All of you should be familiar with 2D scanners that you use to make digital copies of documents. They have been around here for ages and work on the principle of capturing light reflected from the document into CMOS light detectors that convert the reflected light and store them as digital data. On the contrary, the three-dimensional scanner creates `point clouds’ of data from the surface of an object. This allows the device to capture the three dimensions of an object and save them. This data can then fed into a 3D printer to make copies of the scanned object. The two-dimensional models scan an object’s `X’ and `Y’ axis (length and breadth), their three-dimensional counterparts also scan the `z’ axis (height). Although many companies manufacture and sell such scanners, we shall be evaluating the top 10 best 3D scanners in this review and provide our honest opinion along with the price of the device. This will help you decide which one of them best meets your requirements and purchase it. All the tests were done using the same object and under the same environment to ensure that the results do not fluctuate.
1. da Vinci Jr. 1.0 3 in 1 Wireless 3D Scanner
This equipment has an added bonus, as you also get a free bundled three-dimension printer. It is ideal for those who want to delve into 3D scanning for the first time. I achieved good results with this device. It is extremely user-friendly and scores a lot in terms of the performance for price ratio. The minimum layer thickness of this printer is 0.1mm, and it only supports PLA filaments that have to be purchased through the manufacturer. Build volume is 5.9″ x 5.9″ x 5.9″and resolution is 100-400 microns. I was thrilled with the customized software. Another positive point is that you can start using it after unpacking it from the box. There is no need to assemble anything. The manufacturer includes a quick start guide, a wooden handle spatula, and a USB cable for transferring 3D models to the printer as well as for software updates. Besides, there is an SD card for transferring 3D models from your computer to the printer. This device is user-friendly as the user does not have to calibrate the build plate. It can perform 3D scans too.
• Low power consumption
• Friendly price
• Great for beginners
• Great user interface
• Limited color choice
• Filaments available from the manufacturer only
• Only supports .stl and 3w files
2. Matter and Form MFS1V1 3D Scanner
This is an extremely accessible three-dimension scanner and ships with a comprehensive user manual. If you are planning to use a 3D scanner as a hobby, then I strongly recommend this model. I tried scanning both small and big objects… my engagement ring and a lawn tennis ball… the device did not disappoint me on both counts. It also offers +Quickscan, which allows it to scan the object in less than 45 seconds. Setting up this device was a piece of cake. Make sure that you place the equipment in a place that has precise lighting as this device works best under particular lighting conditions. The manufacturer has thoughtfully included Matter and Form’s software, which is one of the best available and includes color texturing and cleaning tools too. The program also allows you to view what the scanner is picking up in real-time plus informs you of the remaining scanning time. The portable design means you can easily store it anywhere. Scan accuracy is within ±0.1mm
• Easy to use software
• Portable and compact design
• Relatively friendly price
• Scans quickly with +Quickscan
• Cannot pick up fine details
• Tough to get the exact lighting
• Meshing algorithm might face problems identifying empty space
3. XYZprinting Wireless 3D Printer/Scanner
Boasting of a footprint of 18.4″ x 20″ x 22″ this unit is quite big. I was happy with the way the manufacturer had packed the device to prevent damages to it. Setting up the device was a cinch, and the manufacturer’s website had answers to all of my queries… this came in handy when leveling the device. I also faced some hassles loading the filament, but, once again, their website proved to be man Friday. The device ships with white ABS filament. However, unlike some other devices, this one is capable of printing with non-proprietary filament too. The company had included properly sized large masking tape to lay down on the print bed. The packing contains a CD with XYZ’s printing software. I was able to print the included files successfully. The dual laser 3D scanning technology provided distortion-free capturing of the desired object. In auto imaging mode, I was able to scan an object within five minutes. You can edit the scans by scaling or repositioning them or even use post-production software to provide a unique finish to your prints. The device prints in black/red colors.
• Fast automatic imaging
• Autoloading filament mechanism
• Aluminum print bed
• 360º rotating platform
• Takes up a lot of space
4. XYZprinting Full Color Handheld 3D Scanner 1.0 Pro
Having used 2D handheld scanners in the old days I knew how hard it was to handle them so that they could scan documents correctly without any distortions. I was thinking the same about 3D handheld scanning devices too, but this equipment took my breath away. Powered by Intel RealSense and using its advanced scanning technology, I could effortlessly make three-dimensional models of an object by just gliding the scanner over it. You can opt for either object mode or head mode when using this equipment. Also, you can connect this scanner to your computer via a USB port. No doubt, as with the old 2D handheld scanners, you need to have a very steady hand to get a quality output. I would not recommend this for beginners. This portable device can capture textures at 30 frames per second with a resolution of 640 x 480. The product size is 6″ x 8″ x 2.”
• Very cheap
• Light in weight
• Requires exceptionally steady hand to get quality output
5. HE3D Open Source Ciclop DIY 3D Systems Scanner Kit for 3D Printer
If you are a DIY enthusiast planning to foray into the world of three-dimension scanning, look no further than this device. It permits you to scan any physical object that will fit on its rotating platform. It also provides you the opportunity to manipulate the scanned model including resizing and repositioning. Once you have completed the manipulation process you can print out the model using a 3D printer. Obviously, you can print the model without any manipulation. The gadget has two class 1 line lasers on each side of the platform allowing you to scan objects with a high level of precision. The device includes a camera too. The camera and lasers combined can capture details up to 500 microns. The camera has the capability of capturing objects at a resolution of 3 megapixels. This is handy to capture the finer details of any object and translating them into computer images that you can manipulate. The VGA image sensor plus the RightLight Technology allows the camera to capture clean, sharp images in low light areas. The device is open source.
• Open source
• Dual laser
• Simple design
• Build quality not consistent
6. 3D Systems SENSE2 3D Scanner
This full-color triple dimension scanner is fast, easy, and portable too. This handheld 3D scanner boasts of full high definition colors that capture data and processes it in real-time. This means you can see exactly how the scanning is going on your computer’s monitor. The HD color camera plus an extremely sensitive infrared projector this equipment has sped up the data acquisition process by more than 60%. Tipping the scales at 1.1 pounds, the equipment is light in weight too. The manufacturer claims that this equipment provides higher resolution and allows a closer scan range than other similar devices. However, you need to have an extremely steady hand to get full advantage of this device. Powered by Intel RealSense, this device works on computers running on Windows 8 and 10. With a generous scan volume, this equipment makes scanning objects easy and effective. You can manipulate the captured model if you so want using any third-party software. It is blazing fast, and you can see the captured model in less than a minute.
• Blazing fast scanning speed
• A tad too expensive
• Not for amateurs
7. EinScan-SE White Light Desktop 3D Scanner
Shining 3D is one of the rare Chinese companies that is known worldwide for its #D scanners as well as printers. This specific model is among the top of their line products. This equipment boasts of a scan accuracy of up to 0.1mm and can detect a wide range of textures and colors. You can easily capture objects measuring up to 200mm x 200mm x 200mm using the auto scan setting. Boost these figures to 700mm x 700mm x 700mm if you use the fixed scan feature. You can easily align and soothe over the fixed scans with the complimentary EinScan software. For best quality scans, mount the scanner on a camera tripod. You can use this option to capture non-moveable objects and faces. This equipment was blazing fast and was able to complete a mesh-only fix scan in 10 seconds. It takes 30 seconds if you want to capture color too. The number of step size for a full rotation can be set from 8 to 180. The higher the number of steps the longer the scanning process takes, but more details will be captured. The dimensions of the product are 7.8″ x 11.8″ x 3.9″.
• Fast scanning
• Very accurate capturing at higher steps
• Value for money
• 1-year warranty
• Cannot scan shiny areas or transparent material
8. EinScan-Pro+ with R2 Function Multi-Functional Handheld 3D Scanner
This has to be the best 3D scanner by Chinese behemoth Shining 3D. The device is both compact and light in weight. Tipping the scales at a tad over 1Kg, you can take this device with you anywhere you go. Imagine the ability to capture small and medium-sized objects and reproducing them on a three-dimension printer. I was pleasantly surprised by the speed and accuracy of this device. It offers four different scan modes: fixed scan (with or without a turntable), handheld HD scan, rapid scan, as well as automatic scan mode. It also supports various ranges of alignment modes including manual, turntable coded, markers, and feature alignment. The device can capture up to 1,500,000 points per second (30 frames per second) in handheld rapid scan mode.
• Very fast
• Extremely accurate
• Four scan modes
• One year warranty and lifetime support
• Too costly for first-time users
9. Matter & Form Mfs1V2 3D Scanner V2 +Quickscan
If you are looking for good quality and accessible 3D scanner, look no further than this model. The user’s manual accompanying it is extremely documented, allowing you to set up and use the device quickly. Despite its cost, this machine is perfect for first-time users too, as it has none of the quirks found in most other devices of the same type. However, it forges ahead of the competitors in the case of solid objects. The device along with the included Matter & Form and +QuickScan software makes it worth your consideration. It captures complex objects in just over a minute. You can use its output with any 3D printer in the world. Its eye-safe red lasers provide you with the precision of 0.1mm accuracy. Supports both Windows and Mac operating systems. Its sleek and foldable design allows you to store it safely when not in use. The integrated case protects both the camera and the turntable.
• Extremely accurate
• Fast scanning
• Sleek and foldable design
• Nothing that I could find
10. Newest EinScan SE Desktop 3D Scanner
Do not look at the price tag. If you want a workhorse among 3D desktop scanners, this device will not disappoint you. Once you have set up the alignment correctly, it can take any type of scanning projects you throw at it. I tried it with a 190mm long object, and this monster was able to scan it correctly. I only had to do a bit of touchup work. The scanner connects with the turntable with the help of a USB cable. Tipping the scales at 8.42 pounds, the gadget is slightly heavy, but you will not mind this once you see its quality and capability. There is no weight limit of the object you plan to scan as long as you can lay it on the turntable.
• Extremely accurate
• Fast scanning
• Best 3D scanning software included
• The location of the USB port is awkward
Selecting a 3D Scanner
While the first scanners of this type were introduced in the 1960s, the technology we find in the market today has clearly evolved, becoming more sophisticated and far more useful. Selecting a 3D scanner can be quite challenging, particularly when there are so many options and models available. To narrow down your choices, here are some factors to consider.
How much a scanner can capture will matter depending on the types of projects it will be used for. Some types of scanners can offer more in terms of accuracy and resolution, which makes them a better option for projects that require plenty of details, such as for medical, engineering, or artistic purposes.
Some scanners are designed to capture smaller objects while others are capable of handling larger objects. This variation in what a scanner model can capture varies widely, as does its resolution capability. When selecting a 3D scanner, look for one that matches your resolution and size needs. However, try not to go overboard with the specs, since price is generally directly proportional to its scan volume.
While budget plays a key role in every buying decision, it is worth noting that when it comes to technology, it always pays to buy the best option you can readily pay for. Just keep in mind that a unit that is designed for higher accuracy also carries a higher price tag. Consider the type of tolerance you are willing to allow based on your requirements or on the demands of the project.
The speed at which a scanner can capture images is usually measured by how many frames or points it can register per second. The speed will usually depend on the model and type of application. To give you an idea of what to expect, let’s use a structured light scanner as example. In most models of this type, the scanner is capable of capturing 2 million points on the object and create 16 frames in just one second. Faster models, such as handheld scanners that come with additional VCSEL technology, can capture as many as 4 million points and 80 frames in one second. Faster units will of course help cut scanning time, which is invaluable when working on large projects within a set schedule.
Types of 3D Scanners
Scanners of this type are generally classified as contact and non-contact. Here is a brief look at each type and their sub-types.
Contact 3D Scanning
This type of scanner digitizes an object through the use of a ball at the end of a probe. This ball touches different surface points of the object to obtain an accurate digital copy of the form of the object. Contact scanners generally utilize CMMs or coordinated measure machines, and may include components such as an articulated arm, a carriage system, or a combination of both.
In non-contact scanning, the x-y-z coordinate system is used to map out multiple points on the surface of an object. This ensures accurate and fast measurements with significantly reduced errors.
Non-contact scanner types are either active or passive. Active scanners emit light or a type of radiation that reflects back at an angle, which is then interpreted to determine the measurements of the object. Active scanners use different techniques to measure an object. These techniques are:
Laser Triangulation. In this technique, a laser beam is aimed at a line or point on an object and its reflection is captured by a sensor. The angle of reflection is then interpreted to come up with the measurements.
Phase Shift. In this technique, laser is reflected on an object, after which the phase shift is taken and compared to a standard phase.
Time of Flight. This technique utilizes a laser pulse that is reflected from the scanned object. The sensor in the scanner will detect the reflection of the laser and the speed of the light. The time it took for the light to be emitted and its detection is calculated to determine the distance of the scanned object. Time of flight is a technique often used to scan faraway objects or large structures.
Another type of contact scanning is passive scanning. Unlike active scanning, this technique does not emit light. Instead, it detects ambient light or radiation that is reflected from off the surface of the object using a digital camera. There are three types of passive scanning. These are:
Stereoscopic. This technique analyzes the difference between two images taken by two different cameras placed at different angles in relation to the object. The difference then helps determine the distance between each point on the surface.
Photometric. This technique uses one camera that takes different images under different light conditions. The surface orientation is then determined by inverting the image.
Silhouette. This technique creates an outline of the object using a high-contrast background.
Top 3D Scanner Brands
Some of the leading brands currently in the market today are Artec, 3D Chimera, Thor3D, Matter & Form, Fuel3D, BQCiclop, Sense3D, iSense, and EinScan. An affordable (and familiar) option is Xbox One Kinect, which also offers a downloadable dedicated program for scanning projects.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do 3D scanners work?
A 3D scanner is designed to visually analyze a real world object so its appearance may be recreated digitally. How the scanner analyzes the object will depend on whether it is a contact or a non-contact type. A contact type scanner such as a laser, for example, uses laser light to create what is known as data point clouds based on the surface of the object being scanned. It does so to determine the exact shape and size of that object, and create a digital three-dimensional copy.
A contact scanner, on the other hand, uses a probe to physically touch the object. As the probe is moved over the surface, the scanner takes note of various points to identify differences, which it then records to create a digital 3D image.
What is a 3D scanner used for?
The main function of machines and technologies used for three-dimensional scans is to reproduce a digital image copy of an object. This image is the exact replica of the real life object in terms of size, shape, and form, albeit in digital form. The digital image may then be studied or modified, depending on the requirement of the user.
Three-dimensional images are very useful for many industries, particularly the medical, engineering, and art sectors. Scanned images, for example, may be used to design and create customized prostheses for patients. These images are also useful for creating dentures, braces, and implants. Unlike wax or rubber molds, three-dimensional images are far more accurate and exact, and are not prone to warping or shrinkage.
How do you do a 3D scan?
Using either a handheld or a desktop scanner, mount the object on a steady, level surface. Prepare the environment for the scan and pay particular attention to lighting conditions. If other sources of light are present in the scanning area, make sure they will not fluctuate because the change in brightness will significantly affect how the sensors will work. If lights vary, the sensors may give an inaccurate reading. If you are using a laser scanner outdoors, however, there should be no issues since laser scanners are not affected by ambient lighting. However, it is still important to pay attention to the intensity of ambient light when using lasers, since it will also affect the results.
Allow the laser to touch various points of the object to obtain an accurate reading. If the object is placed on a turntable, getting a good reading is generally easy and convenient. If using a handheld scanner, move the unit steadily and slowly over the object as the sensor makes a reading. You should be able to view the cloud points on a monitor to determine if a complete scan was performed. In some cases, editing may be necessary, particularly if certain areas of the scanned or mesh model is not an exact representation of the solid model.
Which is the best 3D scanner to buy?
The top 3D scanner is always the one that matches your needs at a price you can afford. That being said, there are a few options that have risen above the mold, such as the EinScan Pro 2X, a professional-grade handheld scanner that is compact enough for easy use. This is a great option to go for if your projects tend to use small and mid-sized objects. The Pro 2X is fast and promises excellent resolution.
For a good value desktop scanner, consider EinScan-SE. Both EinScan options come with a software that can be used to edit and export images for 3D printing later. The SE boasts an accuracy of as much as 0.1mm and can be used for both colored and monochrome objects.
How much does a 3d scanner cost?
The prices of scanners depend heavily on their size and specs. For handhelds, you could probably find a reliable, lightweight handheld model for less than $500 but for a high-end unit that offers high resolution imaging and accuracy, expect to pay as much as $30,000 per unit. Desktop models, on the other hand, range from a very affordable price of under $750 to as much as $50,000. Again, certain factors apply when it comes to prices, so it pays to verify the specs, brand, and model, and compare it with your requirements.
Charles Stephenson received a Masters Degree in Engineering from MIT University. Charles has been working in the Industrial 3D Printing industry for over 5 years. Charles regularly contributes content to several 3D Printing websites including Pirate3D.com.