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Pro Scanning

3 Best 3D Scanning Services

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by All3DP
Jan 8, 2020
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Accurate 3D scanning can be a tricky affair. Check out these 3D scanning services, which are sure to impress with professional quality imaging.

3D Scanning Services

Why Outsource It?

Man using handheld scanner
When in doubt, go to the pros (Source: Central Scanning)

Whether it’s a laser or photogrammetry, 3D scanning involves capturing your subject from multiple angles and then using that data to create a 3D model. This is accomplished by stitching the data together and processing it into a three-dimensional mesh. From there, software can export that image data into a workable 3D model.

3D scanning services offer the best scanning equipment and techniques available, which reduces the likelihood of having to repeat poor scans. In addition, they have a wealth of model-processing tools at their fingertips to fill in gaps in the raw scan data. You’re pretty much guaranteed a usable model.

Scanning services use a variety of scanning techniques to get the job done. Photogrammetry is the process of taking hundreds of pictures and stitching them together. Another popular method, laser scanning (LIDAR), creates a data point cloud, which is processed into a 3D model.

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3D Scanning Services

Benefits

The Smithsonian uses 3D scanning to preserve historical artifacts for future generations
The Smithsonian uses 3D scanning to preserve historical artifacts for future generations (Source: Smithsonian)

A perfect application example of 3D scanning comes from the Smithsonian and their 3D digitization project. The Smithsonian is in the process of preserving historical artifacts for future generations by scanning them and creating digital 3D models. From the Apollo 11 command module to Abraham Lincoln’s life masks, this project is making 3D models of these artifacts available for download so you can 3D print them yourself.

3D scanning has a variety of uses, such as historical preservation, reverse engineering, and more. But even if you have grand ambitions, you don’t have to invest heavily in equipment to get your 3D scanning done. There are plenty of services that’ll do it for you, and we’re going to explore some of them in this article.

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3D Scanning Services

Local vs. Global Services

Local scanning services often boast a vibrant community you can connect with
Local scanning services often boast a vibrant community you can connect with (Source: Bouygues Construction)

Obviously, in today’s global economy, whether your 3D scanning needs are fulfilled by a local service or a global service is becoming less and less important. But here are some key differences between the two:

  • Lead time: Generally, local services might have shorter lead times since they’re physically closer to you, so shipping parts to them for scanning won’t take as long. However, small local shops might have difficulty accommodating unusual orders and thus might take longer than a bigger global service.
  • Customer support: Reaching for help across time zones involves some delays. Generally, using a local service where you might even be able to meet some people who can offer help would be the preferable option.
  • Pricing: This depends on your order and your service in question. If your order is complex enough, a smaller local service might not be more economical whereas a more equipped global service might provide you a better quote. On the other hand, bigger global services might charge more in general to make up for the increased overhead of operating more complex equipment, higher staffing fees, and more.

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3D Scanning Services

Gentle Giant Studios

Digitizing a building
Digitizing a building (Source: Gentle Giant Studios)

The leader in the 3D scanning field has to be Gentle Giant Studios. If you’re a Comic Con or pop culture fan, you may know Gentle Giant, as they’re well-known for their collectible figures and busts, which boast a high level of accuracy.

A few years back, they got into 3D scanning by creating a massive multi-camera photo studio. This 3D scanning booth uses photogrammetry to stitch together a 3D mesh from every conceivable angle. The booth is also lit using cross and parallel polarized lighting to eliminate any shadows that may impact your model. They even have a mobile version so that they can bring their service to you!

Gentle Giant also offers a LIDAR scanning service for larger projects, such as scanning a building or cityscape. LIDAR uses millions of laser light pulses to create data points that can then be used to build a hyper-accurate 3D model. This makes it a highly popular technology for scanning large objects, such as buildings.

This is definitely a high-quality service, so it’s not going to be all that cheap.

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3D Scanning Services

ScanMan Express

Scanman Express' needs analysis tool
Scanman Express' needs analysis tool (Source: ScanMan Express)

ScanMan Express takes a different approach. They use both white light and blue light scanning technology to create point clouds that are then converted into high-resolution digital models.

The cost of their service averages between $350-800, depending on the size and complexity of your scanning needs. But there’s also a cost calculator that generates an exact price based on your exact scanning needs. This calculator requires users to answer a few questions that include what kind of scanning you need (inside and out), how complicated the object is to scan, and whether or not they can apply a temporary coating to enhance the scanning process. Once the questions are answered, the price is calculated.

Then, it’s simply a matter of packing up and shipping the object needed to scan and send it to ScanMan Express in Michigan. Once they receive your part, they call you to confirm your order and brief you on the process. Then they begin the scanning and send it back as soon as you need it.

ScanMan Express also takes the personal approach, assigning a scanning engineer to your order, and you can even contact them via web chat to ask questions.

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3D Scanning Services

Laser Design

Laser Design has a variety of scanning services to suit your needs
Laser Design has a variety of scanning services to suit your needs (Source: Laser Design)

Laser Design is one of the larger global services in the business. Boasting scanning options ranging from BIM scanning to reverse engineering, this is certainly a capable service to meet your needs.

This service uses industry-leading Arctec scanners to get the job done, so there’s no shortage of capable equipment here. Combined with metrology-grade 3D scanners, you’ll be in good company no matter what the scale of your project is.

The pricing of this service seems to be on par with other notable global services. Like any service, the cost will likely increase with the complexity of your project. But with large global services like this one, you’ll see less of a price jump when you knock the complexity up a few notches.

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3D Scanning Services

Join the Maker Movement

3D scanning at the Williams College makerspace
3D scanning at the Williams College makerspace (Source: The Makerspace @ Williams)

If you’re on a really tight budget, you may want to check out a local makerspace. The advantages here are obviously the cost savings, but you also have the chance of meeting some incredible like-minded individuals.

Just about every makerspace has 3D printers and some might even have 3D scanners. These spaces are usually based at a local library or community college. But several larger institutions around the country, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have ventured into 3D scanning, as well.

A good way to find a makerspace near you is to visit Make Magazine’s Maker Directory. But first, you can simply check your local library.

(Lead image source: Gentle Giant Studios)

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License: The text of "3 Best 3D Scanning Services" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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