June 2, 2023

Most 3D scanners are handheld units that scan small to medium-sized objects with a excessive diploma of accuracy. The ensuing information are used for 3D modeling or 3D printing they usually can produce incredible outcomes — in case you’re affected person and prepared to learn to use them. 

These scanners, like the favored Revopoint Pop 2, can value $700 and have a steep studying curve. Alternatively, in case you personal an iPhone 12 Professional or greater you may virtually recreate what a flowery 3D scanner does. It is not fairly as correct, particularly for 3D printing, however in case you spend a while tweaking, the output may be nearly pretty much as good.

Learn extra: Finest 3D Printer

Creating 3D prints from information uploaded to communities like Thingiverse or Printables is ok, however as soon as you may scan and recreate real-world objects, there is no restrict to what you may create. For instance, you possibly can replicate a collectible determine or scan a damaged mechanical half to recreate it.

Utilizing a 3D scanner


  • Can seize element all the way down to 0.1mm
  • Dimensional accuracy is great
  • Little or no clean-up whenever you succeed


  • Typically prices greater than a 3D printer
  • Software program is commonly very exhausting to make use of
  • Making a usable mannequin is painfully troublesome

3D scanners use mirrored mild — generally within the type of lasers — to map the floor of an object. The scanner makes use of two cameras to evaluate depth and create a “level cloud” that may be fused collectively to make a stable object. That stable mannequin is commonly extremely correct all the way down to the smallest crack or imperfection.


Sarah Tew/CNET

However scanning an object may be troublesome. The scanner must be the precise distance from the thing you are scanning always, and the thing needs to be the precise shade and reflectivity as properly. Typically, you will have a 3D scanning spray to coat your mannequin in a white, evaporative coating to make scanning simpler. This isn’t doable with human topics, however does assist with inanimate ones. Or a minimum of it ought to. 

I’ve spent hours utilizing 3D scanners and wrestle each time to provide a mannequin that might be 3D printed. Typically a scan will lose connection, then restart within the mistaken place, inflicting extreme disruption. After a variety of trial and error, I’ve managed to get a number of usable fashions, however the quantity of labor it took simply did not appear cost-effective. 

Utilizing your iPhone


  • Extremely quick scanning
  • Fashions are immediately usable as on-line sources
  • You doubtless already personal one


  • Decrease element and high quality
  • Can want a variety of clean-up to make it 3D print-ready

polycam shoe scan

James Bricknell/CNET

iPhones have a variety of cool know-how that makes them wonderful 3D scanners, together with good cameras for photogrammetry and lidar know-how for bigger objects like automobiles or the within of your own home. 

Photogrammetry is one of the simplest ways to create a completely realized 3D mannequin if you need that mannequin to solely exist digitally. It makes use of a number of footage — the extra footage the higher — to create a sensible facsimile of an object. The depth mapping is much rougher than a 3D scanner, however the textures and picture imagery make the mannequin look extraordinarily detailed. As you may see, the shoe within the picture above appears to be like equivalent to the true factor when the textures are proven, however the mannequin I 3D-printed from it has misplaced a variety of its particulars.

A purple 3D-printed shoe

James Bricknell/CNET

The best factor about photogrammetry, particularly on an app like Polycam, is that it may be used with any digicam you’ve gotten, together with DSLR cameras and even drones. You merely add as many photos as you wish to the Polycam app and it’ll spit out a 3D rendering of the thing you took, whether or not that is a shoe or the Grand Canyon. It even works with Android telephones, although none of these have the lidar know-how just like the iPhone.

A 3D rendered mailbox using Polycam

James Bricknell/CNET

Lidar solely works if in case you have an iPhone 12 Professional or later, however it’s wonderful for scanning bigger objects like mailboxes, pool tables and even automobiles. It really works loads like an costly 3D scanner — by bouncing mild off an object and measuring the space the sunshine travels — however it has a a lot decrease decision. This makes it wonderful at scanning massive, easy objects, particularly in case you’re holding them as digital fashions.

Each photogrammetry and lidar imagery are extraordinarily straightforward to make use of in your iPhone and require little or no technical know-how to get proper. They each want an app although, and after utilizing a number of completely different ones, I discovered Polycam is the only option.

Polycam prices $80 a 12 months and gives each lidar and photogrammetry. Greater than that, it makes use of these methods in some actually enjoyable methods. Not solely are you able to scan objects to create 3D fashions, however you may scan the partitions inside your home and construct a 3D ground plan. You’ll be able to even 3D print that ground plan full with partitions, stairs and window and door openings. 

When scanning an object on Polycam for 3D printing I used to be in a position to get good high quality, low-resolution scans for natural shapes and a lot better scans of straightforward objects. Utilizing Polycam to scan a damaged sliding door deal with was fast and easy and allowed me to precisely replicate a substitute. In reality, in case you’re used to utilizing packages like Blender — a free 3D sculpting software on the PC and Mac — or Nomad Sculpt on the iPad or iPhone, you may import the Polycam file and spruce it up earlier than printing. 

Do you have to purchase a 3D scanner in case you personal an iPhone?

I’ve spent a variety of time with a number of completely different 3D scanners they usually all have the identical inherent flaw: They’re simply too choosy to work for customers. In a business setting, the place all the things may be managed and your day is devoted to getting this machine to work completely, then certain, a 3D scanner is smart. For those who’re a hobbyist although, with a life that requires extra from you than limitless hours of gradual scanning, an iPhone is a greater choice.

Even in case you do not personal an iPhone, you may choose up an iPhone 12 Professional — the primary with lidar — for round $550, a number of hundred {dollars} cheaper than a 3D scanner. And when you’re carried out 3D scanning footwear, mailboxes, automobiles and homes, you continue to have an iPhone that may do 100 different issues too.

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