What's the best 3D scanner in 2017? Read our big guide to 27 3D scanners, apps & software plus an overview of 3D scanning technologies.
The 3D scanning market is flooded with a wide range of products that come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. Whether you’re looking for the best 3D scanner that attaches to your smartphone or a device that you can use for professional applications. Either deciding to buy a 3D scanner can be quite some investment. We understand you want the best 3D scanner for your money’s worth!
This best 3D scanner guide is broken into five parts. In the first section, you’ll find an extensive list of the best 3D scanners and 3D scanner software that is right for you. After that, we’ll give you a brief introduction to 3D scanning and the different aspects you should keep in mind while shopping for one. Lastly, for those who want to dig into the nitty gritty, we’ll provide some information on the various 3D scanning technologies and what you should look for when deciding on a 3D scanner.
|Product||Type||Technology||Market Price (USD)||System||Check Price|
|Shining3D EinScan SE / SP||Stationary 3D Scanner||Structured Light Technology||$1,199/$2,299||Shining3D||/|
|IIIDScan PrimeSense 3D Scanner||Stationary 3D Scanner||Structured Light||$1441||IIIDScan|
|NextEngine 3D Scanner HD||Stationary 3D Scanner||Laser Triangulation||$2,995||Next Engine|
|Shining3D EinScan Pro / Pro+||Handheld 3D Scanner||White Light Scanning Technology||$3,999/$5,199||Shining3D||/|
|Turntable for Mobile Phones||DIY 3D Scanner||Photogrammetry||Free||Mobile Devices|
|3D Systems iSense||Handheld 3D Scanner||Photogrammetry||$73 - $409||iOS||iPhone 6 iPhone 6+ iPad Air iPad Air 2 iPad 4th generation iPad mini Retina|
|Microsoft Kinect||Handheld 3D Scanner||TOF||$97||Microsoft Kinect|
|FabScan Pi||DIY 3D Scanner Kit||Laser Triangulation||$100-$200||FabScan Pi|
|XYZprinting Handheld||Handheld 3D Scanner||Structured Light||$170||XYZprinting Handheld|
|Murobo Atlas||DIY 3D Scanner Kit||Laser Triangulation||$209-$244||Atlas|
|BQ Ciclop||DIY 3D Scanner Kit||Laser Triangulation||$240||BQ Ciclop|
|Occipital Structure Sensor||Handheld 3D Scanner||Structured Light||$379||Occipital Structure Sensor|
|Cubify Sense||Handheld 3D Scanner||TOF||$400||Sense|
|XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 All in One||3D Printer Scanner||Laser Triangulation||$500||Window XP and later, Mac OS X 10.8 and later|
|Matter and Form MFS1V1||Stationary 3D Scanner||Laser Triangulation||$499||Matter and Form MFS1V1|
|XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 Pro 3-in-1||3D Printer Scanner||Laser Triangulation||$700||XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 Pro 3-in-1|
|MakerBot Digitizer||Stationary 3D Scanner||Laser Triangulation||$788||Windows 7+, MAC OSX 10.7+, Linux Ubuntu 12.04+|
|Fuel 3D Scanify||Handheld 3D Scanner||Photogrammetry||$1,386||Windows 7 and later|
|AIO Robotics Zeus||3D Printer Scanner||Laser Triangulation||$2,499||AIO Robotics Zeus|
|David SLS-2||Stationary 3D Scanner||Structured Light||$3,275||Windows Vista and later|
|Artec Eva||Portable 3D Scanner||Structured Light||$13,999||Windows 7 and later|
|Zeiss T-Scan CS||Portable 3D Scanner||Laser Triangulation||$50,000||Windows|
|Hexagon Global eX||Stationary 3D Scanner||Contact||$80,000||Windows|
|Autodesk 123D Catch||Software||Photogrammetry||Free||iOS, Android, Mac, Windows|
|Autodesk ReMake||Software||Photogrammetry||$300||Windows, Mac|
|Agisoft Photoscan||Software||Photogrammetry||$179 / $3,499||Windows, Mac, Linux|
The new 3D scanner line includes the EinScan-SE and EinScan-SP systems. These two products are built with their customer base in mind, from entry-level to the prosumer. After gathering feedback from thousands of users about the EinScan-Pro, Shinging 3D started developing their next line to tackle both markets.
The EinScan-SE is mainly for education equipped with software that is automated enough for the user to easily 3D scan and generate a CAD model for 3D printing. The EinScan-SP, on the other hand, is for the more serious user who cares about the accuracy and wants to 3D scan bigger objects.
Both desktop 3D scanners offer auto-scan and fixed scan mode. These new models also enable faster single 3D scans and 360° 3D scans. The SE version offers a maximum single shot accuracy below 100 microns, while the SP reaches below 50 microns – which, for that price, makes it one of the best 3D scanners in this field.
3D Scanner Review: EinScan-SE 3D Scanner Review: Affordable High-End ScansCheck EinScan-SE 3D Scanner Price at Amazon:
The PrimeSense 3D Depth Sensor is a solution that is practical, convenient, intuitive and easy to use. The 3D scanning software turns the sensor into a fully functional 3D scanner. After the scanning process is completed, users can edit the scanned images and merge the different images in order to create a high-quality 3D model.
The 3D scanner includes a built-in infrared projector and offers a frame rate of 30fps – 60fps. The IIIDScan PrimeSense is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to get started with 3D scanning.
The NextEngine 3D Scanner HD offers both portability with super high fidelity 3D scanning. This high-end device uses an electro-optical system with a laser array that is able to 3D scan in tandem. The NextEngine 3D scanner has no size limitations, thus enabling more versatility than most other 3D scanners on the market.
This is the best 3D scanner for users looking to accomplish professional applications. There’s a high price tag, but sometimes you have to pay to get quality!
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. Therefore, this device is well-suited for almost all applications.
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.
This nifty gadget is by far the best 3D scanner turntable for photogrammetry. It builds on the idea of 123D Catch and Trnio, transforming your phone into a 3D scanner – but with a twist! Industrial Designer Dave Clarke came up with the idea of a 3D scanner turntable for mobile phones. Using the volume controllers of your earphones your phone’s camera will take 50 pictures while you rotate the turntable. The images can then be loaded into Autodesk ReMake or other photogrammetry software, like Agisoft Photoscan. The STL files for this DIY 3D scanner can be downloaded free of charge, printing them off and assembling them will keep you busy for a day.
The 3D Systems iSense 3D scanner is designed as a low-cost extension for your iOS device. Unfortunately, it isn’t compatible with other systems like Android, Windows or Linux. Depending on the Apple device you have, the iSense 3D scanner comes with the appropriate ‘case’ to fit your device but is otherwise identical in regards to the technical specifications.
The iSense is quite capable and impressive. It was considered to be one of the best 3D scanners when it came out first. The handheld 3D scanner has one of the largest ranges in scan volume in its class. Anywhere from the size of a shoe to the size of an SUV.
The mobile app includes features that automatically detect which object the user wants to 3D scan and ignores everything else. The software offers an easy file editor that optimizes models for 3D printing. It is incredibly easy to upload your captured 3D models a Cube 3D printer at home either directly or remotely through cloud printing. This feature makes iSense the best 3D scanner. However, the handheld 3D scanner does save the model in STL, PLY or OBJ file types. This means any 3D printer compatible with one of those file types should be able to 3D print your captured 3D scans all the same.
This product is available for the iPhone 6, iPhone 6+, iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad 4th generation or iPad mini Retina – no word on the iPhone 7 so far.
The second version of Microsoft’s 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 it turned out to be a pretty impressive one.
A dedicated program from Microsoft enables even hobbyists to 3D scan with their Kinect. You specify the dimension of the space to be 3D scanned, the scan resolution. It is up to you whether you use the device stationary or carry it in your hands, effectively turning it into a handheld 3D scanner. In a stationary setup, the object should be placed on a turntable. The flip side of the program is that it runs only on Windows 10 exports the mesh into Microsoft’s 3D Builder. Only here can you choose a file format and access repair tools.
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 in order to improve the scan quality. While building a laser 3D scanner at home is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, the FabScan is the best 3D scanner for anyone who wants to learn all about 3D scanning from scratch.
XYZprinting offers several affordable stand-alone handheld 3D scanners. This one is handheld. Which means you can manually control the full-color scanning process of your object. The resolution of the 3D scanner can be set as high as 1.5mm. Two different operating modes allow you to switch between “Head Mode” and “Object Mode.” This tells the software what you are doing so it can make a better quality scan. The device uses the Intel RealSense Camera as its 3D scanner. In terms of smallness, this is the best 3D scanner.
The Atlas DIY 3D scanner is possibly the best 3D scanner kit you can build. The structural parts are 3D printed in PLA and ABS, while the electronic parts can be bought from the manufacturer’s website. The kit will set you back $209 if you already own a Raspberry Pi you can install inside the 3D scanner. Otherwise, you can choose between Raspberry Pi 2 ($244) and the Raspberry Pi B+ ($229). The Raspberry Pi’s camera will produce 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.
The BQ Ciclop DIY 3D scanner kit is a fully open sourced 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 the machine can be purchased as a kit; they consist mainly of a customized Arduino board and a Logitech webcam. This laser 3D scanner is operated with a dedicated scanning suite called Horus, also Open Source.
The software developed by BQ called ‘Horus’ is a multi-platform application that is the user interface for the 3D scanner. It allows the user to calibrate the lasers, control all the components like the camera, lasers, motor and LDR (Light-Dependent Resistor). And most importantly, it allows the user give the command to 3D scan the object on the turntable. The device needs to be assembled by hand. The frame components are 3D printed, and the 3D scanner is controlled by the ZUM BT-328 board and ZUM SCAN which is both based on Arduino technology.
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. It is worth noting that the files for the printed components have been released on Thingiverse by BQ for the extreme DIY people out there who would like to source all the parts themselves and print the frame out. In terms of open source and usability one of the best 3D scanners, but making it work can be a real challenge.
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 3D printing. Although the device was originally designed for use with iPad and iPhone, the company offers ‘hacking’ guides to get around any obstacles keeping you from using any other platform like Windows or Linux. Unfortunately, not all technical specifications are available.
The Sense 3D scanner is similar to the iSense, but compatible with Windows 8 or later. The device is a handheld 3D scanner and must be connected to a tablet or PC while in use with the provided 6 foot USB 3.0 cable.
The software makes it easy for the 3D scanner to lock on to the object the user wants to scan. Once the 3D scan is complete, the software can quickly edit the model in preparation for use in animation, video games and more topically, 3D printing. The handheld 3D scanner can capture full-color images of objects as small as 20 cm wide and tall to 200 cm wide and tall. That offers some pretty good flexibility for a handheld 3D scanner of its size.
The XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 AiO is a single extrusion FDM 3D printer scanner combo with lots of features. The laser 3D scanning feature allows you to create digital models of objects that fit within the scanning dimensions of the printer. According to the specs, a solid 3D model will be created by the XYZscan software in under 5 minutes. After this process, you can print your scan or export it to other CAD applications.
The Matter and Form MFS1V1 is a desktop 3D laser 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 software is designed to create solid 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.
The XYZprinting Da Vinci 1.0 Pro 3-in-1 comes from the company’s more expensive line of printers. The “3-in-1” implies that this device has three functions: 3D printing, 3D scanning, and laser engraving. However, only two of them (3D printing and laser 3D scanning) come with the 3D printer scanner combo.
To scan an object, it is placed on a fully rotational platform within the printing area and then scanned using slit laser triangulation (with two lasers). XYZprinting’s editing software also allows you to take multiple 3D scans of the same object from different angles. The software then combines the 3D scans to create a solid and precise three-dimensional model of the object.
The MakerBot Digitizer 3D laser scanner is a rotational device. That means, the object is scanned while being rotated by the stationary lasers and camera. With the free software called MakerWare for Digitizer, the created STL file can very quickly be optimized and edited for 3D printing with MakerBot Replicator.
This 3D laser scanner also lets the user take multiple 3D scans of an object from different angles (e.g. top, bottom, and side perimeter). With the retrieved data, the software can stitch together an accurate solid model of the object the Digitizer scanned. One 3D scan from one angle takes approximately 12 minutes to complete.
The Fuel3D Scanify handheld 3D scanner uses Xenon LED flash bulbs. This allows the user to scan the object as they were taking a simple picture of the object.
The capture of the full-color image takes just 1/10 of a second, and the model can be ready for printing within 1 minute of the scan. Included in the package is a copy of the Fuel3D Studio Starter editing software for post processing of the 3D models. At 350 microns, the resolution is one of the higher on this list. Like with all portable 3D scanners based on Photogrammetry, to obtain a full 3D representation of an object, multiple images are needed from different points of view.
The AIO Robotics Zeus all-in-one 3D printer scanner combo is expensive but offers a lot of interesting features. For starters, it can scan objects placed inside the build area with a resolution of up to 150 microns – using a 3D laser scanner.
After the object has been scanned, the file can be edited using the integrated slicer program. A 7″ color touchscreen interface and the 1.7 Ghz Quadcore processor allow this to be possible. The onboard computer even features a web browser connected to MyMiniFactory and Thingiverse. This enables users to download, edit, and print all from the 3D printer scanner combo itself, without relying on an external computer.
For Models with multiple colors, the Zeus 3D printer scanner combo features an easy to use ‘pause, change color and continue’ function. Also, since the machine is connected to the internet, it has an Auto Software Updater. If you need the best 3D scanner built into your 3D printer, look no further.
The DAVID SLS-2 3D scanner is a high quality, all purpose 3D scanner. It is suitable for professional use in archaeology, video animation, video games, 3D printing and anything else you can think of.
The setup consists of rail/slide system fixed on top of a tripod. A LED video projector, as well as a camera, are then fixed to the railing. Once the calibration is complete, a visible pattern is projected onto the object for scaling and reference. After the first 3D scan has been made the object is repositioned for another 3D scan from a different angle. As soon as all the sides of the object have been captured, the provided software can make a high quality 360° three-dimensional representation of the object. This device can capture 3D models of objects as small as coins and as big as couches.
The Artec Eva 3D scanner is considered by many the top of the line of 3D scanners in its class. It is used in just about any field of work imaginable from the aerospace industry to orthopedics, video animation and of course 3D printing.
You are looking for the best 3D scanner in special effects and gaming production? You found it! What makes this particular unit so great is it’s ability capture very precise full-color 3D scan of any object at high speed. This portable 3D scanner can record up to 2,000,000 points per second which are a lot. Another feature this device offers is the ability to set up more than one Artec EVA at a time and have all of them work together. This can be used for automatic scanning systems as well as larger objects. Since the device is laser-free, the user can safely 3D scan people’s heads or animals without the risk of eye damage. It 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.
The T-Point CS is a industrial high-precision 3D laser scanner by Zeiss. The device is capable of 3D scanning even highly intricate structures. But what makes this 3D laser scanner stand out among other industrial devices is its portability, enabling 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. Its accuracy and mobility make it easily one of the best 3D scanners on the market.
This industrial contact 3D scanner comes from the metrology giant Hexagon.The company claims to have improved scanning throughput compared to the previous generation by 35 percent.
This 3D scanner combines top of the line tactile scanning sensors with a vibration-reduction system that allows 3D scanning at high speed, making it ideal for quality inspection in the automotive, aerospace and mechanics industries. The sensors can be equipped with a wide range of tools suitable for the application in question. What is more, users can choose between three scanning modes that either aid when dealing with unknown profiles (Scan Pilot), optimises the probe’s movements (fly2 Mode) or saves power (Eco Mode). Definitely one of the best 3D scanners for industrial application.
123D Catch is Autodesk’s free 3D scanning app. The app turns your mobile phone into a photogrammetric handheld 3D scanner. The software guides you around the object to be scanned, ensuring that you end up with a full 3D scan. The desktop version of Catch allows users to upload their digital photos, to edit/refine the resulting models and to turn them into animations. For a quality scan, take 30 to 35 pictures in at least 2 loops from 50 degrees lower or higher than the previous loop. 3D Scans can be exported for editing into other programs like Meshmixer or uploaded and shared in Autodesk’s 123D App webpage. One of the best 3D scanners for your phone!
UPDATE: As of spring 2017, Autodesk has discontinued its popular 123D software line of free 3D modeling and scanning tools. However, the programs are still running on many computers worldwide. For this reason, All3DP will keep its tutorials and reviews accessible for as long as these programs can be run.
Don’t Miss: Autodesk 123D Catch Review
Visit 123d Catch
Like 123D Catch, Trnio is an app that turns your phone into a handheld 3D scanner. It features two scan modes: object mode and scene mode. Object mode guides the user around the object to be scanned, while scene mode allows free formed 3D scanning, suitable for outdoors and larger objects. The app comes with basic editing features to trim the mesh. Trnio has its very own social network where you can upload and share your 3D scans, but you can also export to PLY. Unlike the Autodesk app, Trnio allows you to process images made outside the app. Too bad only iOS users get to enjoy this nifty app, otherwise we count it among the best 3D scanners for mobile phones.
With ReMake Autodesk has published its take on professional photogrammetry. Similarly to 123D Catch, the program generates high resolution 3D meshes from photographs. Whereas in the free app, you end up with a mesh as it happens to be generated, ReMake features powerful cleanup and repair tools, it can render up to one billion polygons, making it ideal for large scale and highly detailed 3D scans. Thanks to its cloud computing feature, the program can also run on relatively light weight computers. This 3D scanner software is suited for streamlining design and engineering workflows, digital heritage conservation, game development and special effects. It is hard to decide whether Autodesk ReMake or Agisoft Photoscan deserves the title of ‘best 3D scanner software’.
Agisoft Photoscan is a professional Photogrammetric triangulation suite, that is often used for GIS applications, cultural heritage documentation, game development and visual effects production. It allows users to edit the point cloud before generating the mesh. The extensive measurements tools enable mining companies to conduct volumetric measurements. Among the other stunning features is the possibility to edit 4D models, which means entire scenes can be recorded in 3D and then be manipulated. It is hard to decide whether Autodesk ReMake or Agisoft Photoscan deserves the title of ‘best 3D scanner software’.
As with 3D printing, it’s not necessary to buy your own 3D scanner. If you want to scan just one item or simply are curious about 3D scanning, search for a local FabLab that offers access to a 3D scanner. While many FabLabs can’t boast the best 3D scanners in the market, they provide a very convenient setting where you can experiment with different techniques and decide what 3D scanner suits you best. Plus: your friendly neighborhood Fabbers will gladly explain the machines to you and point out their capabilities.
For professional customers, commercial 3D scanning services are available. As the applications of 3D scanning are broad and different fields, require different skill sets that can only be gathered over many years of practice, 3D scanning services are usually highly specialized companies. Their employees are highly trained and know how to choose the best 3D scanner for the job at hand. While one company will offer 3D scanning of architectural and archeological sites, another will cater to the need of the automotive industry for reverse engineering. Often 3D scanning services can deliver more than merely the raw scan data; many are capable of cleaning up the data for production or 3D printing. On their web pages, 3D scanning services provide testimonials and case studies that showcase their area of expertise and the available 3D scanning 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 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!
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.
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.
Time of Flight (TOF) 3D scanners are even more sciency. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?