How to choose a 3D scanner?

3D printing is becoming increasingly valuable for manufacturing and engineering, as it solves many long-standing problems, such as replicating existing parts and creating prototypes.

If you have a digital model of a part that is ready for 3D printing, you can print virtually anything. But what if you don’t have a digital model?

In the past, to get a digital model, you would need to measure the part by hand and create a model in CAD software or take it to a metrology lab.

If you needed to replace even a small, broken part with a 3D-printed version, you could spend hours preparing the 3D model.

But the good news is that those days of unnecessary delays are over. You can speed up 3D model preparation by using a modern 3D scanner to create a 3D printer-ready mesh with accurate data.

Modern 3D scanners allow you to create a 3D model of the desired part in minutes.

Read on to learn how to incorporate a 3D scanner into your workflow and choose the best 3D scanner for 3D printing.

3D Printing with 3D Scanning: A Workflow

Integrating a 3D scanner into your 3D printing workflow is simple. Structured light 3D scanners are a great choice for many applications.

They work by projecting a grid pattern onto an object and capturing the distortion of those projections across the object’s surface. This data is then processed into a point cloud, which is converted into an STL file.

Intelligent 3D metrology software, such as GOM Software, can be used to analyze, repair, and edit the mesh to finalize the 3D model for 3D printing.

Using a robust metrology software solution to create your digital model is another way to improve the efficiency of your 3D printing workflow.

A digital workflow can also be created using a 3D scanner, 3D printer, and powerful software like GOM Software:

  1. The 3D scanner scans the physical part to capture its dimensions and sends the data to GOM Software.
  2. The software converts the data into a polygonal mesh and exports it as an STL file. To either a 3D printer if it is print-ready or to CAD software if it requires modifications.
  3. The 3D printer prints the desired part using the STL file.
  4. The 3D scanner inspects the printed part.
  5. The software compares the inspected data to the reference 3D model, revealing actionable insights to improve part quality or design.

Objects: What kind of objects do you plan to scan?

This is the most important question to answer first. Some 3D scanners are better suited for scanning people, but they may not perform as well when scanning small details on static objects.

Other 3D scanners can scan objects from one centimeter to several meters with high accuracy and detail, but you will likely be disappointed with the results if you try to scan people with them.

Some objects will limit your choice of scanning technologies. For example, large objects such as architectural structures can only be efficiently digitized by laser 3D scanners or photogrammetry. Structural light scanners are not suitable for scanning such objects.

Sizes: What sizes of objects do you plan to scan?

Most 3D scanners are designed to work with a specific range of object sizes and have a fixed field of view. Manufacturers typically offer different scanner models for small objects (like jewelry) and large objects (like cars).

If you plan to scan objects of the same size, the best choice is to find a scanner with the most suitable field of view. If you want to scan a wide range of object sizes, from a few centimeters to several meters, look for a scanner with variable scanning zones and marker support.

These scanners allow you to capture detailed scans of small objects and scan large objects with high accuracy, thanks to automatic marker-based scan registration.

Accuracy: How precise do you need your scans to be?

The accuracy of a 3D scanner is one of its most important features. Accuracy is typically defined as the permissible deviation of each point of the resulting 3D model from the physical object. It is measured in millimeters or microns (1 micron = 0.001 mm).

3D scanners can be divided into three categories based on their accuracy:

  • High-precision scanners (5-30 microns): These scanners provide the highest quality scan data and are used in demanding applications such as aerospace engineering. However, they can be costly, costing over $50,000 for a scanner with an accuracy of 30 micrometers over a wide field of view.
  • Medium-accuracy scanners (30-100 microns): This is the largest group of 3D scanners, and they are used in a wide range of applications. A 3D scanner with an accuracy of 60-70 microns is suitable for most tasks and costs between $4,000 and $9,000.
  • Low-accuracy scanners (less than 100 microns): These inexpensive systems are used when high precision is not required. They can be used to obtain a general geometry of an object that will not be part of a working mechanism or when measurement error is not critical (such as when creating decorative furniture ornaments). These systems cost up to $3,000.

For expensive systems designed for landscape and architectural scanning, a deviation of 0.2-0.3 mm or even 1.2 mm may be acceptable, as this is not critical when digitizing rooms or construction sites.

Resolution: How detailed do you need your 3D model to be?

The resolution of a 3D scan determines the level of detail in the resulting model. The higher the resolution, the more detail is captured, but the larger the file size.

Accuracy and resolution are different. An accurate 3D scanner can produce a high-quality model with relatively few scan points, while an inaccurate scanner may produce a low-quality model with many scan points. The resolution of a 3D scanner also affects its price, with higher-resolution scanners being more expensive.

Speed: Is the speed of the scanner important?

Not so much for digitizing static objects; a scanner that can do one scan in under 18 seconds is good enough for most users. If a scanner can digitize a 360-degree object on a turntable in 2 minutes, that’s more than enough.

Faster systems are needed for scanning people because people can’t stay still for long. For these tasks, it’s better to choose a system whose speed is measured in frames per second, not seconds per frame. Systems with speeds of at most 1.5 seconds per frame are not recommended for scanning people.

Cost: How much does a 3D scanner cost you?

Here are some tips for budgeting for a 3D scanner:

  • Consider the features and options included in the scanner’s price. Similar scanners, in terms of price and technical capabilities, may have different standard delivery sets and default features. Ensure that the options you need, such as an automatic turntable, a texture capture module, or a travel case, are included in the price.
  • Take into account the cost of the software license and updates. Think about the annual license fee, the cost of updates, and the cost of additional licenses.

Some manufacturers charge a fee to update the software to the latest versions, even if you bought the scanner with an unlimited lifetime license for the software. A more expensive scanner with free software updates and an unlimited license may be a better value.

  • Choose models that you can service yourself, at least for calibration purposes, without having to contact the manufacturer.
  • Pay attention to the small details. If the scanner only works with reflective markers, you must budget for their purchase. Unlike traditional markers, reflective markers cannot be printed on regular paper using a regular printer.
  • Do you need all of the scanning features? You can save money by giving up some of them. For example, a desktop scanner that performs similarly to an expensive handheld scanner can be purchased for nearly four times less, but you will have to give up the ability to scan people.

Another example is that some scanner models can be purchased without separate modules (such as for scanning color textures).

Ready to find the perfect 3D scanner for your needs?

The first step is to understand what you need. Once you know what you’re looking for, use this checklist to help you shop for the best 3D scanner for your application.

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, ask for a demo of the scanners that you’re interested in. If you need help figuring out where to start, contact us for a demo of the GOM Scan 1.

With its blue light fringe projection technology, the GOM Scan 1 is a powerful and compact 3D scanner that can help you optimize your 3D printing process.

Making lives easier

3D scanners can make it much faster and easier to 3D print objects. By choosing the suitable scanner for your needs, you can create high-quality digital copies of your parts in minutes, which you can then slice and print.

3D scanning is an excellent investment for manufacturing professionals, product designers, and hobbyists. It can save you a lot of time and effort, and it can help you create better products.

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