3D Body Scanning from A to Z

By Svetlana Golubeva
Sep 08, 2020
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From custom prosthetics to perfectly fitted clothes, 3D printed figurines to realistic game avatars, 3D body scanners are becoming a key instrument for gaining valuable insight into the human body. In this article, we’ll cover the different types of body 3D scanners, the main challenges of capturing the human body, and look at how they are being used in medical, sports, clothing, and entertainment industries.

TYPE
Handheld, Stationary
APPLICATIONS
Healthcare, Sports & Fitness, Fashion, VR, Video Games, Movies, 3D Figurines
PRICE RANGE
$500 – $40,000

Introduction

The advent of 3D scanning technology has opened up new doors and possibilities for many industries. One particular type of scanner gaining more and more popularity in areas such as healthcare, fitness, clothing, 3D figurine printing, and entertainment are 3D body scanners.

This type of scanner was designed specifically to rapidly and accurately capture the human bodies in three dimensions, and obtain the data about their shape, proportions. and different measurements faster and easier than traditional manual methods. Developed in the late 1980s, 3D body scanning technologies were initially introduced as a response to the growing needs of the apparel industry to improve the fit of their ready-to-wear garments. Today, they are widely used in many spheres from sports to healthcare as a quick and accurate way to gain quantitative and qualitative information about the evolution of the human body.

Let’s see how different 3D body scanners work and what tasks they can handle in more detail.

How do 3D body scanners work?

3D body scanners, as the name suggests, are scanners that can digitally capture the entire human body, or just individual parts such as arms, legs, ears, or the head, by taking thousands of snapshots of a person’s body and then stitching them all together into a point cloud to build a 3D model.

There are full-body scanners, also called 3D booths or mirrors that can capture a person from top to toe, and handheld 3D scanners that are suitable both for capturing full-body and individual body parts. Apart from the hardware that captures the body, there’s also 3D processing software which analyses all the raw data and extracts measurement details.

There are 3D body scanners based on structured light technology, laser line triangulation, photogrammetry, and others. There are also mobile applications that use the camera of a smartphone, computer vision, and machine learning algorithms to create realistic 3D avatars from a person’s photo.

With all that in mind, all today’s 3D body scanners can be grouped in three categories:

A

3D scanning booths & home body scanners

B

Handheld 3D body scanners

C

Mobile body scanning apps

A. 3D scanning booths & home body scanners

3D body scanning booths are stationary cabins or kiosks usually equipped with scanners, sensors, or DSLR cameras (or a combination of all three) around the booth to capture the body from all angles. The person (or several people) stands in the center of the booth holding a certain pose, while the scanning technician does all the necessary preparations and runs the system setup in the background.

Example of a scanning booth

Depending on the hardware and software installed in the booth, the whole process can take just a few seconds which makes it easy for a person being scanned to keep the pose without moving and/or blinking. The result of a booth scanning session is a full color 3D model that can be printed in sandstone or other printing material in a 3D print shop.

More examples of 3D body capturing systems are 3D mirrors, 3D fitting rooms, and at-home scanning kits. Such devices usually use a combination of 3D imaging technologies; these may be integrated into a mirror or a stand that rotates around the person standing on a special platform (which is also a scale) or in some cases, the platform itself rotates to move the person 360 degrees while a stationary scanner takes 3D snapshots of the body.

The output of such scanners is not just a model of a person (usually with no texture), but a series of 3D measurements and parameters that this certain 3D scanner is capable of extracting. Usually such systems are used in sports and fitness to track the progress of the body during the course of exercise, and diet programs or clothing brands to capture individual body measurements to create personalized and custom-fitted garments.

B. Handheld 3D body scanners

These types of body 3D scanners have been on the market for quite some time, and unlike 3D booths designed for full bodies only, these scanners can also be used for capturing individual body parts or limbs in high detail. Such devices are way more flexible and portable, and can be carried around the subject to perform a scan. And the results are much more accurate than what you get from a scanning booth.

Clinical specialist using handheld scanner to scan young patient's ear​

After the scan, the output 3D models, colored or textureless, are usually exported into some specialized 3D software for further processing – for example, to create customized prosthetics, orthotics or personalized accessories such as jewelry or glasses.

C. Mobile body scanning apps

Such applications utilize the power of the smartphone camera, 3D sensors that have recently been introduced in some of the latest smartphones and tablets, and AI algorithms to get body measurement data from just a few photos. They are usually targeted at end-consumers who don't have access to high-end body scanners, providing them with essential metrics to track their fitness progress or ease their online shopping experience by offering a selection of clothing that would fit them best.

3D body scanner applications

3D body scanners can be used in a variety of applications, from creating 3D printed figurines to collecting body measurement data, opening up new opportunities for technological advances in fields such as medicine, dietology, and fashion. Let’s consider several of the most popular applications and industries they are used by.

3D printed figurines and 3D selfies

One way 3D scanners are used in real life is for creating realistic models of people ready for 3D printing. Gone are the days when we used to go to our local photo studio or automatic booth to take a family portrait. Now we can get a 3D portrait of ourselves and our loved ones in a local 3D booth that is now installed in shopping malls and centers around the world, or go for a 3D scanning session to a specialized 3D scan/printing company.

3D printed figurine of a man and his dog

3D printed figurines, 3D portraits or 3D selfies as they are sometimes called is the new way of capturing and keeping important life memories. Getting a 3D scan of yourself is easy and fast almost as taking a photo on a smartphone, and then, in a few days, you get a 3D printed figurine which you can place at your desk or gift to your friend or family member. A perfect and beautiful example of this is 3D printed figurines of pregnant women that the Dutch company Bellyprint creates from the body scans made with Artec Eva during their third trimester.

Fitness

Another application that is gaining more and more popularity among fitness clubs, gyms, athletes, personal trainers and their customers is tracking body changes to achieve certain fitness or dietary goals such as muscle build or fat loss.

Scanning an athlete with a body scanner​

Such 3D scanners are not only able to capture the body in 3D but also analyze the captured data and extract all sorts of measurements from basic waistline and hip circumference to body shape, posture, and weight. Plus, they provide interactive reposts of how the body changes over time and allow the users to visually see and track the progress of their fitness plan.

Devices like that usually don’t capture the color and texture of the body and mostly focus on the shape and its progression over time.

Fashion

The apparel industry has been measuring human bodies long before 3D scanners came onto the scene. Until the early 20th century, clothes were mostly custom-tailored and sewed according to the customer's individual measurements, usually taken by a professional tailor. Then came the war, and with it the introduction of the uniform ready-to-wear sizing system that we still widely use today. While that marked huge progress for the clothing industry, it still wasn’t – and isn’t – ideal. People come in different shapes and sizes, and it’s hard to fit everybody into the standard size range. While our closets still reflect the mass-consumer mindset, 3D body capture technologies are gradually changing it.

Virtual try-on

Clothing brands started to use 3D scanners to provide custom-fitting service for the customers who demanded extra personalization as well as the replacement of the old and lengthy manual measuring methods. Instead of walking around the customer with a measuring tape, precise and accurate measurements can now be captured in a matter of seconds, and used to create a perfectly fitted garment.

Some brands incorporate 3D scanners into their fitting rooms right at the store and let their customers try on clothes faster, change colors, mix and match the accessories – all without having to undress or leave the fitting room. Other brands incorporate virtual fitting rooms into their web stores to help their customers select the clothes that would fit their bodies best, and try them on without leaving their house. The client can simply upload their 3D avatar and try-on clothes and see how they fit.

On a global scale, some countries are employing 3D scanning technology to conduct nationwide anthropometric surveys and collect 3D body scan data to improve their sizing systems. And some brands are already using this data to improve their sizing systems.

Healthcare

Another area where 3D body scanners are transforming the ability to accurately measure and visualize a person’s body size, shape, posture and skin surface area is healthcare. Medical practitioners, just like professional tailors, have traditionally measured the body’s size and shape by hand, and used that data to assess health status and offer corresponding treatment.

3D scanning a patient’s body

Thanks to the advent of 3D body scanning tech, doctors and clinicians can now get hundreds of accurate measurements of a patient’s body completely automatically in just a few seconds. They can then use this external data (all alone, or in combination with the data from more invasive procedures like X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds or CT scans) to:

  • create individual and custom-fit prostheses and orthoses;
  • evaluate skin conditions ranging from wrinkles and pigmentation to melanomas for early detection of cancer, lung function, burn treatment;
  • monitor and analyze patient’s body size, shape changes and reactions during pregnancy, plan special treatment (e.g. obesity, hormones), dietary programs or exercise;
  • calculate drug, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy doses;
  • simulate and visualize the results of cosmetic surgery, and more.

Entertainment (games, movies, special effects)

Realistic full body models captured with 3D scanners are also widely used in many modern video and PC games, action movies, VR and AR applications. Film studios have been using 3D body scanners to capture actors’ bodies and create so-called “digital doubles” to use them in visual effects and 3D animation. Video game developers scan famous actors for the same reason – instead of creating a 3D character from zero, they scan certain actors to create a base for the future character.

Scanning Arnold Schwarzenegger for the movie Terminator Genisys​

Some video game developers go further and allow their players to create a personalized 3D avatar from a selfie and play as themselves instead of using a pre-designed character. Many VR and AR applications also allow the user to upload a personalized 3D avatar which they can use during video conference calls or games.

Mobile body scanning apps

Such applications utilize the power of the smartphone camera, 3D sensors that have recently been introduced in some of the latest smartphones and tablets, and AI algorithms to get body measurement data from just a few photos. They are usually targeted at end-consumers who don't have access to high-end body scanners, providing them with essential metrics to track their fitness progress or ease their online shopping experience by offering a selection of clothing that would fit them best.

Challenges

Whether you’re planning to start a 3D figurine printing business or need a 3D scanner for your hospital, orthopedic clinic, clothing store, fitness club, filming or game studio, there are a few challenges to bear in mind when scanning a person:

1. Face and body moving when scanning with handheld 3D scanners

As mentioned before, capturing people with handheld scanners can take a little longer than doing so in a 3D body booth. Thus, people may move slightly or blink when you’re walking around them with the scanner without even noticing. To avoid that, plan the position that the person will be standing in beforehand. Scanning of a human body can take up to 4-5 minutes (or longer if you are just getting started with 3D body scanning), so make sure that the pose is comfortable, yet stable so the person can hold it without moving. In cases when a re-scan is not possible, some software solutions like Artec Studio allow you to easily fix the scans of a person that accidentally moved during the capture session.

It’s also important to make sure that the scanner that you’re using is sufficient for the job and can do it fast enough. Artec handheld scanners have a wide capture area which in combination with very high FPS (frame per second) allows you to scan the body much faster than devices with smaller field of view and lower scanning speed.

Another challenge is face scanning as people tend to blink, yawn or simply change their face expressions. Because of that, for our own 3D scanners as Eva or Leo, we recommend to start scanning with the face and then down to other body parts or capture the entire head separately from the body. Face scanning is super fast and usually takes just 5-7 seconds to get captured - just enough time for the person to look without blinking. Another tip to avoid blinking is to ask the person to choose one point in front of them (slightly above their eye level to avoid direct look at flashlights) and look at it when their face is being scanned.

It’s also helpful to scan the face and head separately when the person you are about to scan is of the same height or taller than you. In this case, capturing the top of the head is almost impossible, and it’s better to do it while the person is seated.

U.S. President Barack Obama is 3D scanned with Artec Eva to make the first ever 3D presidential portrait.​

Although you cannot avoid moving or blinking entirely, you can also significantly decrease the scanning time by working with a professional handheld 3D solution such as Artec Eva or Artec Leo that can capture the entire body extremely fast.

2. Scanning thin, hard-to-capture body parts such as fingers, ears, armpits, hair.

Another common challenge for most 3D scanners and those designed specifically for the body is capturing such tricky, thin and hard-to-reach parts of the body as fingers, armpits, legs, hair and ears. Here are a few useful tips that we at Artec learned after scanning thousands of people with our 3D devices:

We know it can be hard to keep your hands still in one place for several minutes if you don't have the patience of a monk or the will of a yoga teacher. So to avoid any movement, we recommend asking the person being scanned to hold their hands close to or against their body. For example, they can hold them on their waist or keep their arms crossed in front of the body. And if for your particular case you need to capture the fingers and hands in high detail, we recommend scanning them first, and then capturing the rest of the body to make sure that you get the best results. In some cases, it’s required to scan a person in T-pose or A-pose if you want to get the measurements data of the upper body or use the 3D model for animation.

When the arms are kept on the hips, make sure to pay extra attention and time for scanning the inner sides of the elbows and the armpits. For the Artec scanners such as Eva or Leo we recommend holding the devices at extreme angles from the front and the back to get as much data as possible. Not scanning these areas thoroughly enough can result in bad dark texture.

Legs are generally easier to scan since they are less likely to move. Still, there are a few things to keep in mind. Make sure that the person you’re scanning is standing on some textured floor, e.g. a colored carpet or a rug to keep the tracking stable. Keeping both legs within the scanner’s field of view increases the amount of visible surface.

David Alaba gets his foot scanned in color 3D

For smooth scanning we recommend pointing the device at the textured floor or the person’s feet whenever you are changing your position.

Also, don’t forget to scan the inner side of each leg. To make it easier for you, ask the person to put one foot a little bit forward before the scanning starts. This way the area between the legs is less likely to get fused together which is another common problem when scanning a human body.

Hair is another tricky “surface” to capture for body scanners as it’s usually thin, and can be messy or uneven.

Straight hair is generally easy to scan and often can be scanned as is, without making any preparation with Artec 3D scanners. Curly or thicker hair and layered or spiky hairstyles on the contrary can be difficult to scan and require some treatment to get captured.

Scanning Hair anotation text​

There are a few simple rules to remember when scanning hair. At Artec we recommend first to brush the hair to flatten it prior to the scanning session. This way the scanner pattern can be projected on the surface much more accurately, yielding a better scan. If the shape of the hair is difficult to scan, you can also flatten the hair a bit by combing or dampening it with water.

Artec scanners capture both dark and light hair equally well. And for stable tracking we recommend to always have shoulders in the scanner's field of view when capturing hair.

Before scanning people with long hair, it can be helpful to place the hair off to the back and in one place so it is less scattered. Certain hairstyles are more difficult to scan from any angle. In this case we recommend holding the scanner for a longer time to allow it to capture the necessary amount of surface bits which will be used to recreate the hair style.

When capturing complicated hair cuts, we also recommend increasing the scanner’s sensitivity to help it detect and capture hairy surfaces more easily. Thanks to the “Smart Sensitivity” feature that has been introduced in Artec Studio 12, capturing hair got even easier.

3. Scanning shiny, black or transparent surfaces such as hair accessories, jewelry, eye glasses, leather clothing, etc.

Transparent, shiny or black surfaces are known to be the most hard to capture for almost all scanners out there. Shiny surfaces tend to reflect the scanner’s light pattern, while surfaces with black color are hard to capture because they absorb the scanner’s light, making it impossible for the device to distinguish the pattern on the object. The same goes for transparent objects because the light from the scanner simply goes through the object, without having anything to reflect on. Yet, all that is not a showstopper for Artec scanners which are better at capturing these surfaces than any other body scanners out there.

Still, for more stable and even results, we don’t recommend wearing anything semi transparent, black or glossy materials such as leather, fur or paillette, and items like glasses or jewelry during a scanning session (or take them offer prior to scanning). If the item cannot be taken off, you can try using a matte spray or talc powder to cover the shiny areas. With Artec scanners, you can also activate the scanning settings in the Artec Studio software which in combination with certain scanning techniques (such as scanning under 90 degrees angle) can help you capture those hard to scan surfaces.

If you're scanning with Artec Eva, after scanning is complete, we recommend asking the person not to change their pose for a few seconds more and check the scan you’ve made for any holes or missing areas. In case you’ve missed a large area of the body it is much better to scan it immediately rather than to ask the person to recreate the same pose later – it will never be exactly the same, which will only prolong processing time.

And if you’re scanning with Artec Leo, all that is unnecessary, as you can check all the data as you scan on a touch screen panel in real time. For more information on how to scan a human body, check our video tutorial

Best Artec 3D body scanners

When it comes to scanning a human body for 3D printing, body measurements extraction, or visual effects, Artec 3D has several 3D scanners and scanning systems to choose from:

Eva

Artec Eva is a handheld structured-light 3D scanner that has proven itself for capturing a variety of objects, ranging from medium-sized industrial objects, furniture pieces, statues and monuments to human bodies and body parts. Thanks to its scanning capacities and safe-to-use structured light technology Eva can capture the full human body, as well as just an individual body part with high accuracy and in dense resolution.

William Co scanning Stan Lee with Artec Eva

The applications of the device go far and wide and include the creation of custom orthotics, prosthetics and wheelchair cushions, plastic surgery, 3D printed figurines, and more. Eva can be used for full body color scanning and printing, and once has even been used for the first presidential 3D portrait of Barack Obama.

Learn more

Eva Lite

Eva Lite is a light version of its sister Eva; this scanner features the same accuracy specs but doesn’t capture the texture data when scanning. Because of that, it collects significantly less data and, as a result, it is less power hungry and can be combined with a more affordable PC. This makes it an affordable and perfect solution for body scanning applications where the texture is not as necessary such as healthcare, sports, and fitness.

Learn more

Leo

Artec Leo is the first fully mobile handheld 3D scanner with automatic onboard processing in the Artec 3D family. It has recommended itself as a powerful and versatile solution that is capable of capturing both expansive areas and fine detail and can be used for scanning a range of objects, from small mechanical parts to human bodies, vehicles or even entire crime scenes.

Artec Leo​

Unlike other handheld scanners, Leo comes with a touchscreen display, built-in battery, powerful processor and onboard Wi-Fi. All that makes 3D body scanning as easy and flawless as taking a video on a smartphone. You can always preview the scanning results on your screen, and see which areas need to be captured, or if you need to get closer/farther from the person. With everything onboard, a scanning technician doesn’t need to be tethered to a computer to preview the results, making the scanning faster and more comfortable.

Leo has been used for creating ultra-realistic high-poly 3D models for a famous multiplayer FPS military game, creating custom, perfectly-fitting aerodynamic skinsuits for cyclists, custom prosthetics, and more.

Learn more

Shapify Booth

If you have the task of scanning 500 or more people in a day for a research project or a mass event, take a look at the Shapify Booth.

Shapify Booth​

What is the Shapify Booth? It is an automatic 3D full body scanning cabin rigged with four wide-view high-resolution 3D scanners, lighting system, and automatic post-processing software. Attached to the two side walls, the scanners make a full circle around the person (or several people) that is standing in the center of the booth, and capture it from all angles. The whole process takes around 12 seconds, then it takes another 5 minutes to preview the scan (in case a person blinked or moved and a rescan is needed) and then it’s sent to a cloud for the final post-processing which usually takes 10 to 15 minutes. The final model is full-colored and watertight, and is ready to be 3D printed or can be used to collect body measurements or uploaded into 3D software for modeling and modification.

Learn more

 

And there you have it: Body scanning from A to Z! 

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Svetlana Golubeva

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