Can a 3D Printer Scan, Copy or Duplicate an Object? A How-to Guide

People who think about 3D printing wonder whether a 3D printer can copy or duplicate an object then create it right in front of you. This article is going to give you some insight into how the pros can scan and duplicate objects that can be 3D printed.

Keep on reading for some simple instructions on how to scan objects for 3D printing and more.

Can 3D Printers Copy & Scan an Object?

3D printers themselves cannot copy and scan an object, but once you scan an object using other tools like a 3D scanner or simple scanner app on your phone, you can process it to 3D print on your printer.

There are many techniques people use to create 3D printer files but generally speaking, you either download the STL model files from an online archive, or create the file yourself.

I’ve seen all types of objects be 3D scanned successfully. The accuracy of the object depends on many factors such as the scanning technique being used, the complexity of the object you are scanning, the lighting, and more.

With the right method of 3D scanning, you can scan objects of almost any size, detail, shape, and so on ranging from a container, to a ring, to even your own face and body.

The technology and accuracy of 3D scanners are definitely improving, so you should be excited at the future possibilities of cheap and accurate scanning of objects.

One user who shared his experience on a forum said he saw a charming statue that was supporting the foundation of a staircase, in an artistic manner. What he did was take 20 photos around the statue with his Nikon Coolpix, then meshed the photos together.

With some processing and filling in gaps or missing spaces, he managed to create a 3D printable file.

Some people have scanned famous buildings using a drone, as well as statues, museum pieces, or even just something at home that you want to replicate.

Another user scanned and 3D printed an anvil by taking 74 pictures using his Samsung Galaxy S5. Some of the other models scanned by him include a carved panel of Buddha’s statue, a home, needle, shoes, and his face as well.

The video below by Thomas Sanladerer compares photogrammetry (creating scans with images) vs a professional 3D scanner solution.

If you happen to have a dual extruder 3D printer, you can even activate a “mirror printing” feature that allows you to print two of the same objects using each extruder independently at the same time.

You can really speed up your printing with this cool feature.

This means you can make even make a mirrored version of an object in the X, Y, and Z directions. It can be useful if you want to, for example, make a left-handed and right-handed version of your model, or two attaching pieces.

Some dual extruder 3D printers that are popular are the Qidi Tech X-Pro, Bibo 2 3D Printer, Flashforge Dreamer and Flashforge Creator Pro. Check out my article on Best Dual Extruder 3D Printers Under $500 & $1,000.

How Do You 3D Scan Objects for 3D Printing?

When it comes to figuring out how to scan objects for 3D printing, there are some techniques that can work really well:

  • Scanning with a professional 3D scanner
  • Using your phone (iPhone or Android) and a scanner app
  • Use a good quality camera to capture multiple images

There are many budget options that people have designed for you to actually 3D print, such as Arduino controlled turntables and other creative designs.

Below are some great 3D scanner designs from Thingiverse:

This great innovation actually was inspired from the $30 scanner but because of some issues, a user decided to make their own version for a much cheaper price. When you have a 1Kg spool of filament at $25, this whole scanner costs just $3.47.

It’s a pretty popular model with around 70,000 downloads at time of writing, so join in on the fun with this cheap 3D scanner that works with your phone.

When you are preparing your object to be sca

Below is the step by step procedure from preparing the object to starting the printing process.

  1. Get your Object Ready
  2. Scan your Object
  3. Simplify the Mesh
  4. Import to CAD Software
  5. Print your New 3D Model

Get your Object Ready

Prepare your object to be scanned by making sure you have a good stand or turntable for your object to sit on and get a good scan.

One of the most important things is to get some good lighting from all angles so the mesh that comes out at the end is of good quality. Your 3D model is only going to be as good as your initial scanning.

Some people advise to even use a coat of 3D Scan Spray on the object to improve the accuracy of the scan.

It will highlight each minor detail and is essential if you are scanning a transparent or reflective object. It’s not a necessary step, but it can help out with the overall results.

Scan your Object

Use a high-precision 3D scanner, camera or your phone to capture each key part of the object. I’d recommend checking out how other users take their pictures before you get into the process of scanning an object yourself.

The angles you take are going to give your 3D model that “complete” look, so you don’t have to use too much processing to fill in the gaps in the mesh.

The distance at which you are scanning makes a big difference, and the more pictures you take, the better. A good amount of photos to take usually ranges anywhere from 50-200 to capture every detail.

Make sure you don’t move the object while you are taking these pictures.

If your print has too many minor details, you may need to scan your object several times by changing its directions.

Simplify the Mesh

Scanners may produce some extremely complex and tricky meshes that may be difficult for you to modify for further usage.

Use scanner software that can refine your complex meshes and simplify the model mesh as much as possible while ensuring the perfect details.

Refining the mesh will allow you to easily modify and manage your model in CAD. Meshmixer software can be a great choice for this purpose, or AliceVision.

A full reconstruction of your mesh from all the pictures you took can take several hours to compute, so be patient when trying to get the best results.

Import to CAD Software

Now it’s time to import your scanned mesh design into CAD software for further modification and editing.

You want to do some basic clean up of your model before trying to print it, even though you can usually export the resulting mesh file straight to your slicer.

Print your New 3D Model

Once the mesh has been converted into a solid body, its original structure can be separated and can be used with the other objects to form new designs.

The design will have all the curves and dimensions that will provide you with that good quality print.

Now it’s time to finally start your printing process and get the results from all your efforts. Print on a high quality 3D printer that ensures high precision and uses strong resins to get perfect models.

Adjusting your printer settings and calibrating different aspects of the 3D printer is necessary so that you can have a perfect result without any hassle.

Can You 3D Scan Objects With Your iPhone or Android for 3D Printing?

Scanning with your phone has been made a lot easier to due to advances in technology and software alike. Josef Prusa did this great video describing the process from start to finish on how to scan objects with your phone.

He uses AliceVision, formerly known as Meshroom to create these amazing detailed 3D scans. Feel free to check out the video below for the step-by-step process!



There are many phone applications that you can also put to use to achieve similar results.

ItSeez3D is an application that lets you easily capture, scan, share and implement your 3D models. You can perform all these functions just on your mobile phone. Using this application is easy as the app will guide you through all the process by displaying instructions.

You can perform the complete process in just three simple steps.

  • Scan: Just follow the app’s instructions and scan the object from all possible angles.
  • View and Edit: View your raw scanned object on your mobile screen and send it to the cloud for further processing.
  • Download and Share: Download your high quality 3D model from the cloud and edit it if necessary in your slicer or other software. You can also share the model to other people for 3D printing purposes.

One user shared his experience stating that he used the application for the first time and had a simple, straightforward experience due to the easy instructions and guide.

If you have a compatible mobile phone, this app is one of the best ways to scan objects.

There are many paid applications that can help you in the scanning process, but you can use several free scanning applications as well.

Some of the best scanning applications that are widely used for the 3D scanning process using mobile phones include:

  • Trnio Scanning Software
  • Scann3d
  • itSeez3D
  • Qlone
  • Bevel

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