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Despite being an essential component of the 3D printing ecosystem, 3D scanning is often overlooked. Sure, advanced users have long known how to leverage 3D scanning for professional applications such as reverse engineering or metrology. But consumers, even the makers interested in 3D printing, are much less prone to know what is 3D scanning and how to use a 3D scanner. Indeed, 3D scanners are often quite expensive and complex pieces of hardware designed for industrial use case. There are only a few models of 3D scanners designed with entry-level users in mind. Spotting an opportunity, a few companies have taken a radical approach and decided to bring 3D scanning to the masse by turning smartphones into 3D scanners with their 3D scanning mobile apps. We have listed in the article below the five best (and free!) mobile apps for 3D scanning.
3D scanning is one of the three ways to get a 3D model, which can then be modified and 3D printed (the other two ways are downloading a 3D model or creating it from scratch using a 3D design software). 3D scanning also sounds quite intuitive and “easy”: the user would simply need to scan the desired object in 3D using a device. But reality is different and most 3D scanners, even those targeting consumers, are quite difficult to operate. That’s why the idea of a simple mobile app for 3D scanning is so appealing. Turning a smartphone, a friendly and intimate device, into a 3D scanner could be the way to make 3D scanning a simpler and more intuitive experience.
3D scanning mobile apps are all based on the photogrammetry 3D scanning technology. Basically, the user has to take several pictures of the object from different using the 3D scanning app. The app usually provides on-screen guidance to help the user take pictures properly and capture the entire object/person. The images are then processed by the 3D scanning app, either in the cloud or locally on the mobile device, and “stitched” together to form a 3D model. The 3D model obtained can then be exported to be modified using a 3D software, or even 3D printed. Some advantages of mobile 3D scanning apps: they are free, usually user-friendly and intuitive, and leverage existing hardware.
After the recent launch of Scandy, a newcomer on the promising market of mobile 3D scanning, we have decided to list the best free mobile apps for 3D scanning. We found five 3D scanning apps currently available and in active development: three do not require any additional hardware, while two of these apps must be used with a sensor (such as the Structure Sensor which can be purchased for under $400 on Amazon) which must be mounted on the smartphone/tablet. Check out our list of the best 3D scanning mobile apps and let us know if you’ve tried some of them in the comments section!
- update: September, 2016
- iOS, Windows for tablets (using Intel RealSense R200 3D camera)
- Free (requires Structure Sensor or iSense device)
ItSeez3D has an ambitious goal: “turn your mobile device into a powerful 3D scanner”. This mobile 3D scanning app was created in Russia, as part of the ItSeez group. ItSeez3D is only available on iOS and require an Occipital Structure Sensor to capture objects in 3D. This 3D scanning app is suitable for professional applications, such as body scanning for example. The texture and details of the scans made using itSeez3D with the Structure Sensor is really good, superior to the results obtained with the Structure Sensor software, according to 3D scanning expert Nick Lievendag in his review.
- Last update: April, 2016
Trnio is a 3D scanning app which was started in 2013, with the goal to “convert your photos into 3D models”. This simple and free 3D scanning app was created by Jan-Michael Tressler and turns basically any iPhone into a 3D scanner. Trnio offers two 3D scanning modes: the object mode and the scene mode (for outdoors or larger objects). What’s next for Trnio? An Android version of the 3D scanning app should be released by the end of 2016. The Linkedin bio of the founder also states that Trnio is “working with 3D printing market leaders to bring one-touch 3D printing camera to the phone”. To be continued!
- Last update: August, 2016
Scann3D is one of the mobile apps developed by Hungarian startup SmartMobileVision. Founded in Budapest in 2014, this startup was created by a group of engineers to “provide leading edge technology solutions in everyday 3D vision challenges”. Scann3D is only available on Android as of now. Its main difference versus other free 3D scanning mobile apps is that Scann3D does not use cloud processing: all the computation is done locally on the device. Speed of processing and battery consumption will largely depends on your smartphone capacities. Scann3D also offers a variety of advanced 3D scanning options, and export to 3D formats directly from the mobile app. You can read a full review of Scann3D by Phonereviews.co.uk here.
Scandy was founded in 2014 in New Orleans, in the United States. Scandy is a startup focusing on using 3D scanning to make it easier to 3D print full-color versions of objects or landscape. For the time being, the Scandy mobile 3D scanning app allows users to scan objects or landscapes then have them 3D printed by the Scandy 3D printing service. Users can either capture sphere panoramas (“Scandy Spheres”, 3D prints starting at $20) or regular objects (“Scandy Objects”), using the 3D scanner iSense as an add-on to their smartphone or tablet. After raising $1m in venture capital in April 2015, Scandy announced in August 2016 that they are working on a $500 3D scanning device for mobiles, which should ship by the end of the year. Scandy’s business model seems to be a 3D printing service, the app being just a way to easily generate 3D models.
- Last update: October, 2015 (the app was discontinued in April 2017)
- iOS, Android
123D Catch was for a while the most famous 3D scanning mobile app available on the market. It belonged to 3D software giant Autodesk as part of the 123D app suite. 123D Catch was compatible with iOS, Android and even Windows phones. 123D Catch was a quite intuitive 3D scanning app which provided an easy way for users to capture objects and people in 3D using their smartphone. To get a 3D model, users had to take a series of pictures from different angles with their smartphone (123D Catch offer some useful on-screen guidance to capture all necessary images properly). The pictures captured through the app were then “stitched” together in the cloud. This cloud processing part could lead to some delay between the moment you captured the object and the moment you actually saw the 3D model in 123D Catch. Export to STL and other 3D file formats were possible through the website only.
Other discontinued 3D scanning mobile apps: