Updated March 2022
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Buying guide for best 3d scanners

Ever since replicators were introduced on Star Trek, the idea of creating products out of thin air has been one of the coolest notions in science fiction. While replicators may still be far off, 3D printers are a step in the right direction.

Utilizing additive methods to build an object layer by layer, using a type of polymer, 3D printing gives you the ability to create your own products without relying on an outside manufacturer. However, in order for 3D printing to work, you need a detailed schematic of the object you want to print. This is where a 3D scanner comes in. A 3D scanner takes a detailed scan of an object and creates a computer model that your 3D printer can then recreate.

Given the complex nature of 3D printing and scanning, there are a number of important factors to bear in mind when shopping for a 3D scanner. For everything you need to know before you invest, our shopping guide has all the details. We’ve also chosen our favorite 3D scanners on the market, which you can find in the matrix above.

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3D scanning is being used around the world to preserve historical and archeological sites that are under threat from climate change and conflict. Once a site is scanned, the 3D model is used to create a virtual reality version, preserving it for future generations.

Key considerations

3D sensing technology

One of the biggest factors to consider is the kind of sensing technology a 3D scanner uses. There are two primary types: laser triangulation and structured light.

Laser triangulation works by using lasers to triangulate an object, scan it, and generate a 3D model. Of the two types of sensing technology, laser triangulation is the oldest and the least precise. In spite of this, it does have a couple of advantages. The first is when working with objects in motion. Because the laser only passes over an object once, it’s well-suited to scanning objects that are in motion as it has the fastest scan time. The second advantage is its near-immunity to ambient lighting. A laser beam is a beam of intense light in a very narrow wavelength. As a result, laser triangulation will work in almost any type of lighting.

Structured light is the newer type of sensing technology. This method uses different light patterns to take a sequence of pictures, which results in a much more accurate scan than laser triangulation. Structured light is also safer when taking 3D scans of people or animals as there is no risk of damage to the subject’s eyesight, which is the case with laser triangulation. Because it takes multiple scans, however, structured light is slower and not well-suited for use on moving objects. Similarly, because this method relies on light patterns, it is sensitive to ambient light and changes in light.

Handheld vs. stationary

Another factor to consider is whether you need a handheld scanning unit or a stationary one. This largely comes down to quality versus convenience. Stationary scanners have an advantage when it comes to quality as it’s much easier to get consistent results. This also makes a stationary model a good choice when you need to batch scan a large number of similar objects. There are, however, any number of situations where you may need the portability of a handheld 3D scanner, including scanning something that can’t be moved or that’s in a hard-to-reach spot.


Just like a digital camera or traditional scanner, a 3D scanner’s resolution impacts the quality of the scan it takes. As an image is scanned, anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of individual points are mapped. Resolution is the smallest distance between any two points and is measured in millimeters or microns. The higher the resolution, the more points there will be in the 3D mapping and the greater the detail of the final scan.

Field of view

Like any camera, a 3D scanner has a field of view – the area it can “see.” Some scanners have relatively narrow fields of view, while others have wide fields of view. It’s important to pick the appropriate field of view for what you plan on scanning. For example, if you use a scanner with a small field of view to scan a large object, you’ll have to make many more passes to capture the object completely than would be required with a wide field of view. Conversely, if you use a scanner with a wide field of view to scan a small, intricate item, you will likely lose much of the item’s finer details.

Some scanners have a flexible field of view, giving you the ability to adjust the camera’s position to give you the field of view you need for the object you’re scanning.

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Did you know?
The dental industry uses 3D scanning for a variety of applications, including building bridges, crowns, and implants.



While early 3D scanners had no ability to detect an object’s color, modern scanners offer full-color scanning. When used in conjunction with a color 3D printer, this makes it easier to make a near-perfect recreation of a scanned object.


Many stationary 3D scanners come with rotating turntables to make it easier to capture all sides of an object. For best results, try to find a scanner that allows you to move the object around multiple axes. This will give you the best 3D model of the object as it will allow you to capture it from as many angles as possible.


Another important feature to consider is the software your scanner uses. A good 3D scanner should last for years. Therefore, it’s important to make sure the software it’s bundled with is high-quality and well-supported by the manufacturer.

"Diffused white light is the best lighting for 3D scanning. Try to minimize or eliminate shadows for best results, and avoid bright light as it can lead to washed-out scans."

3D scanner prices


The most basic 3D scanners are either standalone handheld units or are designed to be used with smartphones and tablets. These scanners cost less than $1,000. They will work for basic tasks, but they lack the fidelity and resolution for detailed work.


Mid-range 3D scanners cost as much as $5,000 and have a higher resolution, faster capture, and produce higher-quality 3D models.


Top-of-the-line models have the very best resolution, full-color scanning, flexible field of view adjustment, and HD scanning. These 3D scanners cost over $5,000.


  • Because laser scanners often have trouble scanning shiny or glossy surfaces, try using a developer aerosol spray to coat the object with a white powder that gives a matte finish. Once you’re done scanning, the powder wipes off easily.
  • For best results, scan against a black background. This will prevent the scanner from picking up background “noise.”
  • Make sure the object doesn’t move during scanning. Even the slightest vibration can introduce errors into your scan.
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If you’re buying a 3D scanner to create parts where accuracy is paramount, try checking the scanner’s fidelity against a “golden sample” – a sample of a product with known dimensions and parameters. If the scanner can create an accurate 3D model, then it should work for scanning the parts you need


Q. Can I use 3D scanning to reverse engineer a hard-to-replace part?
Yes. In fact, that’s one of the primary things many people use 3D scanning and printing for. Older products that are no longer manufactured can be recreated as needed.

Q. What if my scan picks up unwanted data?
Most software packages that come with 3D scanners give you the ability to filter out unwanted elements.

Q. Can I find a 3D scanner that will work with my computer platform?
In all likelihood, yes. Although the majority of 3D scanners are designed to work with Windows, there are quite a few that work with macOS and some that work with Linux.

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