How to choose a 3D scanner

Introduction

It is no secret that the fast development of 3D scanning technology has made it possible to drastically improve countless applications in multiple industries. 3D scanning has made workflows much more flexible, as well as more time and cost efficient than ever before. It’s no wonder that more and more companies are integrating this cutting edge technology into their day-to-day work. However, with so many 3D scanning solutions available on the market today, selecting the right 3D scanner for your needs can be a rather overwhelming process.

Here are some quick tips for selecting a 3D scanner

When it comes to making the right choice for your first 3D scanner, it’s important to take a few simple yet crucial steps, so you can see for yourself exactly which one is best for you. First of all, choose a typical part that you’ll be scanning on a regular basis, or something very similar, and bring it along with you to an exhibition such as Formnext. Take it around to all the 3D scanning companies exhibiting there. Simply ask them to scan it for you and then watch how they do it. You’ll see some differences right then and there. After this, check the final results for each one. Compare their various scanning workflows, how they process the scan data, as well as the final model created by each scanner.

The first thing to look at when comparing 3D models

And when we focus for a second on what’s most important when choosing a scanner, at the top of the stack, it’s all about resolution. Yes, accuracy is also very important, yet it’s hard to check that when you’re there on the spot. But you can clearly see for yourself the quality of the resolution, so you can immediately compare multiple scans made with different scanners.

Know who you’re buying from

It’s also a smart idea to read reviews online and see what users are saying about the scanner as well as the company that makes it. What kind of support does the company provide? This is definitely important. A good 3D scanner is going to last around 10 years, so you need to know what kind of support you’ll be getting over this long period of time.

The proof is in the process

Try to get a feel for how easy it is to use the scanner. How much time will you need to invest in training before you can get the best results from the scanner? And overall, how easy will the scanning process itself be? Do you need to add markers to the object, or can the scanner keep good enough track of everything while scanning without them? The easier it is to scan, the faster your whole workflow is going to be.

Is the software up to date?

The software that goes with the scanner is a key part of 3D scanning. How good is the scanner’s software and how often is it being updated? If it’s not updated regularly, then after, let’s say, five years, you’re not going to be a very happy user.

The lowest price may not be the best price

It’s worth investing in a good scanner that will serve you well for years to come. There’s no point in buying something you’ll just wind up leaving on the shelf because it doesn’t work good enough — even if you did pick it up at a great price. Better to take out a loan and invest in professional equipment. If you have a solid business and a stable income, you can easily qualify for a bank loan for this.

Don’t focus on the technology, choose what’s right for you

In terms of which 3D scanning technologies are most desirable, let’s just say that all modern 3D scanning technologies are great, so it really depends on what type(s) of object you need to scan and the results you want to get. When choosing a 3D scanner, you don’t need to worry about what technology the scanner is based on. This isn’t relevant. What you do need to think about is which 3D scanner is right for your application. For example, if you need to scan something very small, you want to choose a scanner that’s able to capture the smallest details of the object in high resolution. But let’s say you need to scan something from a distance of 100m, then you’re going to need a long range scanner. That said, the specifics of how each scanner does this, using which technology, is of no real importance to the user. When you choose a TV, for example, you don’t think about what parts are inside. You simply care about how it works and the quality of the picture you get on the screen.

Learn more about key criteria for choosing a 3d scanner

To make sure that you have all the necessary information prior to committing to a purchase, we have also created this following short guide to help you make the right decision. It will address those all-important questions which you need to ask yourself, such as:

  • What will I be 3D scanning?
  • What technical specifications do I need to take into consideration?
  • What is the difference between a handheld and a stationary 3D scanner?
  • What is the price range for a professional 3D scanner?

1. Accuracy

Accuracy refers to thow close to the actual object we have come in creating its virtual copy. How close are the dimensions of the 3D model to those of the object?

Left: Actual size of the impeller cylinder measured with a micrometer — 29.80 mm.
Right: 3D model — size 29.85 mm

 

Accuracy is extremely important when key decisions need to be made based on the 3D scan data. This is especially true for industrial applications, when precision is of the utmost significance.

To get the best accuracy, the scanner needs to be calibrated. All 3D scanners are initially factory calibrated, where the manufacturer ensures the best possible accuracy of the device. For some 3D scanners onsite calibration is also possible. This is where the accuracy settings of the 3D scanner can be manually adjusted by the customer to meet the manufacturers’ optimal standards any time after the purchase to better suit his or her needs.

Highly-accurate handheld 3D scanners are great for industrial applications

 

Only professional 3D scanners are able to provide high accuracy and though they are pricier than scanners with lower specs, they are almost always worth the investment.

Manufacturers of 3D scanners will always state the accuracy in the specs of their device. The accuracy you require depends on the task at hand, but ultimately the choice is yours.

2. Resolution

Though accuracy is one of the key aspects to consider when choosing a 3D scanner, it is important to explore other factors, such as the resolution of the scanning device.

While accuracy is the measurement of the device’s degree of absolute correctness, resolution is the least possible distance between any two given points within a 3D model and is usually expressed by millimeters, or microns. This means, if you are looking to have an extremely detailed 3D model, you would use a high resolution 3D scanner to capture the object. This is especially important for applications in quality control, reverse-engineering, animation and VR, heritage preservation, forensics, jewelry and many others.

The higher the resolution, the more detailed your 3D model will look.
Left: resolution 0.15 mm, Right: resolution 0.3 mm

 

Sometimes, however, the user will opt for a lower resolution data. The higher the resolution, the heavier the model and the more time it will take to process. This might be a setback for users with less powerful computers, as well as those planning to 3D print the final model. A 3D printer will take much longer to produce a higher resolution model with all of its intricate details. So if processing time and printing speed matters, this is definitely something to keep in mind. Additionally, some 3D printers may not be able to reproduce high resolution levels.

Depending on the application, users will choose the resolution settings accordingly. If you need your 3D model to be as detailed as possible, go for a 3D scanner that is able to safely and easily capture even the smallest of features.

Opt for a portable, lightweight 3D scanner. Handheld 3D scanners are easy to operate and rotate around the object being scanned. Select advanced models are able to 3D scan objects with a resolution of up to 0.1mm.

3. Speed

Time is money and that’s why it is also very important to consider the speed of a 3D scanner.

When we are talking about speed, we refer to how fast a 3D scanner can capture any given object. The way the speed is measured differs depending on the type of technology the device is using. For example, the speed of a structured light 3D scanner is calculated by the amount of frames and the number of points captured per second. Some advanced white light 3D scanners only need one second to make 16 frames and capture 2 million points of the object.

A top-of-the-range handheld scanner with VCSEL technology is capable of going as fast as 80 frames per second and capture up to 4 million points in a flash.

A high-end VCSEL 3D scanner with an inbuilt touch screen, battery and WiFI data transfer

 

The speed of a LIDAR solution is calculated by the millions of points it is able to capture in a single second. A good quality stationary laser scanner would be able to scan at a speed of about 200,000 points per second. These are reference numbers and may vary depending on the scanner, object and scanning distance.

A faster 3D scanner allows users to capture any object quickly, eliminating unnecessary costs and boosting productivity. This is especially important for large and costly projects on a tight schedule.

4. Ease of use

Ease of use is another important factor to consider when choosing a 3D scanner. To get the best possible results and maximize the output, it is vital to know how to utilize the device’s full potential.

One of the key questions to consider here:

  • How often will you be using your 3D scanner?

If you will be doing a lot of 3D scanning or capturing large amounts of data, remember that a professional device with quick data capture abilities will save you time and money in the long run, as well boost your productivity.

Mid and upper-range 3D scanners are usually quite easy and intuitive to use. Although you might be tempted to go with cheaper versions, consider the additional time, training and frustration those might incur. The fast frame rate and advanced tracking algorithms in professional solutions make scanning a lot swifter and easier. When considering the post-processing stage, don’t forget that the software plays an important part too. The software that goes with professional scanners is likely to be much more powerful and generally contains many automated features, without compromising on accuracy. As a result, the software is more user-friendly, fast and easy to learn.

5. Part Size

Before selecting a 3D scanner, it is important to consider what exactly you will be capturing:

  • What is the size of the object or objects you will be capturing?
  • Will you be scanning variously sized objects? Or perhaps you are planning to automate your workflow and capture large amounts of identical objects?
  • What material are your objects made out of and how detailed are they?
  • Are you planning to 3D scan animate or inanimate objects?

The best 3D scanner for your application will depend on the size of the object, the material of its surface and the amount of intricate detailing you want to be able to capture.

If your workflow includes mostly capturing large to very large objects, such as trucks, trains or even planes, opt for a long range stationary laser scanner, precise enough to capture those large objects in high detail.

Highly-accurate 3D model of a Klemm L25d VIIR LX-MA airplane with a 13 m wingspan.

 

For smaller objects, such as furniture, motorcycles or midscale statues, go with a handheld 3D scanner with fast capture and the ability to effortlessly manoeuvre around the object and capture those hard-to-reach places.

If you are planning to scan a complex industrial part for quality control or measurements, choose a handheld 3D scanner with high accuracy.

For complex objects that are large in size and have small details that need to be precisely captured, it is a great idea to combine two or more 3D scanners for best results. A stationary scanner captures the large areas fast, while a handheld scanner can fill in the detail.

Size reference. Understanding the size of your object

 

6. Portability

Portability is another factor to consider when making a decision.

  • Where are you planning to capture 3D data?
  • Do you usually work in a controlled environment or out in the field?

Once again, your choice will depend based on your application. Stationary scanning solutions are great for capturing large objects, where a handheld solution would require more time.

Portable 3D scanners offer other advantages. They give a much higher degree of control to the operator, making it a more flexible solution. Able to capture those hard to reach places, portable solutions are easier to manipulate and can be effortlessly maneuvered around tricky angles.

You will also greatly benefit from choosing a 3D scanner that is able to work from an internal or external battery, and so does not require a power source nearby.

A handheld 3D scanner with a portable battery pack for uninterrupted 3D data capture

 

7. Software Features

Remember that it is the software that really powers the 3D scanner. Manufacturers of professional 3D solutions strive to develop the optimal 3D scanning software to push the boundaries of their 3D scanners.

An advanced 3D scanner that is able to capture objects of various sizes requires powerful 3D software. It needs to be able to handle and process all of the incoming data quickly and error-free so as to deliver the best possible results with each use.

Some advanced 3D scanning and post-processing software are much more versatile and user friendly than others.

Advanced 3D software for accurate data capture, processing, analysis and more

 

Give both the 3D scanner and software a try before you commit to the purchase. Explore the useful features that are offered and what tools are at your disposal. Are they enough for you, or do you require a more advanced solution for your projects?

Another thing to pay attention to is whether the manufacturer is continually developing the software and releasing new, updated versions. A new software version can often transform a 3D scanner into a whole new product, drastically increasing speed and usability. Expert companies are constantly developing and improving both their hardware and software to ensure the very best workflow.

8. Maintenance

Don’t forget about the maintenance your 3D device will require. Just like with any other piece of advanced equipment, you might occasionally need to have your device «checked-up». This guarantees that your device will function properly and deliver accurate results for long time to come.

Each manufacturer has their own set of maintenance procedures, such as calibration, optics cleaning and so on. Though this is something that might cost you extra, some companies offer up to two years free warranty on their products.

9. Environment

The scanning environment is yet another factor to consider when making your choice.

  • What will be the standard conditions you scan in?
  • Will you be scanning outdoors in direct sunlight? Or perhaps it will be in a dark and humid place?

Factors such as temperature, humidity and light can greatly affect both the overall performance of the scanner and the quality of the scans themselves.

Combine various 3D scanning technologies for best results

 

Manufacturers will usually indicate the optimal temperature range, as well as the accepted levels of humidity for their 3D scanning solutions, but there are a few universal rules to ensuring your 3D scanner works properly and delivers accurate results.

  • Scanners might overheat when exposed to extremely high temperatures. Similarly, avoid using your device in low temperatures, as a very cold environment also affects the scanner’s accuracy and may cause it to malfunction.
  • As with any other electronic equipment, 3D scanners should not be exposed to high humidity or have any contact with liquids
  • Keep your device away from dirt, dust and other small particles that may cause damage
  • Ensure you have enough light to capture your object
  • Only very few 3D scanners can capture in direct sunlight. Most will need you to create shade where possible for better results.

10. Price

Price is an important factor to take into consideration when making the decision to buy. The cost of the 3D scanner will correspond to the features provided by the device, as well as the quality and speed of data capture.

3D scanners start at around $3,000, with the most advanced models costing over a $100,000. Though less expensive 3D scanners might seem more appealing in the short term, remember that it is an investment and look at the bigger picture. Quality devices are guaranteed to last longer, are less likely to malfunction and will deliver outstanding results for years to come.

However, keep in mind that in some cases, additional expenses may occur when purchasing a 3D scanner. Some companies may charge you extra for the following products and services:

  • shipping charges
  • sales tax
  • installation
  • training
  • technical support
  • standard and extended warranty

Be sure that you enquire about any additional charges prior to making a purchase.

Now that you are familiar with the main criteria for choosing the optimal 3D scanner for your projects, you can now move to the demo stage. Always test the scanners and the software beforehand to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Companies offering quality solutions are always happy to offer a one-on-one demonstration, as well as trainings, workshops, etc.. Talk to the experts today to find out more about 3D scanning technologies and how they can have a long-lasting impact on your business.