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How does 3D scanning work?


Do you know that 3D scanning can be a way to start a 3D printing project? Indeed, building a three-dimensional representation of an object can be made, from scratch, by using 3D modeling software, or by using a 3D scanning process. If you are interested in this 3D method, you might want to know how it works. You will find all the answers you are looking for in this blog post.

What is 3D scanning, how does it work and how can this be used for 3D printing? Let’s find out.

What is 3D scanning?

3D scanning is a process of analyzing an object from the real world, to collect all the data in order to recreate its shape and appearance, digitally. Thanks to this process, the object can become a 3D model, which could help you as a base for the 3D project you are about to develop, but it can also be useful to reconstruct, analyze, or simulate ideas.

Different machines and methods exist to 3D scan objects. You might not know it, but there are different ways possible to create a digital version of a real object. We are going to see more in detail of how each of them works. There are a lot of different 3D scanning methods, but today, we will focus on three of them, that we can consider as the main ones: Laser 3D scanning, photogrammetry, and structured light scanning. The choice of the 3D scanning technique will be made regarding your project or its context.

How does 3D scanning work?

Laser 3D scanning

Laser 3D scanning is certainly the most common and used 3D scanning technique. Digitally capturing the shape of the object using laser light to get a digital representation of the real object. These 3D scanners are able to measure really fine details and capture free-form shapes to generate highly accurate point clouds.

This laser scanning technique is perfect for measurement and inspection of complex geometries. It allows getting measurements and data from where it is impractical with traditional methods!

A scanner using laser light is a little bit like a camera: it can only capture what is in its field of view. With this process, a laser dot or line is projected on an object from the device and a sensor measures the distance to the surface of this object.

By processing this data, it can be converted into a triangulated mesh, and then a CAD model.


Photogrammetry is a science of making a measurement from photographs! It seems pretty simple, no? This method uses the parallax obtained between several pictures, taken from different points of view. Photogrammetry can be used to record complex 2D and 3D motion fields. It imitates the stereoscopy of the binocular human vision, and it is used to get all information of existing physical objects. Indeed, this process collects the data regarding the shape, the volume, and the depth of the subject that you are trying to scan.

This is the method used to turn several pictures into an accurate 3D design. It won’t allow you to get the most accurate result, but by using good photogrammetry software you could actually reach a satisfying result!

Structured Light Scanning

With this Structured Light Scanning method, one of the camera positions used in previous scanning methods is actually replaced by a projector that projects different light patterns on the surface of an object. The way the objects distorts these patterns is recorded, allowing to create the 3D scan.

The structured light scanning process is used in facial or environment recognition technologies.

How to use 3D scanning?

3D scanning can be a faster and easier technique to create a 3D model for 3D printing if you just want to recreate an existing object. Once you have your 3D model, you can add the modifications to it, it can actually be a great basis to start your project.  

What are the applications of these 3D scans? The medical sector is really making the most of this scanning technology. It is also helping to create made to measure prosthesis for patients, from 3D scans. The use of 3D scans is already quite popular in the dental sector, for example, to observe, simulate options, or even create some dental devices, like braces, implants, and dentures. Using 3D scanning and 3D printing is perfect to avoid all the disadvantages of molds and the whole process of creating these molds.

3D scanning has numerous benefits. It is even a solution to stock data that we can use later. Do you know that some 3D scans of Notre-Dame, the French cathedral that partially burned on the 15 April 2019, could be used in order to restore it? 3D scanning has a lot of potentials.

Selection of the best 3D scanners

Here is a little selection of the best 3D scanners available on the market.

Artec EVA Lite

The EVA Liter scanner is a portable device able to scan complex geometrical objects with a high accuracy and high quality. This 3D scanner can be used, for example, in the medical sector.  This structured light 3D scanner is a good solution if you are looking for a device which allows for quick but really good scans with a high resolution.

Zeiss GOM Scan 1

Here is a small 3D scanner with industrial standards. The GOM Scan 1 is available in three different measurement volumes, allowing you to scan small to medium-sized objects (from 100 x 65 mm to 400 x 65 mm).

Scanner 3D Phiz

The Phiz 3D scanner from Kiri Innovations offers an interesting approach to digitizing without investing in an expensive equipment. This scanner uses the camera already present on current mobile phones, and on the computing power of the latter. You can scan any object between 50 and 400 mm³ in size, as long as it weighs less than 2 kg

Matter and form V2

If you want to go to the next level in terms of quality, you can invest in a desktop 3D scanner. This one is compact, easy to use, and has good resolution, especially considering its cost. This scanner is great for educational or demonstration purposes, but it is not an advanced 3D device. The scanning process uses laser beams and an automatic turntable. It takes about five minutes and captures textures as well.

EinScan SP

The professional 3D scanner is an improved version of its predecessor, the EinScan SE. Indeed, this new machine is more accurate and quite faster. This 3D scanner is for experienced users and professional purposes. It offers different scan modes, and a precision less than 0.05 mm.

Professional portable 3D scanner: MetraSCAN 750

The Creaform MetraSCAN 750 is a complete professional, industrial solution for accurate 3D scanning. It is light, accurate, fast, and scans with great accuracy, any type of material, with any type of texture.

Shining 3D EinScan Pro HD 

This professional scanner have several versions. This 3D EinScan Pro HD comes with a new optimized version, with an optimized lighting projection and a brand new software algorithm, the Pro HD can scan a greater number of objects that are dark or black in color and covers a wider range of materials.

Faro Freestyle 2

The Freestyle 2 is one of the most versatile 3D scanners available on the market. From crime scenes to construction sites, this light 3D scanner can capture everything in photorealistic 3D reality, with a range of 0.4 to 5 meters.

Best 3D scanning apps

3D scanning can be as easy as using your own smartphone or setting up a bunch of cameras. There are 3 methods to use 3D scanning technology: laser 3D scanning, photogrammetry, and structured light scanning. A lot of 3D scanning apps are available, here is a little selection to help you make your choice.

  • 3DF Zephyr

3DF Zephyr is one of the leaders on the market thanks to its UI, it is a photogrammetry software. It is very intuitive and user-friendly. Inexperienced users will be guided through the 3D scanning process, however, 3DF Zephyr is not only for amateurs. Professionals from different fields will use a lot of helpful tools, such as the ability to transform the model into CAD software. There are also plenty of options to tweak the 3D model and adjust it.

  • Artec Studio

Certainly one of the leaders in the 3D scanning software industry. It offers a professional set of tools and innovative algorithms to calculate the gathered 3D data and provide you with the best results. Another great feature of Artec is its user-friendliness and intuitive UI.

  • Qlone

This is all-in-one mobile 3D scanning software. Qlone will allow you to 3D scan and produce a 3D model with just your smartphone. It’s easy and fast to use. The 3D model can be exported into several 3D formats and sent for 3D printing.

  • Trnio

Trnio can be considered as photogrammetry software but can be used on a smartphone. It turns pictures into 3D objects, but you can also actually 3D scan the object. It offers two quality options: high and low texturing resolution.

We hope this blog post helped you to see clearly how 3D scanning techniques are working. Are you already using some of these 3D scanning methods? Tell us everything in the comments. If you are interested in 3D scanning, check out our blog post of the best 3D scanners, to see which one could actually help you with your project.

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