iPhone cameras always represent one of the best cameras the mobile industry has to offer, and you will usually find an iOS Apple device equipped with industry leading technology, like 3D scan with iPhone.
It’s not just about improving quality after each iteration. New technologies and software that can optimize and maximize what the latest model’s imaging sensors can do are also introduced.
This article will teach us how to 3D Scan with just your iPhone. We’ll learn the basics of the technology, the features offered by 3D scanning apps, and the optimizations it offers for iPhone-specific image sensors.
3D Scan for iPhone
3D scanning for iOS devices primarily makes use of what is known as photogrammetry. This is basically the method of using multiple angle shots to create a single 3D image based on the positions of the photos featuring the same object. Essentially, image sensors from the iPhone camera analyze each detail of the object’s surface to recreate the original’s shape and form as a digital 3D asset.
The number of images required can vary depending on the app and mode selection. But you need a lot more often, like fifty or more images. These snapshots are taken consecutively as you pan around your camera, so it is more like taking a single frame out of a video covering all the sides of the target object.
After a successful 3D scan, the digital image can be saved in a number of different universal formats, which can then be imported into other devices in various digital file formats to be edited by more dedicated 3D modeling software.
Of course, native 3D scanners for iPhone would most likely also have an editing suite. But they often only have limited options. Certainly not as comprehensive as software that you would use on a full desktop computer.
How Can I 3D Scan with iPhone
To scan objects, 3D scanners, and scanning technology for iPhone requires the user to hold and move it around the subject to take multiple photos of each side. As explained earlier, this helps take multiple snapshots of the same subject to get the most data for extrapolating the 3D data.
While some apps will have specialized procedures compared to others, you’d most likely still have to follow these fundamental steps to get the best 3D image out of your high-quality modern iPhone camera:
- Keep lighting more than sufficient within the area of the target object. Let as much sunlight inside the house as possible, for example. Or, apply a generous amount of diffused artificial lighting around the subject.
- If the object has a complex surface, like a head statue’s hair part, keep each angle well-lit. Do not leave one shadowy area unturned, as this will affect the quality of the finalized 3D Scan.
- While panning the iPhone around, ensure its average distance from the target object is the same. This will help keep proportions consistent on the first try (without post-editing too much).
- If the target object has few distinct surface features, consider creating a 3D image of it. Especially if the subject has a more or less even surface in both color and contours. Your 3D scanner will not be able to analyze the image data as accurately as normal.
- Don’t scan moving objects. Not only do its positions become troublesome for the iPhone’s camera to track, but the lighting levels on each side also become very inconsistent. And no, not even slow-moving objects will do.
Lastly, when scanning people, it is recommended to do a panoramic profile scan. You start from one ear, pan around till the end of the other area, and then supplement the data with top and bottom views to finalize the 3D Scan. Needless to say, you must also follow all the steps above.
iPhone LiDAR Sensor
Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) a term based on the word Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging). As expected, LiDAR uses visible light directly instead of radio waves to create an environmental map of the surroundings.
The delay that each light ray produces on the image sensor allows depth to be calculated and the coordinates of the surface where the reflected light was detected.
IPhones have refined and developed their LiDAR features for several years, allowing for better image tracking and detail analysis than ever before.
While LiDAR is useful for many applications, including AR (augmented reality), it has its niche within 3D scanner apps for Android and iPhone units. The advantages of lidar technology usually range from speeding up the scanning process to easing environmental requirements for 3D scanning objects.
Its primary disadvantage is that it should optimally be used with other image data-gathering functions, or it will not produce the same quality as with dedicated 3D scanners.
Apple’s TrueDepth camera system
Apple’s TrueDepth camera system is a technology used in the front-facing camera of iPhones and iPads that enables the device to capture accurate face data. This is done by projecting and analyzing thousands of dots to create a depth map on the device owner’s face. This, in turn, captures an infrared image of your face (source: [Apple Support](https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208108)).
The TrueDepth camera system powers the Face ID and Memoji features (source: [Trusted Reviews](https://www.trustedreviews.com/explainer/what-is-a-truedepth-camera-4263845)). The TrueDepth camera system also replaces the front-facing camera on iPhones X and later. It includes components dedicated to capturing 3D data for Face ID authentication and Animoji (source: [The iPhone FAQ](https://www.iphonefaq.org/archives/976228)).
TrueDepth technology has been included in every iPhone model since the iPhone X in 2017 (excluding the iPhone SE 2020 and the iPhone SE 5G 2022), as well as in all iPad Pro models since 2018 (source: [Gizmodo Australia](https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2023/05/truedepth-camera-apple/)).
Best 3D Scan iPhone Apps
Qlone is designed as a universal 3D scanning and editing app with many customization options. It is one of the best iOS 3D scanners in terms of simplicity and image scaling, able to fully utilize the capabilities of the latest iPhones without overcomplicating its use.
That being said, it’s quite distinct from other entries on this list due to the requirement of a specially printed paper. You must download the pattern at the app’s official website and then use a printer. Otherwise, you can’t take advantage of its positional tracking features, let alone even initiate the scans in the first place.
As expected, the dedicated spot created by the specialty paper makes it easier to estimate orientation, dimensions, and details. Editors can then merge scanned sections or resize certain portions to modify the 3D model before saving the file.
For something more dedicated to post-editing, Scandy Pro remains the most versatile 3D scanner app for iPhone and exclusively for Apple devices only. Not only does it spot highly-detailed and freely-movable previews. But it does it mid-scan! This means you will immediately know if the quality of your 3D Scan is acceptable or not.
LiDAR mode is the default recommended use mode for this app. This mode will allow it to utilize its mid-scan preview features and provide more image information via accurate variable distance scans.
Scandyy Pro’s suite of editing features is not exactly dedicated software-level, but it is very close. In fact, with a few buttons switched here and there due to screen orientation, most of the tools are the same regardless of whether you are using an iPhone, iPad, or even a Mac!
This is yet another great 3D scanner app for iPhone exclusively. Trnio can accommodate modes for capturing a specific object or an environment with the same target object. In addition, it also has an “ARKit” mode, made for quickly scanning huge areas without much technical fuss.
This app is one of the more sensitive apps when it comes to basic environmental conditions. While it can produce 3D images of competitive quality, it demands really good lighting. The subject must also be placed against a contrasting background to keep its surface details clear.
As for its editing features, it’s very basic. But you at least still get complete previews, one before initiating the first Scan and another before saving the 3D image as a digital asset. Scans are generally saved as OBJ files, but other formats are also usable.
KIRI Engine is a 3D scanner app for iPhone and Android that provides a quick and easy way to scan detailed digital models. It focuses on easy color reproduction, ensuring that the 3D scanned image won’t suffer from artifacts as long as sufficient lighting.
You are given access to its dedicated cloud servers upon using the app. This will help process the image so that the iPhone only focuses on sensor optimization. Suppose you are using a relatively recent iPhone model. In that case, you should be able to combine its specs with a premium account to get fully-analyzed 3D scans in no time.
Yup, that’s right. KIRI Engine has a premium option that allows prioritization in the cloud-server processing queue. You also get a bigger photo gallery limit, and your three-per-week scan exports will become unlimited.
Polycom, like Scandy Pro, is another 3D scanner app for iPhone that can provide LiDAR-based scanning options. The session using this mode effectively becomes a video mode, where countless points of light and their trajectories on the target surface are used to process the imaging data.
Compared to Scandy Pro, however, the feature is less comprehensive, and you will have slightly inferior results when using the LiDAR mode. On the flip side, this is much faster and less tedious than panning your camera slowly.
Of course, the regular Photo Mode will still get you the competitive-level 3D scans worthy of this list. The caveat is the number of pictures taken, though the data will be sent to dedicated analysis servers, so processing should be top-notch. Room Mode is as expected; it scans the immediate interior environment to recreate details of rooms.
When saving the image, you can locally store the files or share them to a dedicated Polycam community portal. If freely provided, other Polycam users can access the database to get your 3D scans for their projects.
We’re still far from perfectly recreating what professional-grade 3D scanners could do to their subjects on a mobile device. But we are getting very close, especially with the latest iPhones of the last few years. 3D scanners for iPhones might be on the heftier-priced side. Still, you are almost always guaranteed good quality since the image sensors already have outstanding performance value.
Even better, running 3D scanners for iPhone by tapping your finger on the screen. You might be unable to take advantage of low-light modes or AI enhancements. But with an iPhone, you only need to keep panning until enough shots are available.
In addition, certain 3D scanners apps for iPhone also have robust editing tools, which almost makes them usable as desktop 3D modeling software. High-level refinements are still limited, and you’re mostly limited to just editing the scanned object. But the experience should transfer directly to any dedicated desktop software you may use later.
Suppose you have an iPhone model from at least three to four generations ago. In that case, you already have the perfect setup for using 3D scanner apps for iPhones for scanning large objects or small objects.
If this is your first time using such apps, use free versions first. Test out their quality and your skill in gathering image data. After a few practice sessions, You can move on to more complicated and professional stuff.
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