Selecting the Right 3D Scanner for Successful 3D Printing

This article is written by Andrei Vakulenko, chief business development officer at Artec 3D.

Andrei Vakulenko, chief business development officer at Artec 3D

Andrei Vakulenko, chief business development officer at Artec 3D

When 3D printing began in the 90s, few could have imagined the endless possibilities it would offer in the years to come. Businesses and individuals alike have been implementing it across a variety of workflows, from manufacturing to medicine to architecture and much more. Whether it’s 3D printing industrial parts or orthotic inserts, a combination of digital 3D models and high-grade materials are needed to bring them to life. But to achieve optimal results, users require the best 3D models, and how do you get first-rate 3D models? Often the answer is 3D scanning.

Why Choose 3D Scanning for Additive Manufacturing?

3D scanning gives users the power to create digital replicas of real-world objects without taking the long route of creating them from scratch in a design program. If the goal is to reproduce an existing real-world object exactly as it is, 3D scanning is an obvious solution. And merely reproducing the object is just the start. Once a 3D scan is completed, designers can modify its features in myriad ways to bring about entirely new objects. Another possibility is using a 3D scan to ensure that a newly designed object will interface flawlessly with any other object(s) it comes into contact with. One example is 3D scanning the floor of a car to design custom floor mats that perfectly fit the available space.

Unlike traditional hands-on copying methods, such as molding, die-casting, welding or forging, 3D scanning and digital technology empower users with the ability to make copies of objects without even touching the original object. It’s also a much faster method. 3D scanners can capture some objects in under one minute, which results in a much quicker design time than via outdated manual (and costly) methods.

The benefits of 3D scanning are many. 3D scanners can quickly capture the texture and color of an object. Another benefit is that precision 3D scanners have incredible accuracy and can be used to reduce variance in product manufacturing. This not only minimizes the number and impact of errors in the manufacturing process, but also improves quality control. Manufacturers can also use 3D scanning for checking the quality of a printed object. Any manufacturing process that requires heat is bound to lead to some deviations in the shape of the final object produced, so a 3D scanner can be used to make a highly accurate model of the newly created object. This allows manufacturers to then compare this model to the 3D model of the original object, then make adjustments to the printing process accordingly so as to produce an object that is as close as possible to the one needed.

Additionally, these scanners are easy-to-use and portable, meaning users can create quality 3D scans on-the-go, wherever the job takes them. All of which saves time, money, and effort, while also making the whole process of creating a 3D model for 3D printing fast and easy. Whether the goal is to 3D print objects for reverse engineering, rapid prototyping, or any other application, using 3D scanners to capture data is an efficient and cost-effective way to get the job done.

Types of 3D Scanners for 3D Printing

Choosing the right 3D solutions can make or break a project, so it’s important to choose the technology that’s most appropriate for the situation. Like shoes and clothes, 3D scanners are not one-size-fits-all. Having the right 3D scanner will save teams from ending up with inaccurate 3D data that is either too time-consuming to post-process or simply can’t be used to 3D print their intended objects.


Artec Ray system scanning a car

Artec Ray system scanning a car

Like people, 3D scanners come in different shapes and sizes. The first consideration when choosing a 3D scanner is the type of object that the user will be scanning. For example, if the object to be scanned is very small, such as jewelry, dental implants, or other tiny objects, it’s important to look for 3D scanners that can capture micro detail. 3D scanners with high-precision 3D technologies designed to capture minute items and intricate geometries in great detail will provide the most accuracy.

For medium-sized objects such as furniture, people, cars, or machine parts, consider taking a closer look at a handheld 3D scanner. Using portable 3D scanners to capture data is handy when capturing larger objects, because they can easily be transported to and from locations, ensuring hours of continuous scanning, all without having a power source nearby. Another reason that handheld 3D scanners have an advantage when capturing medium sized objects is because users can walk around the object and scan at multiple angles. Working with a professional handheld 3D scanner that automatically detects the object and maintains tracking on it, as opposed to having to apply many targets to its surfaces, is another added plus, as this can dramatically reduce the time it takes to scan and preserve the object.

That being said, handheld 3D devices are not always suited for scanning large objects such as buildings, airplanes, trucks or wind turbines. While they can scan sections of a large objects very well, in order to easily scan an entire large object, a LIDAR scanner is needed. Capturing large objects with professional LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) solutions will make the workflow much more efficient. Long-range 3D scanners with high accuracy are specifically designed to capture large amounts of data for inspection, construction, and surveying, as they delivery extremely detailed scans of large objects. Additionally, with LIDAR scanners especially suited for scanning large objects, when combined with a handheld 3D scanner, the synergy of speed and ease of use bring a huge advantage. The faster that an object can be scanned translates into more of it being scanned.


Another important factor to keep in mind when deciding which 3D scanner to use is how well the scanner can capture color. For objects that will be 3D printed in color, understanding the 3D color capture specs is an important consideration, as its ability to reproduce the precise shape and details of the object will depend heavily upon that. Having a 3D scanner that features high quality color can save editing time and eliminate the need to purchase additional 3D modeling software to make necessary color adjustments. 3D scanners that accurately capture both the texture and geometry of an object will produce 3D models that can be sent straight to a color printer.


Finally, software is just as important as hardware. Powerful 3D data processing software has multiple tools and algorithms to make it easier and faster to create 3D models – and some solutions even have an autopilot function which automatically processes data. Remember that it is the software that really powers the 3D scanner, and an advanced 3D scanner that captures objects of various sizes demands powerful 3D software. It needs to process all the incoming data quickly and error-free so as to deliver the best possible results every time. Some advanced 3D scanning and post-processing solutions are much more versatile and user friendly than others. For example, some include features such as PBR-based glare removal, which will automatically remove the glare from a 3D model so it can be sent straight to print, instead of spending hours on color correction. Selecting an effective hardware and software combination will ensure a successful 3D scan to print process.

Ultimately, choosing the right 3D scanner is about looking closely at the project and determining what the specific needs are based on that. While there isn’t a single solution that will fit everyone’s requirements, each professional 3D scanner has its own benefits for different projects. Regardless of the project, 3D scanners can help make life easier (and maybe even a little more fun).