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2D? Too Mainstream.

3D Selfie: All You Need to Know

Picture of Andreas Iliopoulos
by Andreas Iliopoulos
Feb 3, 2020
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3D printed selfies can be wonderful for commemorating special events. Check out this guide to making 3D selfies!

3D Printed Selfie

What Are They, Anyway?

A simple 3D selfie
A simple 3D selfie (Source: Shapeways)

In recent years, selfies have taken the world by storm. From common people to celebrities, everyone has taken part in the selfie trend. Now, 3D printers have stepped it up a notch and brought about the idea of 3D selfies, which are basically 3D models of someone in a candid pose. It could be said that it’s the next step from the common selfie.

Nowadays, there are several apps that assist with the creation of 3D selfies. It’s even possible to print some 3D selfies from the comfort of your home, though that could prove to be trickier than it sounds.

Why Get One?

A 3D selfie of a couple used as a wedding cake topper
A 3D selfie of a couple used as a wedding cake topper (Source: Amazon)

What’s a 3D selfie for? Well, as everything in the 3D printing world, your imagination is the limit. From gifts to cake toppers, the possibilities are endless. Here are a few “official” reasons – take your pick!

  • Decoration
  • Celebrations (e.g. wedding cake topping)
  • Souvenirs of memorable periods or moments (e.g. pregnancy)
  • Fun (e.g. creating an imaginary character)
  • Corporate events or marketing
  • Personalized gifts

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3D Printed Selfie

Available Options (Processes & Variants)

A 3D selfie of Sophie frοm stainless steel
A 3D selfie of Sophie frοm stainless steel (Source: Materialise)

A 3D selfie requires a set of pictures of the person (or people) to be taken from specific distances and angles. There are several techniques to reproduce a full 3D human model from multiple photos, but the prevailing one (at least with the most popular full-body scanning solutions) is photogrammetry.

First of all, there are two types of 3D selfies:

  • Full-body 3D selfies photograph the subject in full.
  • Partial 3D selfies attach a generic human body to a photographed bust.

The materials normally used to make 3D selfies include the following:

  • PLA: PLA is the cheapest and quickest to print, though it’s not always good with details and thus not very popular.
  • Gypsum: Typically found in machines that use the binder jetting technology, gypsum gives a nice balance of detail, color, finish, and price. It’s fragile but nevertheless popular.
  • Metal: This comes with the recent developments in metal 3D printing. It gives a different look & feel. This is good with details and durable, but expensive.

Figurines can come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 5 to 45 cm for all major technologies.

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3D Printed Selfie

General Creation Process

A 3D selfie production flowchart
A 3D selfie production flowchart (Source: Shapify)

The general creation process for a 3D selfie is fairly simple:

  1. Preparation for scan: Although this isn’t really a step, per se, some preparation steps can help to increase the quality of the final model. For example, wearing the optimal clothing and ensuring lighting is consistent. (Check out the tips section below.)
  2. Full/partial scanning: The subject is 3D scanned. This can be done in several ways, through mobile or handheld scanning systems, or dedicated 3D scan booths.
  3. Create a 3D model from the scan: Specialized software is used to stitch together all the photos of the subject to create a 3D model. In most cases, the model will also be cleaned in this stage.
  4. The model is printed: The trick here is to choose the correct material for the final figurine. Binder jetting technologies are the ones that are quite popular nowadays (gypsum or sand) since it’s easy to apply color to the objects, and the fine details that the human body has can be adequately handled.
  5. Finishing touch: The amount of post-processing work largely depends on the material and the required final look.
  6. Shipping: The final figurine is shipped to the customer. If the production site is very far away, shipping costs may be an issue.

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3D Printed Selfie

Hardware

A fixed multi-camera scanning station
A fixed multi-camera scanning station (Source: Jonelle Patrick)

Scanning

By “scanner system”, we mean the scanning device or set of devices that are used. In general, we can distinguish between two setups:

  • Handheld scanner devices: The object (you) stands still and a technician takes your body scan by moving the handheld device around you in specific orbits. These have all the advantages of small size and portability but usually require human skill to operate, thus they’re more prone to errors.
  • Scanning booths: These are fixed structures, usually with multiple cameras, that can simultaneously take many pictures of the object. There are versions where the object rotates or the cameras rotate. These are typically very quick and produce great quality scans. However, they tend to be costly.

Printing

In the end, it all comes down to the desired material. If the material of choice is a simple one or one that can be handled by FDM desktop printers, then the choice is obviously huge. However, for 3D selfies, the material of choice is a gypsum-based composite powder, printed with binder jetting technology.

The reason for the popularity of this material is that it combines all desired qualities of a 3D selfie: detail, color, durability, ease of printing, and cost. A popular 3D printer for this type of prints is the Projet 660 by 3D Systems.

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3D Printed Selfie

How to Obtain It

Creating a 3D selfie is a delicate process
Creating a 3D selfie is a delicate process (Source: Cosoit)

There are generally three ways to obtain a 3D selfie:

  • Going to a store
  • Ordering online
  • Making one at home

Online solutions are rather interesting. They function in one of two ways:

  • Creating a network of scanning centers with as large a geographic coverage as possible. All of these centers operate under a common brand, which then creates a hybrid solution of a physical store with an online interface. Shapify is an example of this method.
  • Bypassing the problem of the scanning center and accepting normal 2D images, from which the 3D model will be reconstructed through 3D sculpting skills. An example of this is My 3D Worlds.

There is also the possibility to make it from the comfort of your own home, but this method obviously needs some elevated technical knowledge (as opposed to the previous methods) and access to a suitable 3D printer.

In order to give you a better understanding of each method, we’ve explored all of them and determined what to expect and what to pay attention to.

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3D Printed Selfie

Walk-in and Hybrid Stores

Some cute face selfies attached to generic bodies
Some cute face selfies attached to generic bodies (Source: Bobbleshop)

Depending on which country you reside in, chances are a local service offering 3D selfies exists a reasonable distance from your home. Here are some examples:

  • My 3D Worlds: Based in Atlanta, GA, the company offers bust (upper body), pet, and full-body prints. Apart from physically going to the shop (after booking an appointment), they can create 3D figurines from simple 2D photos sent online.
  • Holodeck 3D Studios: This is another US service based in Seattle, which offers all types of 3D selfies but tries to overcome the geographical limitations by creating 3D models from 2D images.
  • Shapify: This company actually provides the main scanner and software equipment for local businesses to offer 3D figurine creation services, essentially creating a network of 3D figurine creation outlets.
  • TheBobbleShop: This French company sells scanning equipment and software in order to create busts (upper body or facial scans). It’s not clear exactly how many countries this service exists in.
  • Twindom: Another US-based equipment provider. Through their website, it’s possible to locate the nearest location to get a good 3D selfie.
  • 3D Generation: This German service follows the “hybrid” model of offering its service through several scanning outlets in Germany. One can just walk in or make an appointment.
A 3D selfie being printed
A 3D selfie being printed (Source: Twisted Sifter)
  • My3dSelfie: Using 2D images, this service generates 3D figurines through 3D sculpting techniques (they do recommend providing at least four different angles).
  • My3Dtwin: This London-based studio operates more like a local store. One has to undergo a scan by appointment, after which the final figurine can be delivered anywhere.
  • iMakr: As far as figurines are concerned, this London-based service supports the physical store option. That said, if you’d rather do the job yourself, they also rent out scanners.
  • Shapeways: Shapeways is a US-based company that basically connects many local 3D printing hubs across the globe, offering a wide range of services. For 3D selfies, users can either upload a file online or visit a local scanning station.
  • Sculpteo: Sculpteo is a French company that offers extensive geographic coverage, where interested parties can visit their physical locations (although they always start by urging the user to upload their 3D model).

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3D Printed Selfie

Home 3D Selfies

How to do some scanning at home
How to do some scanning at home (Source: Shapify)

One example of home-based scanning comes from Shapify. It uses Microsoft’s Kinect device with its motion sensor capabilities and free software. Supposing that one has already the Kinect, he or she could attempt the following:

  1. First of all, make sure that you have all the necessary equipment, including a laptop or PC with the Shapify software installed and the Kinect system correctly connected.
  2. Place the device at a suitable height (chest level) and distance from the human subject.
  3. Through the software, start the scanning process. The goal is to get at least eight pictures at differing angles, ideally at equidistance points of an orbit.
  4. Once finished, the set of pictures will be uploaded to the cloud and the reconstructed model will be shown on the user’s screen. If the result is acceptable, the process can proceed to the next step, otherwise, the scans will be repeated.
  5. The accepted model is available through the Shapify platform.

From there, it can either be sold as a model (could be an interesting option for a wannabe celebrity) or 3D printed through a local service.

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3D Printed Selfie

Tips Before You Scan

Posing and clothing do make a difference
Posing and clothing do make a difference (Source: Huffington Post)

In general, it’s advisable to watch out for the following:

  • Clothing: As a figurine is considerably smaller than an actual person, you don’t need to worry too much about your facial expression. What’s more important are your clothes! They’ll cover 95% of your statue and be very detailed. If you go for a polymer gypsum figurine, wrinkles in the fabric will be very prominent.
  • Posing: If you stand with both feet on the ground, the statue will also most likely stand firmly. That’s simple physics. Weird poses can be slightly harder to capture.
  • Realism: Nobody’s perfect, and that’s a good thing when it comes to figurines. Your uniqueness will be reflected in your statue. You might be unhappy with your weight or height, but adding a six-pack is a step away from your distinct personality. It’s like building an “ideal self”, which can come out as someone significantly different than you.
  • Sizing: Every 3D printed figurine is a piece of art. In determining the final scale, you should consider where you want to place it, whether that’s in your home or the office.
  • Lighting: It’s important to do some testing before the actual scan (especially when doing this at home) in order to evaluate the effect of lighting on certain details.

(Lead image source: 3D Figurine Me)

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License: The text of "3D Selfie: All You Need to Know" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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