What is terrestrial laser scanning?

Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) is a form of 3D scanning in which tripod-mounted laser scanners are used to capture large objects and environments. The technique is widely used in construction, surveying, forestry, and other disciplines.

Also known as long-range laser scanning, TLS involves deploying a scanner in a static location, whereas other laser scanners may be handheld or mounted to vehicles to capture data from a greater number of vantage points. TLS produces more accurate scans than mobile scanning — at the expense of speed and simplicity.

These 3D scanners are often generically called LiDAR scanners, though terrestrial scanners aren’t the only type of scanner to use the technology.

Depending on their range, speed, and features, terrestrial laser scanners generally cost between $20,000 and $100,000. Most are bundled with dedicated software packages that allow the user to process the scanned data for specific use cases.

This guide compares some of the leading models of terrestrial laser scanners from brands like Leica Geosystems and FARO, in addition to explaining how the scanning technology works and who uses it.

Terrestrial laser 3D scanner selection

ProductBrandCountryPrice
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
Leica BLK360Leica Geosystems Switzerland$ 18,500Ask for a quote
Focus S 70FARO United States$ 35,000Ask for a quote
X7Trimble United States$ 35,000Ask for a quote
SR3Maptek Australia upon requestAsk for a quote
GLS-2000Topcon Japan upon requestAsk for a quote
RayArtec 3D Luxembourg$ 60,000Ask for a quote
PolarisTeledyne Optech Canada$ 65,000Ask for a quote
Z + F IMAGER 5016Zoller + Fröhlich Germany$ 93,841Ask for a quote
Leica RTC360Leica Geosystems Switzerland$ 80,000Ask for a quote
100HSXSurphaser United States$ 90,000Ask for a quote
VZ-400iRIEGL Austria$ 120,000Ask for a quote

Overview of the best terrestrial laser scanners

Here we provide a deeper look into each terrestrial 3D scanner from our list.

http://Leica%20BLK360
Selection
CountrySwitzerland
Working range0.6 – 60 m
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 18,500

Described by Leica Geosystems as the smallest and lightest laser scanner in the world, the BLK360 weighs just 1 kg and is only 165 mm tall.

The low price point of the BLK360 is reflected in its slower scanning speed compared to the RTC360, but unique benefits include push-button functionality and thermal imaging capabilities.

The hardware works with the Leica Cyclone FIELD 360 mobile app and Cyclone REGISTER 360 (BLK Edition).

Selection
By FARO
CountryUnited States
Working range
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 35,000

Florida-headquartered Faro, a specialist in 3D capture, designed its FOCUS S series for the fast and straightforward scanning of complex objects.

The FOCUS S 70 is the company’s best-selling model, and includes a touch-screen interface, 8-megapixel camera, and a sealed design to guard against high temperatures and challenging outdoor environments.

With a range of 70 meters, the S 70 is the most affordable scanner in the FOCUS S series, and suitable scanning objects include architectural facades, production facilities and accident sites.

Selection

X7

By Trimble
CountryUnited States
Working range0.6 – 80 m
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 35,000

The Trimble X7 is a high-speed laser scanner offering automatic calibration, self-leveling, and automatic registration Californian company Trimble provides a two-year warranty for the X7, which is greater than the industry standard.

This laser scanner is one of the easiest to use, and doesn’t require in-depth skills or knowledge of 3Dscanning. Point clouds are automatically exported in common file formats (e.g. RCP for Autodesk), eliminating the need to convert the data via intermediary software.

Trimble’s Perspective software provides 3D visualization tools, automatic registration, and a user-friendly interface.

http://Maptek%20SR3
Selection

SR3

By Maptek
CountryAustralia
Working range
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
upon request

The Maptek SR3 is a terrestrial laser scanner designed for underground surveying and mapping. Its 600-meter range is long by most standards, but still makes it the shortest-range scanner in the Maptek R3 series.

Maptek designed the SR3 to be smaller, lighter, and faster than previous models. The scanner also offers IP65 protection, keeping out dust and debris when scanning voids, drives, and tunnels underground.

Features include an optional 147-megapixel HDR panoramic camera, automated survey registration, and web-enabled remote survey control.

http://Topcon GLS-2000
Selection
By Topcon
CountryJapan
Working range
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
upon request

The Japanese-made Topcon GLS 2000S is the shortest-range laser scanning solution in Topcon’s GLS 2000 series.

The GLS 2000S is a compact and lightweight system that captures a full 360° scan in under three minutes. It offers selectable laser modes (Class 3R to Class 1M), a multiple lens array system, and automatic temperature adjustment.

All scanners in the GLS 2000 series come with MAGNET Collage software.

http://Artec%20Ray
Selection

Ray

CountryLuxembourg
Working range3 – 110 m
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 60,000

The Artec Ray is a long-range 3D scanner designed for capturing large objects. Its sub-millimeter distance precision and angular accuracy produce clean, low-noise data capture.

Artec, based in Luxembourg and well-known for producing some of the best handheld 3D scanners, recommends the Ray 3D laser scanner for applications like reverse engineering, inspection, and construction, on objects like buildings, propellers, vehicles, and turbines.

The high-accuracy scanner is lightweight, compact, and portable, and works in conjunction with the popular Artec Studio software suite. Computer-free scanning is made possible using the Artec Remote app.

Selection
CountryCanada
Working range
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 65,000

Canadian company Teledyne Optech designed the Polaris for scanning applications like construction, forensic analysis, and shoreline mapping.

The terrestrial laser scanner boasts features like an integrated high-resolution camera, inclinometers, a compass, a GPS receiver, and weather-proof housing. The Polaris HD model offers the highest scanning speeds in the Polaris series.

In-field geo-referencing tools and automatic target recognition serve to reduce setup time, while one-button surveying makes the system accessible to unskilled operatives.

Selection
CountryGermany
Working range0.3 – 365 m
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 93,841

The IMAGER 5016 is a compact and lightweight 3D laser scanner from German company Zoller + Fröhlich.

Equipped with an integrated HDR camera, internal lighting, and a dedicated positioning system, the IP54-rated scanner has a maximum range of 360 meters and returns accurate results even at long distances.

The IMAGER 5016 also offers scanning speeds of up to a million points per second.

Selection
CountrySwitzerland
Working range
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 80,000

The Leica RTC360 from Switzerland’s Leica Geosystems — a market leader in terrestrial laser scanning — is a portable and highly automated laser scanning solution.

The high-end system allows users to pre-register point cloud data in the field to quickly conduct quality control checks, and offers an impressive scanning speed of two million points per second.

The RTC360 works with the Leica Cyclone FIELD 360 mobile app and Leica Cyclone REGISTER 360 office software.

Selection
CountryUnited States
Working range1 – 50 m
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 90,000

The 100HSX from Washington’s Surphaser is a portable, low-noise laser scanner offering sub-millimeter accuracy and a range of up to 50 meters. One version of the scanner can be configured to prioritize either range or noise reduction depending on the application.

Features include a robust construction, an optional camera system with 60-megapixel-equivalent color images, and an optional PC controller.

The bundled Surphaser software provides automatic target extraction, self-calibration, and real-time acquisition/analysis and preview scanning.

Selection
By RIEGL
CountryAustria
Working range
Price
Approximate starting prices based on supplier-provided information and public data. Prices may vary over time and do not include additional products or services (taxes, shipping, accessories, training, installation, …).
$ 120,000

The Riegl VZ-400i justifies its high price point with its innovative processing architecture and, to a lesser extent, its unusually long range.

This Austrian-made long-range scanner uses dual processing platforms: one for simultaneous acquisition of scan/image data, waveform processing, and system operations; another for automatic on-board registration, geo-referencing, and analysis.

Features include a high laser pulse repetition rate, high-precision ranging, and compatibility with user-developed python apps.

How does long-range laser scanning work?

Many terrestrial laser scanners use a technology known as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), which consists of shining lasers at an object and measuring the reflections with a sensor.

This technology analyzes laser return times and wavelengths to determine the position and dimensions of the object or environment.

The practice of terrestrial laser scanning involves setting up one of these LiDAR-based scanners, usually on a tripod, in or near the scanned object or environment. Then, the scanner captures the data in the form of a point cloud — a set of spatial, 3D data points.

The scanner must be moved and set up at different static locations in order to collect scan data from multiple angles. To obtain an accurate 3D scan of a building, for example, you need to scan it from more than one side.

If multiple large areas are being scanned, the software is used to perform point cloud registration, which combines the separate data sets (point clouds of four different facades of a building, for example) into one complete set.

Types of terrestrial laser scanners

Although “long-range laser scanning” is often used synonymously with TLS, some terrestrial laser scanners are defined as “short-range” or “mid-range” in relation to other models of a brand’s product line.

In practice, these distinctions may not be critical, since most applications do not make use of the hardware’s full scanning range.

Short range

Short-range terrestrial laser scanners may be used to capture targets like building facades, crash sites, crime scenes, and minor construction sites. They should not necessarily be considered entry-level scanners, since their accuracy and speed may be greater than long-range models.

Mid range

Mid-range terrestrial laser scanners may be used to capture targets like larger building facades, larger construction sites, and vehicles such as aircraft.

Long range

Long-range terrestrial laser scanners may be used to capture expansive outdoor environments like forests and urban areas, especially if there are obstacles that prevent operators from setting up near the scanned object.

Leica terrestrial laser scanner
A terrestrial laser scanner from Leica Geosystems. Source: AMM

Terrestrial laser scanning software

Software plays an important role in the terrestrial laser scanning workflow, both in the field and in the office.

When we talk about laser scanning software, we often mean the computer software that stitches together multiple point clouds in a process known as point cloud registration.

But software may also include 3D modeling and visualization tools, and even programs within the scanning hardware itself — for real-time feedback on a built-in interface, for example.

Comprehensive software suites may include individual applications for all of the above. Leica Cyclone, for example, comprises 10 separate modules for different tasks and applications.

Functions of TLS software may include:

  • Registration of point cloud data (automatic or manual)
  • Noise filtration
  • Target identification
  • Tagging
  • Geo-referencing
  • Report generation
  • Error reporting
  • 3D modeling
  • Texturing
  • Sharing files to the cloud

Some field software packages created for use on mobile devices can provide real-time scan data feedback, which is useful for on-site inspection and quality control tasks that must be completed within a set time period.

Point cloud registration Leica
Point cloud registration with Leica Cyclone software. Source: Leica Geosystems

Most long-range scanners come with a dedicated software package, but there are also suites that are not hardware-specific, such as Autodesk’s ReCap Pro.

Common TLS software suites include:

  • Leica Cyclone
  • FARO SCENE
  • Artec Studio
  • ESRI ArcGIS
  • Innovmetric Polyworks
  • Riegl RiSCAN PRO
  • Autodesk ReCap Pro

Mobile laser scanners vs terrestrial laser scanners

An alternative to terrestrial laser scanning is mobile laser scanning, in which the 3D scanner is carried around by an operative or mounted to a vehicle like a car or a drone.

There are advantages to both mobile and terrestrial laser scanning, and it is even possible to combine the two.

Why go mobile?

Mobile mapping systems (MMS), which combine laser scanning with positioning technology like GPS, GNSS, or SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping), are a faster means of acquiring data than TLS since operatives simply need to move the scanner around the surveyed area in order to gather data. There is no need for multiple tripod setups.

Additionally, a lower level of skill is required to use a handheld or backpack-mounted scanner. Most devices just need to be powered up and moved around.

Operating a vehicle does require some skill, but mobile laser scanners mounted to aerial vehicles like drones can reach new vantage points, while car-mounted scanners can capture large urban areas in very little time.

Furthermore, many mobile laser scanners — mostly iMMS (indoor mobile mapping systems) — use SLAM algorithms. This enables them to be used in indoor and covered spaces since they determine their own location based on their surroundings rather than relying on a GPS or GNSS signal.

Terrestrial vs mobile laser scanners

Why go terrestrial?

Terrestrial laser scanning may seem like a more old-fashioned form of data capture, but static scanning still offers important benefits.

Usually, and as long as setup and registration are performed correctly, TLS produces much more accurate scans with more dense and complete point clouds than those created by MLS. Furthermore, TLS devices tend to offer HDR imagery, while many MMS devices do not (yet).

Terrestrial laser scanning is therefore preferable when accuracy takes precedence over mobility.

TLS may also be favored for economic reasons since little additional equipment is required, whereas mobile mapping systems may require the purchase of a drone or the use of extra operatives to drive or pilot a vehicle.

Combining the two

If a company has sufficient resources, it may benefit from the use of both terrestrial and mobile laser scanners for the same project.

For example, a terrestrial laser scanner can be used to capture high-quality point clouds from the ground level, while a drone-mounted mobile laser scanner surveys the upper regions of a site from the sky.

The drone-captured data will be less accurate, but registering the two data sets will provide a more complete picture of the site than what would be possible with either scanning technique on its own.

Besides their level of accuracy, there is no fundamental difference between point clouds collected by TLS and point clouds collected by MMS, so most software suites are capable of combining disparate data.

Mobile and terrestrial mapping data combined
Combining both terrestrial and airborne scanning data. Source: MDPI

Applications of long-range laser scanning

Terrestrial laser scanners are used to capture visual data in many industries, where sub-centimeter accuracy is required. Applications and industries include:

  • Architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC), Land surveying, Mining
  • Geomorphology, Forestry, Topography
  • Quality control, Metrology, Deformation measurement
  • Reverse engineering, Industrial design, Customization
  • CGI, Fashion, Video games
Underground terrestrial scanning Maptek
Underground terrestrial scanning. Source: Maptek

Terrestrial laser scanner price

The cost of a terrestrial laser scanner can range from under $20,000 for starter models to over $100,000 for the most high-end systems.

Models at the lower end of the spectrum are still suitable for many professional applications.

Terrestrial laser scanner prices may depend on technical factors like range and accuracy, as well as features like integrated GPS receivers, HDR imaging, on-site registration and compensation, software packages, and any included accessories.

FAQ

What is the best 3D laser scanner?

Different 3D laser scanners are suited to different applications. For example, the Leica RTC360 excels in scan speed, while the Riegl VZ-400i has an exceptional range. Meanwhile, the Maptek SR3 is designed specifically for underground applications.

What is 3D laser scanning in construction?

Construction professionals often use 3D laser scanners to better understand the layout and features of a construction site. Scanners can be used for monitoring land deformation, surveying buildings, measuring elevation, and much more.

Should I buy a mobile laser scanner or a terrestrial laser scanner?

Handheld mobile laser scanners are easy for non-specialists to use, while vehicle-mounted mobile scanners offer a greater level of access and flexibility. However, terrestrial laser scanners are more accurate and can be less expensive.

What does “terrestrial” mean?

In the 3D scanning and mapping industry, the term “terrestrial” mainly refers to long-range laser 3D scanners that are mounted on tripods.