3D Scanner and 3D Model Acquisition

A three-dimensional scanner or 3D scanner is a 3D digitisation and acquisition device used to perform a 3D scan, which is to collect data about a physical object, particularly about its shape and texture. A 3D scanner is often used to create 3D summary files, particularly for 3D printing.

Artec 3d scanner example
Example of an Artec manual 3D scanner (Photo credit : Artec group)

The different 3D scanner technologies

3D scanner technology appeared in the 1980s. It is generally classified in 3 families:

These 3 technologies can be combined for a more effective result.

In the case of laser triangulation, the scanner projects a grid or a checkerboard, and a camera measures the grid’s deformity at a known distance from the laser source. The reflection angle is interpretedto determine the object’s measurements.

There are many kinds of devices: stationary or mobile, manual or automatic. To learn more, we have created a 3D scanners guide that you can find on our blog.

Triangulation scanner
Illustration of a triangulation scanner operation

Reconstructing a 3D file from a 3D scan

Whatever the 3D scanning technology used, it is inevitably followed by a data processing step. The line scan and/or the images taken by the camera are combined in order to create a scatter diagram with the help of specific 3D software such as Geomagic. Different steps are often necessary to obtain a useable 3D file, including:

After completing these steps, you can export data as a volume file or a mesh. 3D scan software programs often allow you to export in different formats such as STLOBJ, WRML, etc.

The 3D scanning steps can be followed by reverse designing the scanned object, which involves remodelling the scanned object using CAD software. The user thus recovers a 3D model that may subsequently be modified. Modern CAD software provides automated object redesign.

3D scan uploaded on sculpteo

Illustration of a 3D scan uploaded on sculpteo.com 

The main uses of 3D scanners in 3D printing

3D scanners have been used for many years in the medical field, buildings and public works, and in industry to take measurements, for quality control, three-dimensional analysis, structural deformity analysis, or to recover a plan.

3D reconstruction from a 3D scan is an undeniable asset for 3D printing as it’s a technique used to create 3D files without going through the 3D or CAD modelling stage.

Some of the most frequent uses are scanning people to print 3D figurines, scanning parts for reverse engineering, or 3D printing 3D elements from medical scans.

However, some objects are easier to scan than others:

Reflective surfaces or very dark objects are more difficult to scan. One possible solution is to cover them in a fine layer of powder, like talc. Another challenge is that an object’s interior cannot be scanned. The 3D scan can then be used as a first step to recover the general shape of an objectand serve as a basis for 3D modelling. Some 3D software programs are better suited to handling scanned 3D files, like MeshLab or Meshmixer (links to come). To learn more, please refer to our video “Ask a 3D Designer” that explains how to handle scanned 3D files and the ways to clean and repair them to make them suitable for 3D printing.

Find the Nearest 3D Scanning Spot

Buying a 3D scanner implies costs, skills and a tracking often better mastered by a 3D scanning service. In this way, we decided to create a database that collect a verified list of 3D local scanning services and individuals who want to share their scanner and skills.

This database is available as a map in which you can display the
various spots where a 3D scanner is available (professionnal
service, individual, fablab, university…). With the buttons,
choose to show 3D scanners near to your location or in an specified

As the 3D print and scan sector grows, the map could be outdated
and a spot may no longer be available. We invite you to contact
us to tell us about a change.

In the same way, you can add a 3D scanning place by contacting us. In order to add a new spot, please send us its name, address and any contact information you have (phone number, e-mail, website, social media).