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In the Eye of the Camera Holder

Best DIY 3D Scanners of 2018 (You Can Build or Buy)

Picture of Ricardo Pires
by Ricardo Pires
Sep 3, 2018

Did you know that you can make your own 3D scans without any special or expensive equipment? Did you know that making your own 3D scanner can actually be a very fun DIY project? Here are a number of ways you can build your own DIY 3D scanner.

What Do People Scan?

Superman X-ray scanning.
Superman X-ray scanning. Source: Quora

What does Superman have in common with the dystopian society portrayed in Philip K. Dick’s novel “Scanner Darkly”? If you instantly thought about the shared ability to scan everything and everyone, then we’re both thinking along the same lines.

3D scanning technology has a significant impact on various industries, from security and public surveillance systems to the medical sector. Its role in computer vision, robotics, and autonomous driving cannot be understated either. In the context of 3D printing, one of the key values of 3D scanning real-world objects is that it can save you a lot of time when modeling and sculpting 3D models.

For a fun DIY project related to 3D scanning, you may only need a digital SLR camera, or even your smartphone camera. So sit tight for some of the most interesting DIY 3D scanner projects.

The Importance of Light

Light behaviour on different objects
Light behaviour on different objects Source: Maggiesscienceconnection.weebly.com

Before we begin describing the projects, the are a couple of points that are important to consider when you’re actually scanning. Whatever scanner you go for, a commercial or a DIY one, most likely it will be using light to perform the scanning. Your scanning sensor may use ambient light, or light emitted by the scanner. Either way, you’ll be using photons bouncing off the object of interest and hit the scanning sensors.

If your object is especially dark a considerable amount of light will be absorbed, which means that information about the shape of your object will be lost, making 3D scanning painfully difficult. Similarly, transparent and translucent objects will also pose a problem. 

The other important point to consider is the surface finish of your object, if it has a more mate appearance, or a glossier look. Glossy surfaces are very reflective, which means that light will bound of them in unusual ways that will make scanning difficult too.

Unless you are using laser-based systems, you are likely to want your object to be as evenly illuminated as possible, and if you can afford working with white objects is one of the best possibiltites. So, spray painting objects in white can be handy in some cases.

Photogrammetry: Your Smartphone Is Your Scanner

One must take photos of an object from multiple angles.
One must take photos of an object from multiple angles. Source: PhysicalDigital.com

Photogrammetry, the process of estimating 3D coordinates from multiple images of the same object, is by far your cheapest doorway to 3D scanning. While some professional long-range aerial scanners can easily cost hundreds of thousands of Euros, you might be able to use cameras suspended in balloons (or kites) to achieve professional-quality results for 1% of that cost.

Using a smartphone camera will also do the job. Today’s smartphone cameras are good enough to achieve a very nice print out of an entire project. Simply set the camera in manual exposure, hold your camera (or smartphone) in your hand and snap photos around your target of choice, from as many angles as you can. Ensure that there is a good degree of overlap in the field of view between the different shots (70-80%). Try to keep a constant distance from your object and keep it in the centre of the frame. You might begin by taking 50 photos, but of course the more images you take, the more accurate your final model is likely to be.

Photogrammetry heavily relies on the quality of the software being used to correlate all images and extract the appropriate set of coordinates that define your object. Thus, compared to laser-based systems, the role of software in editing, cleaning, healing, inspecting and rendering your scans becomes even more important.

3D Scanning & Editing Software

Editing the 3D mesh obtained after processing the scanned data.
Editing the 3D mesh obtained after processing the scanned data. Source: MeshLab

You have plenty of options in the market for software to render and edit information stemming from a 3D scan. Typically, this type of software can be rather expensive, and professional hardware manufacturers often provide their own software solution to take on the job.

But if you have your eye on photogrammetry, you can use a combination of different freely available software, including ColMap or VisualSFM coupled with CMVS-PMVS. These can be further processed by open source programs such as MeshLab, Blender or Cloud Compare for correct rendering and editing of the captured data.

If you go for an all-in-one package directly from your smartphone or tablet, you might consider TRNIO (iOS), which uses cloud-based computing, or SCANN3D (Android), which operates locally. (You might want to have a high-end device for the second one.)

For computer-based processing, 3DF Zephyr offers a free version that will allow you to process up to 50 images, as well as Agisoft Photoscan and Reality Capture. Autodesk also offers the reality capturing software ReCap for both computer and mobile systems that can be used for photogrammetry of laser-based scans.

DIY 3D Scanner Project 1: The 30$ 3D Scanner V7

Image of: DIY 3D Scanner Project 1: The 30$ 3D Scanner V7
Source: daveyclk / Thingiverse

This is the easiest DIY 3D scanner project you can build. The basic idea is to assemble a rotating platform onto which you dock a smartphone. In its simplest implementation the system is not motorized. All you need is a stable plate freely rotating around its central axis, onto which you place the object to be scanned. From this module, you can extend an arm that will steadily hold a smartphone (or a digital camera), which will be kept at a fixed position while the turntable is manually rotated.

Thingiverse has a couple neat designs, but to us the best is The $30 3D Scanner V7, by daveyclk. It’s operated by manually rotating a knob that drives a turntable. This is a great option since you can frame your object so that your hand is not in the field of view.

For several cameras, including smartphones, it’s possible to set multiple exposures automatically. As the shooting begins, all you need to worry about is rotating the knob. Make sure you give the turntable several rotations. In this way, without too much care, you can definitely obtain a high degree of overlap between different images.

DIY 3D Scanner Project 2: Cellphone 3D Scanner

Image of: DIY 3D Scanner Project 2: Cellphone 3D Scanner
Source: Tomodachi1 / Thingiverse

If you’re into Arduino gadgetry, you’ll like these projects. The idea of the Cellphone 3D Scanner, by Tomodachi1, is to have your object placed inside a circular slider, where a smartphone can be attached. While the object rests immobile, the smartphone camera will rotate around it.

Powered by Arduino controllers, simply start this DIY 3D scanner and let its minions do everything for you. For this, you’re going to need a Bluetooth smartphone selfie remote control to activate the shutter, as well as some additional parts.

DIY 3D Scanner Project 3: The FabScan Project

Image of: DIY 3D Scanner Project 3: The FabScan Project
Source: The Media Computing Group

If you’re more into laser triangulation and some computation to boot, then this DIY 3D scanner project in the one for you. The Fabscan project, originally developed in 2010 as part of a bachelor thesis, is a laser-based 3D scanner with a turntable. It has grown to include 4 different versions, with either Arduino or Raspberry Pi brains.

This project is not based on 3D printed meterials, but instead cut MDF boards, from which an enclosure and some other parts will be assembled. The project webpage is very complete, giving a detailed list of materials and layouts for cutting pieces as well as assembly instructions. For complementary info, you can also check out some instructables, including this Arduino-based version or its Raspberry Pi brother. FabScan also found a home at GitHub, so check it out too.

Along the same lines as FabScan, there are some interesting alternatives. These include the Free Laser Scanning System, or FreeLSS for short, an open source, open hardware and open electronic design for laser 3D scanning. Again, the basic setup has a turntable module where your object is going to sit, but this time you’ll have one camera and two lasers pointing at it. Triangulation is handled by a Raspberry Pi module, from which you can generate point cloud files and 3D triangle meshes. Similarlly, the Maker Scanner is another very interesting proposition, as is the Ciclop 3D Scanner.

DIY 3D Scanner Project 4: Aerial Photogrammetry

Aerial photogrammetry of a fortified church in Transylvania.
Aerial photogrammetry of a fortified church in Transylvania. Source: FotografieAeriana.Eu

Feeling more inclined towards aerial photogrammetry? Then you don’t want to miss this. Essentially all you need is to place your camera up there, closer to the clouds. Once you collect your images from up above, the process of rendering the model is no different from what you would do if you had imaged pebbles by the beach using a handheld camera.

To start, ensure you have a remote (infrared) shutter release system in your camera, so that you can fire the camera when it’s in position. Then, to bring the camera up, you can use a drone, a balloon or — if it’s too windy — you might be better off with a kite. Naturally, you’ll need a frame to hold your camera and protect it from crashes. Have a look at this great instructable from the Public Laboratory, with a video for further clarification.

Finally, use your favourite software to process the images you acquire from a particular site. If you need further inspiration, you can have a look at this report where archeologists used ballons to map an archeological site.

Commercial Options

The Sense 2 3D scanner.
The Sense 2 3D scanner. Source: 3D Systems

For scanning people or large options, your best choice might well be a more commercial grade system. Here at All3DP we recently issued the 20 Best 3D Scanners of Summer 2018.

The Sense 2 by 3D Systems is able to scan objects up to 2 x 2 x 2 m³ with an operating range of up to 1.6 m and a resolution of 0.9 mm. Alternatively, you have the EinScan-Pro and the EinScan-Pro+. They’ll cost you significantly more than an average handheld 3D scanner but, in handheld mode, have an accuracy of 0.3 mm, which can increase by up to 0.05 mm if the scanner is stationary.

License: The text of "Best DIY 3D Scanners of 2018 (You Can Build or Buy)" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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