How Do 3D Scanners Work?

How Do 3D Scanners Work

The technology of 3D scanning has been in existence for quite some time and is being applied in various fields. 3D scanning involves capturing the physical shape and measurements of real-life objects or surroundings and creating digital 3D models.

3D scanners send light detection and laser beams toward a reflected object. A sensor collects the data from the reflections, maps them out, and connects the pieces to form a 3D digital render.

Different types of 3D scanning technologies like laser triangulation, structured light scanning, photogrammetry, and time-of-flight are advantageous and suitable for various applications and object types.

In this article, we will provide deeper insights into the functionality of 3D scanners and their extensive impact on various industries.

What Is A 3D Scanner?

A 3D scanner is a device that enables you to map out objects or environments on a computer digitally. It scans an object with sound, light, or lasers to create a 3-dimensional accurate model that you can edit and observe digitally.

3D scanners help map out objects that must be measured or modeled manually. They use various scanning methods to render digital models for many uses accurately.

Different 3D scanners and other scanning methods are helpful in different situations. The easiest way to create a 3D model of an object with many sides and curves is to use a 3D scanner to map out its measurements.

What Is A 3D Scanner?
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This way, you can have a digital model of the object in seconds rather than making it a lifelong project. 3D scanners can be used in various industries, from 3D printing to construction and healthcare. talks about 3D laser scanning and how the laser beams are reflected off an object into a sensor that creates ‘point clouds’ of data based on the object’s surface. These ‘point clouds’ are meshed to form an image of the whole thing.

A point cloud refers to a collection of numerous individual points in 3D space, each with its unique set of XYZ coordinates. These points together show the shape and surface details of an object. Once the point cloud data is acquired, it can be processed further to make a complete 3D model, either as a mesh (triangulated surface) or a solid model (using CAD software).

How Does 3D Scanning Work?

Now that you understand what 3D scanners are let’s dive into how 3D scanners work. To accurately capture scanned objects and generate precise models, 3D scanners employ a range of different methods.

3D scanners collect data about objects or environments by capturing multiple data points, generating scan data that represents the object’s surface geometry.

This scanning method requires either a reference point upon which it can base the measurements or multiple sensors to detect changes in an object’s surface from different angles. explains how different types of 3D scanning work.

Laser Scanning

Laser Scanning
Image Credit: bimexeng
  • Singular beams or fan beams are produced that reflect off an object.
  • The beams are reflected towards an image sensor that collects all the data from the reflected laser beams.
  • Each data the sensor receives is processed to determine the dimensions of the object.
  • In order to create an accurate 3D model of an object, laser beams must be reflected off its entire surface.
  • Once the data has been collected, the information is converted into a rendered 3D digital image.

Stereo Vision Scanning

  • Two cameras are placed at different positions around an object and take pictures.
  • The pixels at the edges of an object are then matched up.
  • The images are connected to create depth.

Time Of Flight Scanning

  • Laser Beams are shot toward an object.
  • The beams bounce off the object and move toward a sensor positioned to the laser and the item.
  • The sensor then times how fast each laser beam or pulse returned to determine the object’s distance from the laser.
  • When collated and processed, the timing of each laser’s return will provide a 3D image of the scanned object.

Structured Light Scanning

  • A camera and projector are positioned relative to each other near an object.
  • The projector projects light patterns onto an object to measure the distortion of those light patterns.
  • The camera captures the distortions in the light patterns and generates an image.

What Types Of 3D Scanners Exist?

Types Of 3D Scanners
Image Credit: all3dp

3D scanners have existed for several years, so advances in this field are expected. Many different types of scanners can now be used for various things.

Various types of 3D scanners have become available to everybody. However, there are still differences in the quality of the scanning that can be done. 3D scanners are no longer the stuff of legend, used only by big companies.

Different Types Of 3D Scanners

  • Handheld 3D scanners, including wireless and portable scanners.
  • Desktop 3D scanner.
  • Body 3D scanners.
  • 3D scanning apps for Android and iPhone using the camera.
  • Industrial 3D scanners.
  • Intraoral 3D scanners.

What Do 3D Scanners Do?

3D scanners use light and lasers to capture details about the dimensions of an object or your environment to create digital 3D models. 3D scanners were made to accurately measure things that would typically be very difficult to determine.

The light wave and laser beam reflections provide helpful information about an object’s surface to the sensor, and this information is then compiled into a complete model by stitching together millions of points connecting to form a whole.

What Is 3D Scanning Used For?

3D scans of a person’s body can help animators to create lifelike models and movements for movies and games. These models make it easier to rig models and take much of the work out of implementing designs.

3D scanning can be used in various creative ways to improve product quality and aid in creating unique and bespoke products. For example, dental products can be designed based on digital models of a person’s teeth.

Not only can 3D scanning help you improve the future, but it can also preserve the past when scanning historical objects to create digital copies. These digital copies can also help in discovering new, previously unknown information.

3D Scanning
Image Credit: shining3d

According to, mechanical parts manufacturers use 3D scanning to determine the quality and integrity of products and to check for damage.

Medical research also benefits from 3D scanning since it allows the comparison of digital models so that researchers may determine subtle differences and their causes. Based on one study, 3D scanning can also further advances in the medical field.

3D body scanners can create accurate models of your body, which can be used in various industries, such as fashion and fitness. Instead of relying on a scale, a 3D body scanner can provide information on your body type, material makeup, and fine details that would otherwise be unavailable.

Some of the uses of 3D scanning include:

  • Creating models for digital animation.
  • Creating digital models of custom products.
  • Preserving history by making digital copies of historical artifacts.
  • Inspecting the integrity of mechanical parts that would otherwise be challenging.
  • Comparing objects for research purposes down to a minuscule level.
  • Body modeling for fashion and fitness.

What is Reverse Engineering?

Reverse engineering with 3D scanning involves scanning a physical object using a 3D scanner to create a digital 3D model. This model can provide insight into the object’s design, dimensions, and inner workings, even if the original design documentation needs to be completed.

What is Reverse Engineering?
Image Credit: zeal3dprinting

The typical steps for reverse engineering using 3D scanning include the following:

Data Processing

After scanning, the data is processed to create a 3D model that can be utilized. This process may require cleaning up the data, aligning multiple scans, and eliminating noise or artifacts.

CAD Model Generation

Many times, 3D data is imported into CAD software (computer-aided design) and transformed into a parametric CAD model. From there, the model can be easily edited, modified, and analyzed.


Reverse engineering is a valuable process involving detailed documentation of an object’s design and structure. This documentation can be used for analysis, replication, or improvements in the future.

Analysis and Modifications

By analyzing the digital model, engineers and designers can better understand its structure, enabling them to modify or improve based on the scanned data.

3D Scanning

A 3D scanner is utilized to obtain a tangible item’s shape. It generates a point cloud or mesh model illustrating the object’s surface geometry.

Laser Triangulation

A widely used method for 3D scanning is laser triangulation. This method involves projecting a laser line or dot pattern onto the object’s surface, which is then captured by a camera as reflected laser light. The 3D scanner analyzes the distortion of the laser pattern on the object’s surface to determine its shape and generate a 3D model.

Laser triangulation scanners use laser triangulation to capture the surface geometry of objects and create 3D models. They are a type of 3D scanning technology.

The typical steps involved in the laser triangulation 3D scanning process are as follows:


The camera is placed at a specific angle to the laser source to capture images of the laser pattern on the object’s surface.


The 3D scanner emits a laser line or a dot pattern onto the object’s surface. The laser light interacts with the object, creating reflections containing surface geometry information.

Point Cloud Generation

Using distance data gathered through triangulation, a point cloud is generated. This point cloud consists of a collection of 3D points with XYZ coordinates, representing the object’s surface.


The 3D scanner uses the position of the laser pattern in camera images and the known projection angle to calculate the distance from the camera to every point on the surface of the object.

3D Model Reconstruction

The point cloud undergoes additional processing to produce a 3D mesh model consisting of a network of interconnected triangles that closely approximate the surface of the object.

Laser triangulation 3D scanning is widely used in various industries, such as manufacturing, engineering, quality control, cultural heritage preservation, and more. It enables capturing detailed and highly accurate 3D models of objects quickly and efficiently, converting physical objects into digital representations that can be analyzed, visualized, and manipulated virtually.

What Is A 3D Body Scanner?

A 3D body scanner is what it sounds like. It performs a 360-degree scan of your body to create an accurate digital model for various purposes. 

Some fashion businesses may use a 3D body scanner to determine the exact dimensions of someone’s body to create perfectly fitting clothes. Instead of manually taking measurements for an outfit that may not fit as you’d like, 3D body scanning provides all the data to design comfortable, form-fitting clothing based on your body. 

In the fitness industry, 3D body scanners can help professionals determine your body type to design custom fitness plans to provide you with the most effective workouts. They can also provide information about your body to help you find your ideal figure.3

Hand Held 3D Scanners

Handheld 3D scanners are excellent for creating digital models of objects from any location. Most handheld 3D scanners must be connected via cable, though portable and wireless 3D scanners are available.

A handheld 3D scanner uses triangulation to create digital models of scanned objects. To scan something, you’ll need to move the scanner slowly around it to obtain a complete measurement of whatever you’re scanning.

Secure the scanner and place the object on a turntable for the best results. Slowly rotate the object on the turntable to allow the scanner to determine its dimensions accurately.

Some handheld 3D scanners can connect wirelessly to your computer, making it easier to transfer the files and mesh the images to create the model.

How Are Industrial 3D Scanners Used?

Industrial scanners scan parts and objects that do not have any digital designs. These scans can make it easier to reproduce items for manufacturing purposes.

Industrial 3D scanners can get quite big, so they aren’t something you’d typically have at home. They have a fixed position, and objects are placed within their scanning range.

Industrial 3D scanners can create highly accurate models of the objects they scan; this is important due to how they are used.

3D Scanner For 3D Printing

3D printing has become a popular method of producing items that would otherwise be too expensive or unavailable. 3D printers use plastic filaments to create objects layer by layer.

3D scanners can be used to create models in CAD programs that will allow you to edit them as you like. After this, you can prepare the model for printing by ensuring you have placed supports where needed.

3D Scanner For 3D Printing
Image Credit: matterandform

In professional environments, 3D scanning and 3D printing can complement each other and improve your workflow. Scanning an object takes a few seconds, much faster than designing a replica yourself!

3D printing is helpful for prototyping and developing quick and accessible models for testing purposes. Combining the two can reduce a business’s financial and time costs by a large marg

Is 3D Scanning Accurate?

Since the development of 3D scanners, 3D scanners have evolved, but you may wonder, ‘Are 3D scans accurate?’ The answer is a resounding yes.

3D scanners have been developed to detect minute details and textures on an object to create highly accurate digital renders. Their accuracy has led to their use in many industries where they improve the quality control of work and products.

Can I Use A 3D Scanner On My Phone?

3D scanners have evolved for mobile use, and various 3D scanner apps exist for Android and iOS. These 3D scanner apps have been developed to use the device’s camera for scanning objects to compile the images while moving around an object.

Most 3D scanning apps have been developed for Android and iOS, though there are few Android-only 3D scanner apps. On the other hand, iOS has several 3D scanner apps that aren’t available on Android.

3D Scanner For iPhone

3D Scanner App (iOS only)

3D Scanner App
Image Credit: 3dscannerapp

Scandy Pro (iOS only)

Scandy Pro
Image Credit: scandy

Canvas (iOS only)

Canvas for iOS
Image Credit: canvas

Trnio (iOS only)

Image Credit: trnio

3D Scanner For Android


Image Credit: web.widar

3D Live Scanner (Android only)


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Image Credit: Qlone

Kiri Engine

Kiri Engine
Image Credit: kiriengine

Is 3D Scanning Accurate?

3D scanning has become an industry standard due to its accuracy and versatility. Many businesses have incorporated 3D scanning into their workflows to speed up processes and reduce the cost and effort of digitizing products.

According to, 3D scanners have varying levels of quality, though professional 3D scanners can detect differences on a surface down to 0.01mm. Because 3D scanners can detect minute differences that people may miss, they are used in various industries to create accurate models and improve quality assurance.

One 3D scanning technique is laser dot scanning, otherwise known as laser point scanning or laser profiling. This method involves projecting a solitary dot onto the surface of an object using a laser. It is frequently used when scanning small items or capturing intricate details, as it provides a high level of precision and accuracy. Laser dot scanning is utilized in various applications, including quality control, metrology, dimensional inspection, and reverse engineering.

Depending on the scanning task’s specific needs, laser dot scanning can be done with handheld devices or advanced automated scanning systems.

Round Up

Scanning objects can be difficult depending on different factors, such as how complex the object is, what kind of technology is being used, and how much experience the operator has with the scanning process.

In general, although 3D scanning technology has improved and become more readily available, the scanning process of obtaining top-notch results may still call for some skill and experience, particularly with intricate items.

Scanning medium-sized objects in 3D can be helpful in various industries and purposes, such as product design, archaeology, art preservation, engineering, and virtual simulations.

A business could benefit from a 3D scanner because 3D scanners can provide accurate 3D digital modeling in no time at all. So, if you want to transform how you capture images or start a new hobby, grab one – and get scanning!

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