3D scanning objects for 3D printing can be tricky to get the hang of, but once you learn the right software and tips to follow, you can create some pretty cool models. This article will give you some good insights into scanning objects to create 3D prints.
To 3D scan 3D objects for 3D printing, you either want to get a 3D scanner or use your phone/camera to take several pictures around the object and stitch them together using photogrammetry to create a 3D scan. Make sure you have good lighting while scanning to get the best results.
Keep on reading for more information and tips to 3D scan objects for 3D printing.
Can I Scan an Object to 3D Print?
Yes, you can scan an object to 3D print using various scanning methods. One example of this is by a grad student who 3D scanned and 3D printed a Shuvosaurid Skeleton for a museum exhibit. It’s an ancient crocodile-like creature that he 3D scanned using a premium professional scanner called the Artec Spider.
It’s currently priced at around $25,000 but you can get much cheaper 3D scanners, or use free options such as photogrammetry which is creating 3D scans through taking several pictures.
He mentioned an open access repository called MorphoSource which is a collection of several 3D scans of animals and skeletons.
This student further revealed that he then used a visualization software called AVIZO to prepare STLs for the surface of each scan, after which he 3D printed it.
When it comes to more standard objects that you might have around the house, or even with cars parts, it’s definitely possible to 3D scan and 3D print them. People have been doing it for many years successfully.
I also came across a user who scanned and printed his friend’s farm with the help of a drone. Not only was it a significant success, but it had a fantastic architectural look.
He started by generating a mesh model after mapping using Pix4D and then processed it afterward using Meshmixer. The Pix4D was costly, but there are free alternatives such as Meshroom that you can use if you can’t bear the cost.
It took around 200 photos and in terms of the scaled dimensions and detail from the drone, it works out to be around 3cm per pixel. The resolution mainly depends on the drone’s camera and height of flight.
3D scanning is not only limited to what you interact with daily, but as seen on NASA’s 3D scan page, many types of objects can also be 3D scanned.
You can see more about this on the NASA page of printable 3D scans and see several 3D scans of space-related objects like craters, satellites, rockets, and more.
How to Scan 3D Objects for 3D Printing
There are a few methods on how to scan 3D models for 3D printing:
- Using an Android or iPhone App
- Paper Scanner
Using an Android or iPhone App
From what I have gathered, it’s possible to scan 3D objects straight from the apps you have installed on your device. This is possible because most newly manufactured phones have LiDAR (light detection and ranging) by default.
In addition, some apps are free, and others require paying for them first before using them. See below a brief explanation of some of the apps.
The Polycam app is a popular 3D scanning app that works with Apple products like the iPhone or the iPad. It currently has an app rating of 4.8/5.0 with over 8,000 ratings at time of writing.
It’s described as the leading 3D capture application for the iPhone and iPad. You can create plenty of high quality 3D models from photos, as well as quickly generate scans of spaces using the LiDAR sensor.
It also gives you the ability to edit your 3D scans directly from your device, as well as export them in many file formats. You can then share your 3D scans with other people, as well as the Polycam community using Polycam Web.
Check out the video below to see how a Polycam user scans a large rock and captures plenty of detail.
The lighting is a very important factor when it comes to 3D scanning, so consider that when you are scanning your objects. The best type of light is indirect light like shade, but not direct sunlight.
2. Trnio App
The Trnio app is a great method of 3D scanning objects for 3D printing. Many people have created some stunning 3D prints using existing objects, then scaling them as they desire to create new pieces.
One great example of this is the video below by Andrew Sink who 3D scanned some Halloween decorations and made it into a pendant for a necklace. He also used Meshmixer to help achieve this result.
Previous versions of the app weren’t the best, but they have done some useful updates to scan objects faster and easier. You no longer have to tap during scanning, and the app automatically records and compiles the video frames.
This is a premium app so you’ll have to pay to download it, currently priced at $4.99 at time of writing.
Photogrammetry is an effective method of 3D scanning objects, used as a basis for many apps. You can use raw photos directly from your phone and import than into a specialized software to create a 3D digital image.
It’s a free method and has some impressive accuracy. Check out the video below by Josef Prusa showing off 3D scanning from just a phone with the photogrammetry technique.
1. Use Camera – Phone/GoPro Camera
Someone had posted how he scanned a broken stone and then printed it, and it came out perfectly. GoPro camera assisted him in achieving this. He also used COLMAP, Prusa MK3S, and Meshlab, and he reiterated how important lighting is.
Uniform lighting is the key to success with COLMAP, and outdoor during an overcast day gives the best results. Check out the video below for a useful COLMAP tutorial.
He also mentioned that it is difficult to deal with shiny objects.
He actually used a video clip as the scan source and exported 95 frames, then used them in COLMAP to create a 3D model.
He also mentions that he did some tests with Meshroom in terms of getting good scans with bad lighting and it does a better job at handling unevenly lit objects.
You have to handle the GoPro camera carefully because you may get a distorted image if you do not take care of the wide-angle. Follow the link to get a detailed explanation.
2. Professional Handheld Scanner – Thunk3D Fisher
There are many professional handheld scanners out there with varying levels of resolution, but for this example, we’ll look at the Thunk3D Fisher.
Even though the scanner takes detailed pictures and is specialized, it still falls under photogrammetry. One 3D user wrote about how through 3D scanning and printing, he managed to come up with Mazda B1600 front headlights.
3d scanning and 3d printing a perfect match, we recreated a front headlight for a Mazda B1600. Car owner only had right side, scanned and flipped it fits the left side. Printed in generic resin and post processed with epoxy and painted black. from 3Dprinting
The car owner only scanned the right side using a handheld Thunk3D Fisher scanner then flipped it to fit on the left side.
This scanner gives accurate scans and it is said to be ideal for scanning large objects. It is also perfect for objects that have intricate details. It uses a structured light technology.
The good thing with this scanner is that it scans objects ranging from 5-500 cm in high resolution and 2-4 cm in low resolution. It has free software that is frequently updated. The exciting bit is that the Thunk3D Fisher Scanner has additional software for Archer and Fisher 3D scanners.
3. Raspberry Pi-Based OpenScan Mini
I came across a piece on how someone had used a Raspberry Pi-based scanner to scan a 3D printed rook. It was 3D scanned using a combination of the Raspberry Pi based OpenScan Mini, along with an Arducam 16mp camera with autofocus. They mentioned that the increase in detail was significant.
The camera resolution for these types of scans is very important, but proper lighting along with surface preparation may even be more important. Even if you had a bad quality camera, if you have good lighting and a surface with rich features, you can still get pretty good results.
He went ahead to reveal that if you want to use this scanner, you should be well aware of how it depends on the Pi camera. You can expect excellent results when using the two together.
Using a Paper Scanner
It’s not the usual method but you can actually 3D scan using a paper scanner. A great example of this in action is with CHEP who experienced a broken clip, then went on to glue the pieces together to then 3D scan it on a paper scanner.
You then take the PNG file and convert it to an SVG file.
Once you’re through with the conversion, you can download it to your chosen CAD program. Then, after a few processes, you can convert it into an STL file before taking it to Cura for slicing as you prepare to 3D print it.
Check out the video for a visual tutorial on getting this done.
How Much Does it Cost to 3D Scan an Object?
A 3D scanning service can cost anywhere from $50-$800+ depending on various factors such as size of the object, level of detail the object has, where the object is located and so on. You can 3D scan your own objects for free using photogrammetry and free software. A basic 3D scanner costs around $300.
There are even options to rent your own professional scanner so you can get a really high quality scan for several objects.
Many phone 3D scanning apps are free as well. When it comes to professional 3D scanners, these can cost around $50 for a DIY kit, upwards of $500+ for low range scanners.
3D scanners can definitely get pricey when you are looking for high specs, like the Artec Eva for around $15,000.
You should also be able to find 3D scanning services in your local area through searching on places like Google, and these costs will vary. Something like ExactMetrology in the US and Superscan3D in the UK are some popular 3D scanning services.
Superscan3D determine the different factors for the cost of 3D scanning being:
- Size of the object to be 3D scanned
- Level of detail the object has or complex curves/crevices
- Type of material to be scanned
- Where the object is located
- Levels of post-processing required to get the model ready for its application
Check out this article from Artec 3D for a more detailed explanation of 3D scanner costs.
Can You 3D Scan an Object for Free?
Yes, you can successfully 3D scan an object for free using various software 3D scanning apps, as well as photogrammetry which is using a series of photos of your desired model and a specialized software to create a 3D model. These methods can definitely create high quality 3D scans that can be 3D printed for free.
Check out the video below for a visual explanation of how to 3D scan with Meshroom for free.
Turning a 3D scan or photos to an STL file can be done using software like this. They usually have an export option to turn the series or photos or scans into an STL file that can be 3D printed. It’s a great method to make 3D scans printable.