3D scanners categories

The 3D scanners can be classified in several categories: Application, Desktop, Portable, Industrial and Body Scanner.

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Desktop 3D scanners

A desktop 3D scanner

In this category are classified all the 3D scanners that are small enough to fit on a desktop. They are intended for 3D scanning small to medium size objects.

The desktop 3D scanners fall into two architectures. The closed frame build offer a small controlled environment and are ideal for dental or jewelry 3D scans. The tripod architecture is more flexible to accommodate bigger objects and can also be moved around. Both types are usually connected to turntables for a more automated process.

The desktop 3D scanners can rely on structured light or laser triangulation technologies. They can be used for medical (dental, hearing aid), reverse engineering, entertainment, jewelry and design applications.

Handheld/Portable 3D scanners

A portable 3D scanner

In this category are classified all the 3D scanners that are small and lightweight enough to be handheld and moved around.

The portable 3D scanners have pistols like shapes. The user moves around the subject and gradually create a 3D scan. This type of 3D scanners are the most flexible and can perform 3D scans of small and big objects, of environments (such as full rooms) or people.

The portable 3D scanners rely on photogrammetry, structured light or laser triangulation technologies. Most of them can capture textured (colored) 3D scans.

Industrial 3D scanners

A robotic arm equipped with a 3D scanner

In this category are classified the 3D scanners with the greatest performance. They are also called Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMM) and can perform highly detailed 3D scans.

The industrial 3D scanners come in a wide variety of shapes, each optimized to address specific uses cases. The most common are reverse engineering, sheet metal or tooling inspection and maintenance.

The industrial 3D scanners make profit of all the 3D scanning technologies, sometimes in combination, to offer the best possible performance: structured light, laser triangulation, contact, laser pulse and photogrammetry. They do not usually capture the textures (colors) of objects.

Body scanners

In this category are classified the devices and system able to 3D scan human bodies and human body parts (face, hands, feets, full limbs).

The body 3D scanners most common designs are either huge cabins, where the person to be 3D scanned is surrounded by sensors, or a couple turntable with a fixed sensor. They are able to 3D scan in color (with textures) a full person in a few seconds. The 3D scanning technologies are photogrammetry (fast but requires a lot of cameras and/or photos) and structured light (better resolution but requires the subject to stand still for some time).

The body 3D scanners are used for medical (prosthetics, orthosis,), fitness or fashion applications. They are also very popular for producing detailed 3D scans which can be 3D printed into 3D figurines.

Some portable 3D scanners can be used as body scanners but their architecture will make them fall in the Portable/handheld category.

Mobile apps

3D scanning application running on tablet

In this category are classified the software which can perform 3D scans one installed on affordable hardware such as smartphones and tablets. The 3D scanning applications rely on the device sensors they are installed on.

The most common technical solution is to use the camera and inertial sensors of a smartphone to record photogrammetric data before turning it into a 3D scan in color (with a texture).

The overall performance of the system depends on the camera resolution and lighting conditions. Moving subjects and small subjects are really hard to 3D scan. Check out our list of the five best and free 3D scanning mobile apps to get started!