As 3D scanning technology has evolved, so have the methods and devices developed to capture the world in three dimensions. Today, there exists a plethora of scanners, each tailored to specific needs and applications. This article aims to demystify the main types of 3d scanner and highlight their unique utilities.

1. Laser Scanners

Laser triangulation and time-of-flight are two primary techniques in this category.

Laser Triangulation: Here, a laser dot or line is projected onto the object, and the distortion is captured by a camera at a known angle. The depth and contours of the object are determined by analyzing the laser's displacement.

Time-of-Flight: This method involves emitting a laser pulse and then calculating the time it takes for the reflection to return. It's ideal for scanning vast areas like landscapes or buildings.


Architecture and construction.
Large-scale industrial design.
Topographical and geographical surveys.
2. Structured Light Scanners

These scanners project patterns of light (often in grids or sequences) onto an object. Cameras then capture the distortion of these patterns, allowing for the creation of a 3D representation.


Dental and healthcare (e.g., orthodontic fittings).
Industrial design and quality control.
Art and cultural heritage preservation.
3. Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry doesn't involve projecting any light. Instead, it captures a series of 2D images from various angles, which software then stitches together, leveraging the overlaps to deduce depth and create a 3D model.


Mapping and aerial surveys (often using drones).
Cultural heritage and archaeological documentation.
Creating assets for video games and films.
4. CT Scanning (Computed Tomography)

A step away from the others, CT scanners use X-rays to capture cross-sectional images (slices) of an object. Software then reconstructs these slices into a detailed and highly accurate 3D model.


Medical imaging.
Geology and analyzing the internal structure of materials.
Quality assurance in industries where internal structures matter (e.g., aerospace).
5. Handheld Scanners

Typically, these devices either use laser or structured light techniques but are designed for portability and ease of use. They can be moved around the object, capturing data from various angles.


Rapid prototyping.
On-site documentation (e.g., crime scenes or accident sites).
Museum and artifact digitization.
Final Thoughts

The world of 3D scanning is diverse, with a tool for nearly every conceivable application. Whether you're looking to map a vast forested area, design a custom dental implant, or simply replicate a beloved artifact, there's likely a 3D scanning technology tailored to your needs.

As industries continue to recognize the potential of 3D scanning, we can anticipate even more specialized devices and methods on the horizon, further narrowing the divide between the physical and digital realms.