The availability of affordable 3D scanners makes 3D printing much more fun for 3D printing enthusiasts. While most industrial scanners can cost well over $10,000, the market now has professional 3D scanners in the $500-$1000 range.
This affordability means that you’re no longer limited to other creators’ digital 3D models on Grabcad, CGTrader, and Thingiverse- among other databases. With the best home 3D scanner, you can now scan any real-world object and turn it into a 3D printable model by yourself.
3D Scanner Buyers Guide: Laser Triangulation vs. Structured Light Scanners
There are different technologies used for 3D printing scanners, but laser triangulation and structured light scanners are the most common.
Laser 3D scanners
The key strength of laser 3D scanners is their incredible accuracy and resolution coupled with their reasonable price tag. Also, these machines can capture moving targets, and their performance isn’t affected by light.
On the flipside;
- Laser trigonometry triangulation technology is limited to a few meters.
- Accuracy is affected if the target object’s surface is shiny or transparent.
- You can’t use it on people and animals as laser technology can damage the eyes.
- Most laser 3D scanners are stationary.
Structured light 3D scanners
Instead of a laser, structured light 3D scanners use light. So, they are a much safer option if you ever want to scan people and pets.
Like laser scanners, structured light scanners are impressively accurate. What’s more, they are fast (can scan in around 2 seconds), and their scanning range is comparably larger. The other reason why structured light scanners are more popular is that they are available in both stationary and portable versions.
On the downside;
- Structured light scanners offer the best results if the object is stationary.
- The data acquisition process is easily affected by light. Structured light 3D scanners for3D printing aren’t the most ideal for outdoor applications.
Top 3 3D scanners in 2021
Each of the 3D scanners on the market today has a combination of features and technologies that make it different from the rest. If you feel overwhelmed by the various choices, I found 3 of the best budget 3D scanners that most creators are using today.
1. Sol 3D Scanner ($799)
Starting these 3D scanners reviews is a model that’s flying off the shelves at the moment- the Sol 3D scanner. This is a relatively affordable and easy-to-use 3D scanner that’s marketed to everyday 3D creators, hobbyists, and tech enthusiasts.
This desktop 3D scanner comes pre-assembled, but set up is a pretty straightforward process. Again, its dimensions- 19x8x11 inches and 7 lbs (weight) – make it a fairly compact unit that shouldn’t bother most creators in terms of placement.
The Sol by Scan Dimension is a hybrid model combining laser triangulation and structured light technologies. It features a flexible scanner stand that lets you move the scanner back and forth to scan small and large objects for the best results.
You can scan objects with a diameter of 6.7” and a height of 6.7” at the farthest scanner position. In close mode, you should be able to capture items with a diameter of 1-4” and a similar height.
Most users will also appreciate that the Sol 3D scanner has its calibration right on the turntable. As such, you don’t need to keep a separation calibration board nearby.
Now, it’s necessary to scan your objects in a dark environment to enhance accuracy. In most cases, simply dimming or turning off the lights should work just fine. But Scan Dimension goes the extra mile and includes a foldable black-out structure that fits nicely over the scanner to enhance your operations.
In terms of performance, I think the Sol does really well, especially for its price. It might not be the most ideal for scanning highly technical objects that require absolute detailing. But for an everyday hobbyist who’s not looking to spend a lot, I think this is one of the best budget 3D scanners out there.
2. EinScan SE Desktop 3D Scanner ($1099)
The EinScan SE is another hot-seller in the world of affordable home 3D scanners. This model was released in 2017 as a revamped version of the EinScan-S and a cheaper alternative to the EinScan SP- another high-end model from Shining 3D.
The SE is a structured light-based desktop 3D scanner that offers fixed and automatic scanning functionalities. The fixed scanning mode lets you scan large objects of up to 700mm by 700mm by 700mm. You can also capture objects as small as 200mm3 by switching to the automatic scan setting.
Unlike the Sol 3D scanner, the EinScan SE’s scanner head isn’t flexible. Luckily, the scanner has a standard tripod thread underneath it, which allows you to mount it on a typical camera tripod for added flexibility.
Digging deeper into its specs sheet, you’ll realize that the SE is quite fast. This scanner takes around 10 seconds to perform a mesh-only scan and 30 seconds if you want to capture your objects in texture. The scan time for a 360-degree scan on auto-mode will depend on the number of steps desired and whether you’re scanning with the HDR option ON.
This scanner takes 1.40 minutes for 10 steps and around 3 minutes for 40 steps. The scan time might take a bit longer with the HDR function ON. But this also increases scan quality.
Overall, the EinScan SE is a quality and reliable 3D scanner sold at a great price. This is a relatively fast and reasonably accurate plug-and-play machine that should interest most makers. It tends to struggle when capturing objects in a brightly lit environment. But that’s not unusual for scanners, and it can be fixed by using it in a dark room.
3. Matter and Form Mfs1v2 3D Scanner V2 ($750)
At around $750, the Matter and Form V2 fills the slot of the best budget 3D scanner hobbyists, artists, and educators. Right off the bat, the design of this scanner is unique compared to my other 2 recommendations.
The Mfs1v2 3D scanner v2 resembles a filament 3D printer. The turntable is located on the base, while the scanner is fixated on a threaded rod where it can move up and down freely. To make it even cooler, you can fold the entire unit into a case for portability and storage.
Going through most Matter and Form V2 reviews, it’s evident that this scanner is designed to be a breeze to use. Matter and Form seems to have given everything from assembly to calibration some serious thoughts, which is really good.
The Matter and Form V2 can scan objects measuring up to 9.8” (height) by 7” (diameter) and weighing up to 6.6 lbs. This machine has 2 lasers and can scan with dimensional precision of +/- 0.1mm.
The V2 operates the MFStudio with +Quickscan software. This is Matter and Form’s latest application that allows 2 modes of scanning. In regular mode, the scanner uses both lasers to scan the object. While it’s slow, scanning with both lasers means that the scanner can capture more details leading to better quality digital models. To scan a 4” tall toy in the regular mode, the machine takes around 37 minutes (geometry only) and up to 57 minutes if you’re scanning with texture.
The +Quickscan mode is much faster. Scanning the same 4” object in Quickscan mode takes around 7 minutes, which is super-fast for a scanner in this price range.
Ultimately, the decision on the best 3D scanner to buy is yours. The Mfs1v2 and Sol 3D scanners come at around the same price range. Both of them are great scanners and should fit the bill if you want decent scans without breaking the bank.
However, if your budget is flexible, the EinScan SE may just be the boon you need to take your 3D printing hobby to the next level. It allows you to scan much larger objects in less time and without being overly loud. Similar to the Mfs1v2 and the Sol 3D scanners, the EinScan SE also boasts 0.1mm dimensional accuracy, and it’s compatible with Mac and Windows.