3D scanning

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3D scanning is the process of making a 3D file from a statue, model, or building.

Structured-light scanning

Structured-light scanning is making a 3D file of an object just using a camera or a camcorder with either 1) a projected grid from a video projector or 2) a projected line(s) from low power laser light source (generally, a laser-pointer or similar). It should be born in mind that 3D scanning produces clouds of discrete points, not contiguous surfaces. A scanned primitive shape like a cube or a sphere is not recognised by CAD programs, and point cloud processing software is often the most expensive component of commercial systems.


SplineScan was a free and open source software project that reached a high level of polish and sophistication, but has now been discontinued. The code has been forked into a new project, for more info see the RepRap local documentation stub SplineScan.

Fab Lab Created a reasonable Open Source 3D scanner - FabScan based on a turntable and a line laser that can be driven from a RAMPS board. Unfortunately a memory leak in the underlying Qt library code prevents useful quantities of scan points being gathered as of the end of 2014.

David Laserscanner is closed source but there is a *free* basic scanning software version, and a commercial edition that costs €199, for which you get additional tools for assembling and combining multiple scans of the same object into a watertight model, and for applying textures. David requires a 3-plane "corner" with calibration targets, a laser line generator, red or green, and a web cam or a video recording of the line being swept over the target in the "corner". There's also a "for sale" starter kit. The kit costs €400 and you need a Windows computer. You get a suitable camera and laser line, and the panels to build and calibrate the "corner". They've spent a lot of time on their website, and there's good feedback and advice from users and the vendors through good forums, and many real-world user examples. If you already have a laser line generator, and a web or video camera, and three 600mm x 600mm sheets of MDF or similar, you can build a David scanner and be operating it within a couple of hours. Scan output is .obj, and if you're using the free version, Meshlab can assemble and stitch multiple scans into one object.


There are probably a number of expensive solutions for doing this, based on good software, a camera, and a laser pointer. And good marketing.

Photogrammetry scanning

This is making a 3D file of an object just using a camera, or a camcorder, even without a laser-pointer-like light source.

Technically this is called 'photogrammetry' or more precisely 'object reconstruction'. The following is a list of free programs, but the full list is available from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photogrammetry

Platform Standalone / Plugin Automatic modeling Scalability Data source Inception Vendor / creator Software License Description
123D Catch (Beta) Windows/OSX/iOS, Web-based Standalone part of the 123D suite Yes No, limit of 70 images (40 on iphone app) Images/Video 2011 Autodesk Freemium General purpose
Ames Stereo Pipeline Linux/OS X Standalone Yes No, 2 images only Images Unknown NASA Open Source map mars landscape with only 2 cameras
ARC3D Web-based Standalone No, use MeshLab Yes, multiple images Images 2005 KU Leuven Proprietary Upload pictures, download point-cloud
CMVS  ? Standalone  ? Yes, multiple images Images (from the internet) Completed? University of Washington GPL “build” Rome in a day from pictures on the internet
Correlator3D Windows Standalone Yes Yes, multiple images Images 2003 SimActive Inc. Proprietary & Patented 3D mapping from aerial and satellite images
Enwaii Windows/Linux/OS X Standalone/Plugin (Maya) No Yes, multiple images Images/Video/LIDAR 2008 Banzai Pipeline Ltd Proprietary High-end 3d scans of sets for Hollywood CG.
Harvester TBD Standalone TBD Yes, multiple images Images Incomplete User:Midge GPL DIY 3D scanning
Hypr3D (now [1] Cubify Capture) Web-based Standalone Yes Yes, multiple images Images/Video 2010 Viztu Technologies Proprietary upload pictures, download .stl
Insight 3D Windows/Linux Standalone Yes? Yes, multiple images Images Incomplete Lukas Mach AGPL 3 generate point-clouds of scenes (e.g., buildings)
libmv Matchmoving backend for Blender Blender backend Yes Yes Images/Video Incomplete community effort MIT License primarily matchmoving, but also reconstructing 3d models
Mementify iOS Standalone Yes Yes, multiple images Images 2012 Tretja dimenzija, XLAB proprietary App-based photo upload and model download
My3DScanner Web-based Standalone No Yes, multiple images Images 2010? My3DScanner Proprietary upload pictures, download point-cloud
PHOV Web-based (free trial) Standalone Yes Yes, multiple images Images 2010 XLAB Proprietary upload pictures, download point-cloud
Python Photogrammetry Toolbox Windows/Linux/OS X Standalone Yes Yes, multiple images Images Unknown Arc-Team GPL? Runs CMVS on any platform without installing Cygwin
StereoScan Windows/Linux/OS X Standalone Yes No, 2 images only Images 2010 Agisoft Proprietary Generate 3d meshes from 2 pictures
VisualSFM Windows/Linux/OS X Standalone Yes Yes, multiple images Images Unknown Changchang Wu Apache 2.0 (Open Source, but non-commercial) GUI for CMVS
WebDLT Web-based Standalone No Yes, multiple images Images 2012 B. Molnar, BME FMT Proprietary? Upload pictures, type physical measurements, and download DXF

Touch-probe scanning

Main page: CMM
  • "Robot Arm Type": here a human guides a 'finger' of a device that looks like a robot arm over a model or sculpture. This deals well with overhangs and precise geometries like boreholes or outer diameters.
  • "Generic Touch Probe": we can mount a touch probe toolhead on a 2+1 axis machine like a CNC router, mill, or RepRap. This is convenient if we don't have a robot arm handy.

Further reading

See also David_Project.