3D Scanning

3D Scanning

Scanners, Software and How to

You don’t always have to start from scratch with 3D modeling.  Enter the 3D scanner.  Just as a scanner can scan a printed photo or document and create a digital version that is stored as a file on your computers, a 3D scanner can scan a 3D object and convert it into a file that can work with a 3D printer.

How 3D Scanning Works

There are a couple different 3D scanning applications, but in general a 3D scanner collects data from the surface of an object and creates a 3D representation of it.  This works by beaming an infrared light at an object and measuring how far away each reflected point of light is.  It then turns each individual point into a collection of points called a point cloud.

Each point in the point cloud is represented with an x, y, and z coordinate.  This point cloud is processed using scanning software into a digitized representation of the objects known as a mesh.  A mesh is similar to a point cloud, but instead of only using single points, it groups each vertex with edges that combine to form faces that describe the shape of a 3D object.

3 Main Types of Consumer Scanning Hardware


Photogrammetry processes the photo set and extrapolates a 3D mesh from two-dimensional photographs.  This is a great way to scan an object for 3D printing because it’s scanning an object with equipment that most people already have on hand.  You start by taking 10-50 photos of an object, moving slowly in a circle and capturing from both high and low angles.  Photogrammerty sites include:

Turntable Laser Scanners

Laser scanners have three components; a camera, a laser and a turntable.  The laser projects a line onto the object and the camera records the image of the laser line as it turns.  Software triangulates this information into a point cloud and a mesh is created by optimizing and connecting the dots.  Turntable scanners are great for scanning small objects, but are not suitable for objects larger than 12″ X 12″.  Turntable laser scanners include:

Hand-held Scanners

Hand-held scanners allow you to scan people, large objects and almost anything.  These scanners use infrared light and camera to record depth information.  To scan, you move slowly around an object like you’re taking a video of the object in a similar fashion to photogrammetry. Hand-held scanners include:


  • David-3D Structured Light Scanner SLS – $2,995

X-Box Kinect 3D Scanner

How-to turn a X-box Kinect into a 3D Scanner

You will need

Getting Started


  • Set your bounding box
  • Begin scanning by hitting the ‘Record’
  • Stop scanning
  • After ‘reconstructing and processing’ Save & Export

Post Process

Now that you’ve got your scan you can choose to export your file to Meshlab and remove unwanted portions of your model, smooth, fill holes or color.  Use Blender to modify your model or create new designs.  Share your model on Thingiverse.

Video Instructions

From Instructables


Free 3D Software

To get you started after your scan

Tinkercad is a free, easy-to-learn online app anyone can use to create and print 3D models.

Astroprint – Slice, Store, and Print your 3D files from any web enabled device. 

Google SketchUp Push and pull surfaces to turn them into 3D forms 

3DTin is the world’s first 3D modeling tool that runs in a browser so anyone can make anything. 

3D Scanning
Article Name
3D Scanning
With 3D Scanning a 3D scanner can scan a 3D object and convert it into a file that can work with a 3D printer.