We just finished updating our handheld 3D scanner guide and selection, and would like to share the insights we gathered and reasons behind the update in this post.
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Our team keeps tabs on AM industry news every day, creating new listings or conversely removing obsolete products as manufacturers broaden or refresh their lineups. This means that we regularly update our buyer’s guides and product selections to reflect new trends and evolutions.
We recently did so with our guide to handheld 3D scanners, a market segment that we know particularly well, and took a step back to reflect on how the sector had changed over the years. Today, we’d like to share some of the insights we gathered.
Handheld 3D scanner market trends and insights
We identified 4 key tendencies, from both user and business standpoints: ease of use, precision and versatility, hybrid 3D scanning technologies, and emerging Asian brands.
1. Ease of use
Providing smoother workflows is definitely something any company (tech or non-tech) should strive for. That said, 3D scanning is already a relatively complex technology to grasp, so it is especially important for 3D scanner manufacturers to focus part of their efforts here.
There are several areas in which handheld 3D scanners have become easier to use:
3D scanners are almost only just as good as their accompanying software. This is another front where manufacturers actively (and increasingly) face each other, whether it’s for functionalities, speed, or simplicity.
That last point is quite important: 3D scanning software needs to be as straightforward as possible for market adoption. Now, interfaces are becoming more intuitive and it’s much easier to find your way around today’s 3D scanning software than ever before.
We especially noticed this with Shining 3D’s EinScan software. In 2017, when reviewing the EinScan-SP, Pierre-Antoine went so far as to say that “the software feels like a collection of functionalities glued together without a real backbone.” Last December, he listed EinScan software as one of the HX scanner’s advantages.
Other brands have also made leaps and bounds, like Artec with their AI-based Artec Studio software which even made it possible to double the resolution of their Eva and Leo scanners. GOM is another staple brand, delivering excellent, advanced 3D scanning software solutions as we saw with the ATOS Q (though it isn’t handheld).
Generally speaking, point cloud processing and editing is faster, too, and this is partly fuelled by incremental PC enhancements. You can’t run 3D scanning software without a decent graphics card or sufficiently fleshed out RAM.
Basically, a few years ago, you’d need a whole bunch of cables to plug your equipment in. When we reviewed the Creaform HandySCAN 700 back in 2017, we were pleasantly surprised by their smart cable management system; there are still several cables, but they’re all linked together so you only have to watch out for one cable when you scan. Since then, we’ve seen this kind of system slowly become the new norm.
But why not go wireless? To our knowledge, and excluding dynamic SLAM 3D scanners, there’s only one wireless 3D scanner on the market right now and it’s the Artec Leo. Wireless is priceless, but 3D scanners require a lot of processing power. It isn’t possible to pack such an amount of power into a small device while keeping it lightweight, and we currently don’t have the resources to transfer so much data without cables (this may change with the arrival of 5G).
Portable 3D scanner manufacturers are also working on making their devices as lightweight as possible. Some are as light as 700g, like the Calibry, while the lightest scanners used to weigh well over a kilogram just two or three years ago. This is an extremely important factor, since you need to carry the scanner around and hold it out in front of you while you 3D scan your object. A kilogram might not seem like much, but it can start to feel extremely heavy after 15 or 20 minutes of scanning.
Calibration is necessary for all 3D scanners, and it can be a lengthy, time-consuming process at times. We noticed efforts on this side too throughout several recent reviews.
In addition, most of today’s handheld 3D scanners feature LED light indicators to warn users when they’re too close or too far away from the part they’re scanning. This makes it easy to keep the scanner at the right distance without having to look back at the computer screen every few seconds.
Here’s a video from our HandySCAN BLACK Elite review to illustrate:
Now, that’s not to say that 3D scanners are truly “plug-n-play”, but we’re almost there.
2. Higher precision and versatility
As developments in light projectors (for structured light), lasers (for laser triangulation), and cameras (for texture acquisition and capturing light deformations) continue to arrive, 3D scanning technologies become more accurate and precise.
With better precision, handheld 3D scanners can now stand up against CMMs and even be used for industrial-grade metrology purposes, which is by the way another trendy application for handheld 3D scanners.
They’re also increasingly versatile, many being able to adapt to different part sizes. We’ve seen a few all-in-one portable 3D scanners that can scan objects as small as coins and then scan an entire car or plane.
Last but definitely not least, middle-range handheld 3D scanners are now capable of capturing dark and/or reflective surfaces, which used to be a true pain point. Although these shiny black surfaces are still challenging to 3D scan, it’s clear that 3D scanner manufacturers have made huge advances in that regard.
3. Hybrid technology
A hybrid 3D scanner is a device equipped with two or more 3D scanning technologies. Technically, there are dozens of them, if we count handheld 3D scanners that use structured light or laser triangulation with photogrammetry. Photogrammetry is a popular secondary technology that, in this case, is used to acquire textures (colors) and/or to aid the scanner’s software in aligning different scans together.
When we talk about hybrid 3D scanners though, we’re mostly referring to scanners that can use structured light (LED) and laser triangulation. There aren’t many on the market at the moment; Shining 3D only launched their hybrid HX lineup last Fall.
We took a closer look at these LED and laser modes when Pierre-Antoine reviewed the Shining 3D EinScan HX a couple months ago; structured light enables fast scans, while the laser mode is excellent for shiny, complex parts.
Given how convenient it is to have these two key technologies at hand, our hope is that more manufacturers will decide to develop hybrid handheld 3D scanners.
ScanTech also offers a semi-hybrid scanner, the KSCAN20, which is equipped with two different kinds of lasers: red laser crosses for quick scans, and blue parallel lines for detailed scans.
4. New entrants
Incumbent 3D scanner manufacturers are kept on their toes by emerging Asian brands that are coming up with highly competitive solutions at lower costs.
Shining 3D, who is now a market leader with a very diverse product lineup, is an excellent example for other Chinese 3D scanner manufacturers like ScanTech (a rising star, competing directly with Creaform) or Thunk3D (entry-level products below $10K).
That said, on the software side, there is still a gap to fill. Emerging brands must catch up with years or sometimes decades of experience that main players like GOM, Artec, or Creaform (Ametek) have accumulated.
ZEISS, who acquired GOM in 2019, recently entered the handheld market as well with the T-Scan Hawk. It is based on ScanTech’s KSCAN20– which is easy to see when you compare the two side by side– but comes with more advanced software built on ZEISS’ optical expertise.
In other parts of the world, some lesser-known brands are also leaving their mark, including Canada-based Polyga, Israeli Mantis Vision, and Russian manufacturer THOR3D, who have been on the market for several years now.
The handheld 3D scanner scene is very dynamic, with increased competition driving innovation and lowering prices, and it’s very promising for the future of 3D scanning.
Updating our 2021 handheld 3D scanner shortlist
Taking all of the above into account, we updated this year’s handheld 3D scanner selection, adding recently released products like the EinScan HX hybrid scanner and a new “Runner-ups” section for THOR3D, Polyga, and Mantis Vision. We also included ScanTech for the first time and kept flagship 3D scanners from Creaform (including their entry-level Peel 2) and Artec.
The result is a concise and up-to-date list of 5 of the best handheld 3D scanners on the market in 2021. We considered product performance, personal experience, feedback from our partners, worldwide availability, and brand maturity among other factors.
What do you think about our selection? Have you spotted any other trends in the handheld 3D scanner market? Send us an email or give us a shout out on social media to share your thoughts.