

3D Scanner BQ Ciclop

Image of 3D Scanner: BQ Ciclop
  • Product BQ Ciclop
  • Style Stationary/ DIY Kit
  • Technology Laser Triangulation
  • OS Compatibility Windows, Mac, Linux
  • Market Price $115 (approx.)

The BQ Ciclop DIY 3D scanner kit is a fully open source project licensed under the GPL license. Following the RepRap philosophy, the many components of the Ciclop are 3D printed. The electronics at the heart of this 3D scanner can be purchased as a kit; they consist mainly of a customized Arduino board and a Logitech webcam.

The processing of data captured by this laser 3D scanner is a dedicated scanning suite called Horus, also Open Source.

Be prepared: It’s not easy to assemble. BQ has admitted to the difficulty of setup and calibration as well as inconsistencies in the build quality (accuracy) of the individual components for this 3D scanner. You can find the printable files over on GitHub and the bill of materials and build guide on the Diwo BQ website. In terms of being open source and usability, the Ciclop 3D scanner is one of the best, but making it work can be a real challenge – but that’s probably half the fun of such a project. A good learning experience.

Note: being an open source project, that means you’ll likely find the Ciclop available under a number of different names and companies that have adapted it slightly (or straight out sell it as their own). BQ is the originator of the Ciclop scanner.

3D Scanner FabScan Pi

Image of 3D Scanner: FabScan Pi
Fabscan Pi 3D Scanner (Image: Mario Lukas)
  • Product FabScan Pi
  • Style Stationary/ DIY Kit
  • Technology Laser Triangulation
  • OS Compatibility Raspbian (Raspberry Pi)
  • Market Price $100-$200

The FabScan is a DIY 3D scanner kit that Francis Engelmann developed as his bachelor’s thesis in 2011. In its basic form, it was a laser 3D scanner synchronized with a turntable. The design was improved by subsequent students at RWTH Aachen to push the price from $150 to only $100. However, a kit with all the required parts can set you back up to $200.

Before making a choice, it might also be worth comparing the different versions of the FabScan. The most recent incarnation makes use of the Raspberry Pi Cam to improve the scan quality. While building a laser 3D scanner at home is certainly not for eveyone, the FabScan is a solid 3D scanner for anyone wanting to learn all about 3D scanning from scratch.

View the FabScan Pi Homepage

3D Scanner Murobo Atlas

Image of 3D Scanner: Murobo Atlas
  • Product Murobo Atlas
  • Style Stationary/ DIY Kit
  • Technology Laser Triangulation
  • OS Compatibility Windows, Mac, Linux (all via web browser)
  • Market Price $209-$244

The Atlas DIY 3D scanner is kit scanner you construct from scratch, including the 3D printing of the frame (should you choose – an acrylic add-on purchase is also available).

Setting you back $209 if you already own a Raspberry Pi you can install inside the 3D scanner, or $244 for a kit including a Raspberry Pi 2 or $229 for the Raspberry Pi B+. The Raspberry Pi camera feeds into the Atlas 3D scanner producing crisp textured 3D scans. Like other DIY 3D scanners, the Atlas comes with its own tailored program, FreeLSS. Atlas’s usability is particularly convenient for a DIY 3D scanner: you access the device in your browser via the built-in WiFi adapter.

Order your Murobo Atlas 3D Scanner

3D Scanner Occipital Structure Sensor

Image of 3D Scanner: Occipital Structure Sensor
Occipital Structure Sensor (Image: Occipital)
  • Product Occipital Structure Sensor
  • Style Handheld
  • Technology Structured Light
  • OS Compatibility iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux
  • Market Price $379

The Occipital Structure Sensor is multi-purpose handheld 3D scanner with a wide range of applications. The software provided by the manufacturer is called Structure SDK, it offers high-level developers tools and full low-level access for a game and mixed reality development and 3D mapping. Apart from that, the device can be used to create high-quality 3D models of objects for a variety of purposes, including 3D printing.

Though this 3D scanner add-on was originally designed for use with iPad and iPhone, the company offers ‘hacking’ guides to get around any obstacles keeping you from using other platforms like Windows or Linux. Unfortunately, not all technical specifications are available.

Occipital continues to update the Structure Sensor 3D scanner to be mountable/compatible with new iPads, with recent revisions released for the 6th Gen iPad and iPad Pro.

Product image of Occipital Structure Sensor 3D Scanner

Occipital Structure Sensor

3D Scanner 3D Systems Sense 2

Image of 3D Scanner: 3D Systems Sense 2
3D Systems Sense 3D scanner (Image: 3D Systems)
  • Product 3D Systems Sense 2
  • Style Handheld/ Stationary
  • Technology Time of Flight
  • OS Compatibility Windows 8-10 (x64)
  • Market Price $400

Currently on Version 2, the Sense 3D scanner is the successor to the company’s now defunct tablet/smartphone-mounted iSense. Connected to a Windows device (Windows 8 or later) via USB 3.0, the Sense provides a competent handheld scanning solution for capturing models for archival and asset creation for digital content.

Accomplished object tracking makes the Sense’s active building of a 3D model a cinch, giving a handheld scanning solution that outputs relatively high-geometry and good texture quality, quickly.

The Sense 3D scanner has an operating range of 20cm to 160cm, capturing full-color images and seeing all within a 45 degree field of view. That offers pretty good flexibility for a handheld 3D scanner of its size.

3D Scanner Matter and Form 3D Scanner

Image of 3D Scanner: Matter and Form 3D Scanner
  • Product Matter and Form 3D Scanner
  • Style Stationary
  • Technology Laser Triangulation
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7-10 (x64), Mac
  • Market Price $499.99

The Matter and Form 3D Scanner is a desktop laser 3D scanner. It is capable of producing high-resolution, full-color 3D scans. This is made possible thanks to 2 lasers and an HD-CMOS sensor. Altogether, a scan accuracy of up to roughly 0.25mm and details as small as 0.43mm can be achieved.

The accompanying (free) software is designed to create watertight STL files that are immediately ready for animation or 3D printing. If you use a USB cable, you can connect the device directly to your computer. And best of all, it folds up for easy portability.

Product image of Matter and Form 3D Scanner (MFS1V1)

Matter and Form 3D Scanner (MFS1V1)

3D Scanner Matter and Form 3D Scanner V2

Image of 3D Scanner: Matter and Form 3D Scanner V2
  • Product Matter and Form 3D Scanner V2
  • Style Stationary
  • Technology Laser Triangulation
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7-10 (x64), Mac
  • Market Price $749.99

The successor to the Matter and Form V1, the Matter and Form V2 3D Scanner retains the hardware of its V1 and introduces usability improvements. Think of it as an optimization of the V1 — a scanner that (in operation with up to date software) does an admirable job for its price.

Bundled with the new MFStudio software, the Matter and Form V2 is capable of capturing geometry faster than before when used alongside the optional +QuickScan software upgrade.

As before with the V1, USB connection to your computer makes the Matter and Form V2 a desktop scanner through and through. And a foldable form factor lets you collapse it down for easy portability.

Product image of Matter and Form 3D Scanner V2 (MFS1V2)

Matter and Form 3D Scanner V2 (MFS1V2)

The Best 3D Scanners Between $1,000 and $10,000

3D Scanner Shining3D EinScan SE

Image of 3D Scanner: Shining3D EinScan SE
  • Product Shining3D EinScan SE
  • Style Stationary
  • Technology Structured Light
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7-10 (x64), Mac (beta)
  • Market Price $1,199

Part of a recent two-product launch of desktop 3D scanners (as successors to Shining3D’s Einscan S D scanner, Shining 3D’s EinScan-SE system offers a well-rounded package for beginners and educators looking to get acquainted and output quality scans with little fuss.

The result of feedback from thousands of users of the EinScan-Pro — the company’s handheld scanner — these newer scanners present a move to capture the whole market (something furthered by Shining 3D’s recent move into 3D printing, too).

The EinScan-SE is mainly pitched at education, and comes with software that aims for ease of use, automating enough of the process for any user to quickly 3D scan and generate a CAD model. Part of this software solution auto-meshes the scans too, making them fit for 3D printing.

Offering an auto-scan and fixed scan mode, the SE 3D scanner boasts a maximum single shot accuracy of below 100 microns.

3D Scanner Review: EinScan-SE Review – Best Value 3D Scanner in 2018

3D Scanner Shining3D EinScan SP

Image of 3D Scanner: Shining3D EinScan SP
Shining3D Einscan SP 3D scannerr (Image: Shining3D)
  • Product Shining3D EinScan SP
  • Style Stationary
  • Technology Structured Light
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7-10 (x64), Mac (beta)
  • Market Price $2,299

EinScan’s professional level 3D scanner, the EinScan-SP builds upon its SE sibling by increasing the accuracy, speed and capture volume.

Overall the proposition is one appealing to the power user in need of quick and accurate scans in a professional environment.

Like the SE, the EinScan SP 3D scanner offers auto-scan and fixed scan modes, and a single-shot accuracy of below 50 microns.

Product image of Shining3D EinScan SP

Shining3D EinScan SP

3D Scanner NextEngine 3D Scanner Ultra HD

Image of 3D Scanner: NextEngine 3D Scanner Ultra HD
Nextengine HD Ultra 3D scanner (Image: Instructables)
  • Product NextEngine 3D Scanner Ultra HD
  • Style Stationary
  • Technology Laser Triangulation
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7-10 (x64)
  • Market Price $2,995

The NextEngine 3D Scanner Ultra HD offers both portability and super high fidelity 3D scanning. This high-end device uses an electro-optical system with a laser array that scans in tandem. Another key feature is that the NextEngine 3D scanner can composite scans together, making it capable of capturing detailed full-color scans of objects far larger than its field size.

Plug-and-play operation rounds the NextEngine 3D Scanner Ultra HD out as an attractive option that blends relative affordability with high-quality turnkey desktop/handheld scanning.

Check Out NextEngine 3D Scanner HD Here

  • Product Rangevision Smart
  • Style Stationary
  • Technology Structured Light
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7-10 (x64)
  • Market Price $3,000 (approx.)

Primarily marketed to Europe and Asia, Rangevision’s scanners are positioned as the affordable option for professionals in need of high quality scans for a variety of use cases. The most recent of the company’s wares (although it is a few years old now) is the Smart, a rail-based structured light 3D scanner.

Capable of capturing detailed scans from mere centimeters to over a meter, the Smart features two auto-focusing HD camera out of the box, which pick up the patterns projected from the included projector.

We understand that at launch the Smart 3D scanner suffered from unclear instructions and difficult to use software, which has subsequently been improved upon with regular updates, making it a contender worth considering today.

It also comes partially assembled in a spiffy carry-case, which is nice.

Product image of RangeVision Smart

RangeVision Smart

3D Scanner HP Structured Light Scanner Pro S3

Image of 3D Scanner: HP Structured Light Scanner Pro S3
HP Structured Light Scanner Pro S3 3D scanner (Image: HP)
  • Product HP Structured Light Scanner Pro S3
  • Style Stationary
  • Technology Structured Light
  • OS Compatibility Windows
  • Market Price $3,899

The HP Structured Light Scanner Pro S3 is the upgraded version of its S2 sibling listed above, and is also a rebadging of a former David Vision Systems scanner, the David SLS-3.

Differentiating the two is the inclusion of a more capable HD camera, instead of monochrome snapper affixed to the S2.

Available as a full package packing two of its industrial grade cameras, the S3 is a modular 3D scanner powerhouse that, while tipping toward the more expensive end of the spectrum, is a winner with its modular setup and high quality output.

Product image of HP Structured Light Scanner Pro S3 3D Scanner

HP Structured Light Scanner Pro S3

3D Scanner Shining3D EinScan Pro

Image of 3D Scanner: Shining3D EinScan Pro
  • Product Shining3D EinScan Pro
  • Style Handheld/ Stationary
  • Technology White Light
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7-10 (x64)
  • Market Price $3,999

The EinScan-Pro and EinScan-Pro+ is an exceptionally multi-functional 3D scanner that can capture objects both big and small. You can use it as a fixed or handheld 3D scanner, and it offers both rapid and HD scanning modes. Overall, well-suited for a variety of 3D scanning situations.

The EinScan-Pro series uses white light 3D scanning technology, enabling high accuracy and speed. This professional-grade system can utilize good color texture capture for objects ranging in size from 0.03mm up to 4 meters.

3D Scanner Shining3D EinScan Pro+

Image of 3D Scanner: Shining3D EinScan Pro+
  • Product Shining3D EinScan Pro+
  • Style Handheld/ Stationary
  • Technology White Light
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7-10 (x64)
  • Market Price $5,299

The EinScan-Pro+ is an advanced version of the EinScan Pro 3D scanner, boasting a bigger field and more points to capture in a quicker time.

You can use it as a fixed or handheld 3D scanner, and it offers both rapid and HD scanning modes. This makes the EinScan Pro+ well-suited for almost all applications (its reported to be less suitable for scanning details like hair – so full body models may be a no-go).

The EinScan-Pro series uses white light 3D scanning technology, enabling high accuracy and speed. This professional-grade system can utilize good color texture capture for objects ranging in size from 0.03mm up to 4 meters.

3D Scanner Artec EVA Lite

Image of 3D Scanner: Artec EVA Lite
Artec Eva Lite 3D scanner (Image: Artec)
  • Product Artec EVA Lite
  • Style Handheld
  • Technology Structured Light
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7-10 (x64)
  • Market Price $9,800

Taking the ease of use and portable form factor of the EVA, the EVA Lite brings the price down by omitting the ability to capture textures. That may sound like a deal-breaker for some, but in reality it’s a shrewd refinement of the proposition of the EVA, making its high quality geometry capturing abilities accessible for those that require that alone.

The result is a handheld 3D scanner suited for capturing geometrically rich objects (such as the human body, for medical professionals), without demanding too much computing power to run (since there’s no texture data to process).

Product image of Artec EVA Lite 3D Scanner

Artec EVA Lite

The Best 3D Scanners Over $10,000

3D Scanner Artec Eva

Image of 3D Scanner: Artec Eva
  • Product Artec Eva
  • Style Handheld
  • Technology Structured Light
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7-10 (x64)
  • Market Price $19,800

The Artec Eva is considered by many to be the best in class handheld 3D scanner. It is used in just about any field of work imaginable from the aerospace industry to orthopedics and vfx.

Don’t Miss: Artec EVA 3D Scanner: The Fastest Way to Enter the 3D World

The Artec Eva is particularly suited to medium-sized objects (including busts), capturing accurate full-color scans quickly and reliably.

It’s possible to set up more than one Artec EVA 3D scanner to speed up the scanning process — an expensive proposition, but a welcome one to note the versatility of the device.

Utilizing structured light for its scanning method, this makes it particularly safe for scanning people and animals. The EVA requires no calibration or warm-up time and is compatible with tablets, so the whole system is truly portable without the need for an external power plug. The in-house editing software is not free, however, and does not ship with the handheld 3D scanner. Since the data from the 3D scanner can be exported, any third party 3D editing software should be able to get the job done.

Product image of Artec Eva 3D Scanner

Artec Eva

3D Scanner Creaform Go!SCAN 20

Image of 3D Scanner: Creaform Go!SCAN 20
  • Product Creaform Go!SCAN 20
  • Style Handheld
  • Technology Structured Light
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7 - 10 (x64)
  • Market Price $20,000 (approx.)

Packing a lot of power into a portable package, the Creaform Go!Scan 20 is a white-light 3D scanner outputting professional-grade geometries and textures.

Accurate up to 0.1mm with a resolution of 0.1mm, the system uses hybrid positioning to allow for simple and convenient handheld scanning of larger objects, with a workflow that could be considered point-and-shoot.

The accompanying VXelements software boasts a number of optimization features to clean up scans, including automatic hole filling,  improved facet capture and the clean rendering of ribs (useful for mechanical/structural parts). The included VXmodel allows for direct CAD integration of your scans.

A Go!SCAN 50 is also available. Tailored to quick scans of larger objects, it captures at a lower resolution, but across a much larger field-of-view.

Product image of Creaform Go!SCAN 20 3D Scanner

Creaform Go!SCAN 20

  • Product Artec Leo
  • Style Handheld
  • Technology Structured Light
  • OS Compatibility Windows 7 - 10 (x64)
  • Market Price $25,800

So named because it is the king of the jungle in 3D scanning right now (we presume — could just be a fun coincidence), the Artec Leo is a step change in the 3D scanning market, offering scan resolution of a magnitude greater than the company’s already market-leading EVA scanners, while adding complete wireless functionality and on-board processing.

The Artec Leo effectively removes the laptop or computer from the equation, allowing complete scanning freedom with no wires tethering the user to a workstation. Further to this revelation, the Leo improves upon it’s predecessors in every way with such features as 2.3mp HDR color textures, constructing models at 80 frames per second with data acquisition speed of 4-million points per second and a 173,000cm-cubed capture zone.

It’s a hefty investment at around $25,800, but that’s the price you pay for something insanely different from what has gone before.

Product image of Artec Leo

Artec Leo

3D Scanner Zeiss T-Scan CS

Image of 3D Scanner: Zeiss T-Scan CS
  • Product Zeiss T-Scan CS
  • Style Handheld
  • Technology Laser Triangulation
  • OS Compatibility Windows
  • Market Price $50,000 (approx.)

The T-Point CS is a industrial high-precision 3D laser scanner by Zeiss. Capable of scanning intricate structures, the Zeiss T-Point CS stands out among other industrial devices for its portability which enables highly precise 3D scans in a variety of scenarios. This portable 3D scanner is a reliable asset to compare the execution of a design with the original CAD file or creating tools based on the objects exact dimensions.

Further to this, the device’s dynamic referencing allows for measuring 3D data on moving objects, such as those within the active working environment. A professional solution for demanding conditions.

Product image of Zeiss T-Scan CS

Zeiss T-Scan CS

3D Scanner Technologies

Before you decide to purchase a 3D scanner for yourself, it’s important that you know what this technology actually is and how it works. First, a 3D scanner captures an object or person. This image data is then transferred into a 3D modeling program, and from there can be altered or modified in the software, printed, inserted into a video game, and so on.

After an object is scanned, the model can be edited or resized via 3D design software. After the model is prepared, it can export into an STL file and be 3D printed. Essentially, this means that anything you see in your daily life can be made 3D printable, whether it be a small object like jewelry or a large object like an automobile.

There are many different technologies and aspects to consider when shopping for a 3D scanner. Keep reading below if you’re looking for more information on 3D scanning technology!

3D Scanner Photogrammetry

Image of 3D Scanner: Photogrammetry

This 3D scanner technology predates the age of computers: After the invention of photography, scientists quickly realized they could apply the principle of natural stereo vision to their fields. Using images taken from two slightly different positions, they were able to measure and determine the location of points objects in 3D space, experts call this process ‘triangulation’.

To this day, Photogrammetry is used by land surveyors to compile maps with high precision; this has proven to be especially useful in mountainous regions that are difficult to access for surveyors or to 3D scan by other technologies.

Modern computer programs triangulate entire buildings or objects as small as shoes. Nowadays even phones can be turned into portable 3D scanners, simply by installing an app. The precision is largely due to the quality of the images. The more pixels you feed to your program, the more data it has to chew on. To generate a complete model many pictures have to be taken while moving around the objects in increments of 15 to 30 degrees; repeat this in different heights, especially when 3D scanning complex objects, i.e. that have many occlusions. Keep in mind that in order to triangulate a point, it needs to be photographed at least twice – otherwise your mesh will have holes. So don’t be shy when you snap your pictures.

3D Scanner Structured Light

Image of 3D Scanner: Structured Light

These devices project geometric patterns onto the surface of a given object, while a camera registers the distortion of the image. Based on the displacement of the pattern, it is possible to calculate the location of every point. Since the patterns can only be projected from one vantage point at a time, multiple 3D scans have to be combined to form a complete 360° mesh. Some manufacturers circumvent this constraint by mounting the object on a motorized turntable and stitching the 3D scans together automatically. These 3D scanners are very accurate, the resolution ranges in the tens of micrometers. Unlike 3D laser scanners, this technology is completely safe to apply to humans and animals. The 3D scanning range is limited to a few meters. Structured light technology is found both in stationary and in portable 3D scanners.

3D Scanner TOF (Time of Flight)

Image of 3D Scanner: TOF (Time of Flight)

Time of Flight (TOF) 3D scanners are even more sciencey. They determine the distance to an object by measuring the time a sent out a laser or infrared beam takes to be reflected to the 3D scanner. The essential ingredient in this device is the speed of light. The round-trip-time establishes the distance traveled by the light beam. If you consider that it takes sunlight a mere 8 minutes and 17 seconds to reach the Earth, you get an idea of how precise the sensors in these scanners are in order to work. But even the mighty TOF scanners have shortcomings, differences in temperature, humidity, and other factors affect the speed of light and impede the 3D scanner’s ability to accurately measure the round-trip time, so their accuracy is comparatively low, in the range of centimeters. They are mostly used scanning large structures like buildings. Like with other technologies, it is not possible to create solid meshes in one scan. TOF-3D-scanners using laser beams should not be used when 3D scanning people or animals. Many devices using this approach are designed as portable 3D scanners.

3D Scanner Triangulation (Laser 3D Scanner)

Image of 3D Scanner: Triangulation (Laser 3D Scanner)

Triangulation 3D scanners, aka laser 3D scanners, are similar to photogrammetry and structured-light 3D scanners in that they use the same basic geometric principle to determine the location of a point in space. The laser 3D scanner projects a laser beam on the object and a camera registers the place where the laser hits the object. Since the angles and measurements of laser and camera are known, the laser dot (or line) can be accurately located. These 3D scanners are famously accurate, the resolution ranges in the tens of micrometers. On the flipside, their range is limited to only a few meters. Triangulation 3D scanners emitting a laser line are capable of scanning moving objects. This technology is usually not found in portable 3D scanners.

3D Scanner Contact

Image of 3D Scanner: Contact

Contact 3D scanners physically touch the object which is resting on a surface or fixed to some form of rig that holds it in place. Usually, this is a slow process, as even minor vibrations can distort the scan. Though these 3D scanners produce precise scans that used quality control in engineering industry, the probes may modify or even potentially harm the scanned objects; for this reason, contact 3D scanners are not used for heritage preservation.

Which Type of 3D Scanner is the Best for Me?

Selecting the right 3D scanner is no simple matter. There are many criteria to keep in mind before purchasing a device. For instance, a certain 3D scanner may be the best for architectural purposes, but may still prove unsuitable for prototyping. You may benefit from an affordable stationery scanner, or need the versatility of a handheld device.

Before we dig into the different 3D scanners available on the market, let’s take a look at the different aspects that you should consider. We have compiled a list of the most important characteristics to consider when shopping for a 3D scanner.

3D Scanner Field of Application

The first question you should ask yourself is: what do you want to use the scanner for?

The requirements vary depending on the field. For example, a game developer simply creating game assets will be interested in not just a high-resolution mesh but also the texture of the object. If so, photogrammetry will be the logical solution in this case. However, a maker who wants to 3D print something he saw in reality will be more interested in the exact measurements of the object. Therefore, they will probably choose a 3D scanner based on structured light. Your should also decide very early, where you want to 3D scan your objects. If they are relatively small and you can bring them to your office or home, buy a stationary 3D scanner. If not, you need a portable 3D scanner.

3D Scanner Type of Object

You should determine what it is exactly that you want to 3D scan. There is no device that covers all areas of application.

For 3D scanning people and animals, you can’t use a 3D laser scanner since it might cause damage to the eyes. Photogrammetry might be a good choice, but this technology requires the subject to stay perfectly still. So while you might get great 3D scans from your friends and family, you may find your dog a difficult subject.

Laser 3D scanners are a great choice if want to scan large, inanimate objects such as buildings or vehicles.

In case you are interested in reverse engineering, that is to say, you need extremely accurate measurements, structured light or contact 3D scanners will do the trick.

However, Contact 3D scanners are not an option in projects concerned with heritage conservation, since the process may alter or even destroy delicate items. In this case, the best 3D scanner is a structured light scanner.

3D Scanner Dimensions/Distance of the Object

Most consumer 3D scanners (structured light) are designed for 3D scanning objects the size of your average tea kettle from a close range. But it’s true, that you can often ‘stitch’ multiple 3D scans together into one piece. Generally speaking, the bigger your objects are, or the farther away, the more expensive a 3D laser scanner will be. Exceptions are photogrammetry programs, that are normally reasonably priced and produce excellent results.

3D Scanner Surface of the Object

Another factor to keep in mind while buying the best 3D scanner is the surface of your object. Both photogrammetry and structured-light 3D scanners have serious problems with reflective and transparent surfaces which cannot be processed and will result in distorted and fragmented meshes. Even the best 3D scanner will not produce satisfying results when faced with ill-suited surfaces. If your heart is set on these technologies, this constraint is often overcome by applying a thin layer of opaque lacquer.

3D Scanner Resolution

Finally, the single most important feature in many fields of application is the accuracy of the 3D scans. Contact 3D scanners are capable of extreme accuracy, but their prices range from $30.000 to $200.000. Again, you should ask yourself: what do you want to use the scans for? How much resolution is enough to get the job done?

License: The text of "20 Best 3D Scanners of Fall 2018" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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