Can a 3D Printer Scan an Object?

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Can a 3D Printer Scan an Object?

Can a 3D printer scan an object? No. You need a 3D scanner for that. These machines work together to create your desired 3D model. It would be great if there was a machine that could do both.

Unfortunately, with the current technology, this function is limited to 2D printing. This means that if you need to scan and print a 3D object, you need to get a3D scanner and a 3D printer. Here’s what you can do when you have both machines. 

3D Scanners

3D scanners gather the physical data of an environment or object such as its color, volume, and texture to produce a digital model. You can find non-contact and contact 3D scanners. Non-contact 3D scanners collect radiation coming from the target item and can use passive or active methods. 

Passive scanners gather ambient radiation that comes from a different source. The radiation is reflected by the surface of the object.  Active scanners, on the other hand, produce the radiation and gather what’s reflected by the surface of the target object. Non-contact scanners produce a mesh of it sees based on the strength of the radiation gathered. 

Contact 3D scanners use a robotic arm or other kinds of the arm with a probe. The object is fixed in place, and the probe maps coordinates and gathers information regarding distance and position by touching the object’s surface. This kind of technology is usually used in manufacturing. It’s slower compared to other methods and may damage the target object since it needs to touch the object. 

3D Printers

3D printers can produce real 3D objects from digital models. There are different kinds of 3D printers, such as SLS and SLA printers. SLS printers use a laser to blend powder selectively. SLA printers, on the other hand, convert liquid photopolymer plastic into solid objects by using UV light.

FDM printers melt thermoplastic filament using a heated nozzle. The molten material is extruded and it quickly cools to create a 3D object. 3D printers use these technologies to produce an object layer by layer. These machines come with a slicer, a special software tool that translates the 3D model into instructions that the printer understands. 

How to Scan and Print 3D Objects 

Select an object to scan. You have to select a 3D scanning method. The size of the model will affect your 3D scanning method choice. There are different kinds of 3D scanning. One of these is laser triangulation, wherein a laser beam is directed onto the object. The ray’s deformation is then measured to produce a digital copy of the object. 

Another method is photogrammetry, which involves reconstructing 2D captures into 3D objects through computational geometry. The scanning process that uses structured light involves shining a light beam onto an object and measuring the light pattern’s deformation on the object’s surface.

Contact based scanning involves using a probe to measure the deformation of ray from different sampling positions on a surface. The best 3D scanners for 3D printers use either structured light or laser triangulation because these techniques produce digital STL files, the format that you need to send 3D scans directly to a printer. 

You may need to reorient the object to catch various positions. At least 3 different perspectives are required for simple objects. For complex objects, you may need to catch more than 5 positions. In case you are using photogrammetry, you should determine the number of images required by the slicer. Your 3D model will look better if you have plenty of photos or scans. 

After scanning the object, you need to enable the operations required by your software. You have to clean and align each photo or scan properly. If the views are not properly aligned, the final 3D model will be ruined or distorted. Once the views are correctly aligned, the overlapping meshes will be combined into one virtual object. 

The next step is to export this object as an OBJ or STL file into the slicer compatible with your 3D printer. Set the necessary parameters, and the slicer will produce the required g-code or the operations required to print objects layer by layer. You should send this code to the 3D printer so that it can start printing your replica. 

There are a lot of examples that show how practical combining 3D printing and scanning is. For instance, archaeologists and paleontologists can create replicas of artifacts and bones through 3D printing. It’s also easier to replace body parts when the body of the patient is scanned first. 

Tips for Choosing a 3D Scanner

When choosing a 3D scanner, you have to consider its accuracy. When you say accuracy, it pertains to how close the 3D model’s dimensions are to those of your target object. The scanner should be calibrated to ensure its accuracy. A number of 3D scanners can be calibrated onsite. You can manually adjust the 3D scanner’s accuracy settings to meet the optimal standards of the manufacturers after the purchase to suit your needs. 

Professional 3D scanners offer high accuracy, but they are expensive. Another important factor to consider is the resolution of the scanner. If you want to make detailed 3D models, you need a 3D scanner with a high resolution in order to capture your target objects. This consideration is particularly crucial for applications in reverse-engineering, heritage preservation, jewelry, animation, and quality control.

You should also consider the scanner’s speed. The speed of a scanner depends on the kind of technology it is using. For example, handheld scanners that use VCSEL technology can scan 80 frames/second. You also need to make sure that the scanner is easy to use. Its portability and software features should be considered, as well. 

Advanced 3D scanners that can capture objects of different sizes need sophisticated 3D software. The machine should be capable of handling and processing all data without any error in order to provide the best results with every use.

You have to think of its maintenance as well. Proper maintenance will help your scanner function properly and last for a long time. The scanning environment should be considered, as well. Light, temperature and humidity can affect the quality of the scan and the scanner’s overall performance. 


So, can a 3D printer scan an object? The answer is no because it’s impossible with the technology we have right now. However, there are 3D printers and 3D scanners that allow you to print various objects in the comfort of your own home. You only need to choose the right printer and scanner that meet your needs and budget. 

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