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June 2024

Understanding 3D Scanner Technologies

3D scanning technology has revolutionized fields from manufacturing to healthcare by enabling precise digital replicas of physical objects. This article delves into the various types of 3D scanner technologies, explaining how they work, their advantages, and their disadvantages, with real-world examples to illustrate their applications.

Technologies we will look at:

Laser Scanning

Laser scanning is one of the most common 3D scanning technologies. It uses laser beams to capture the dimensions of an object. The scanner emits a laser that hits the object's surface and reflects back to a sensor, measuring the distance based on the time it takes for the laser to return.

Laser Line Scanning

Laser line scanning involves projecting a laser line onto the surface of an object. A camera positioned at a known angle to the laser captures the line’s deformation, which is then used to calculate the 3D coordinates of the object’s surface. This method is particularly effective for capturing large areas quickly and with high accuracy.

The Shining Einscan HX Includes a Laser Line Scanning mode - it is widely used in industrial applications for its speed and precision in capturing detailed surface geometries.

Structured Light Scanning

Structured light scanning uses a projector to cast a series of light patterns onto an object. A camera then captures the deformation of these patterns to calculate the object's 3D shape. This method is known for its speed and accuracy.

The Shining Einscan H2 Includes a Structured Light Scanning mode - it is renowned for its speed and ability to capture fine details, making it ideal for both industrial and creative applications.

Stereo Cameras

Stereo cameras utilize two or more cameras to capture images of an object from different viewpoints simultaneously. By comparing these images, the system can calculate the depth information directly, similar to human binocular vision. This method is particularly effective for real-time applications and capturing dynamic scenes.

The entry level Einstar 3D Scanner employs stereo camera technology to provide fast and accurate scans, making it suitable for a variety of industrial and research applications.

VCSEL / Infrared Scanning

VCSEL (Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser) and infrared scanning use an array of infrared lasers to project a grid onto the object. The deformations in this grid are captured by a camera, and the depth information is calculated based on the distortions observed. This technology is commonly used in facial recognition and consumer electronics.

The X-Box Sensor and Apple Face ID Module use VCSEL technology for its reliable and accurate facial recognition capabilities, showcasing the effectiveness of this scanning method in everyday consumer devices.


Photogrammetry involves taking multiple photographs of an object from different angles and using software to stitch them together into a 3D model. This technique is accessible and cost-effective, as it primarily requires a good camera and powerful software.

Photogrammetry Kits are a favorite among archaeologists and researchers for its ability to capture detailed textures and large-scale objects.

Contact Scanning

Contact scanning, or tactile scanning, involves physically touching the object with a probe to record its dimensions. This method is extremely accurate and is often used in quality control and precision engineering.

Contact Scanners are widely used in the automotive and aerospace industries for its unparalleled accuracy in part inspection.

Time of Flight

Time of Flight (ToF) scanners emit a light signal and measure the time it takes for the signal to bounce back from the object's surface. This time measurement is then used to calculate distance and generate a 3D model.

Time of Flight Scanners are is popular in architecture and construction for its ability to quickly capture large spaces.


Muon scanning, also known as muon tomography or muon radiography, utilizes cosmic muons to penetrate and scan large, dense objects. Think of it like a high-powered X-Ray machine, where the source is the sun itself. Muons are subatomic particles similar to electrons but much heavier, allowing them to pass through materials that are opaque to other forms of radiation, such as X-rays or gamma rays.

These high energy and speed particles can penetrate kilometers into the earth, so are great for mapping underground structures and geology. One solution has been developed at Melbourne's Swinburne University.

This technology has been used for scanning shipping container contents, finding for hidden cavities within the pyramids of Giza, in-situ nuclear reactor plant equipment in France, and making underground mining safer by detecting cavities and weak geology above a mine shaft.

Hybrid Technologies

Many scanners combine several of these technologies to provide different modes (speed vs. quality vs. cost) or together to give the best of both methods.

Comparison of Shining3D Models

Model IR / VSCELLaser LinesStructured LightStereo Cameras
Einstar 3Yes
Einscan SPv2
TranscanC YesYes
ProHD YesYes
Einscan H2 3White LED
Einscan HX 7 blueBlue LED
FreeScan Combo 326 / 7 / 1 blue
Freescan Trio 98


Each 3D scanning technology has its unique strengths and weaknesses, making them suitable for different applications. By understanding these differences, you can select the best scanner for your specific needs. Whether you require the precision of a laser scanner or the accessibility of photogrammetry, the right tool is out there to help you digitize the world.

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Bilby 3D Pty. Ltd. Phone 1800-847-333 Int:+61 2 8197 3928

Australian Owned & Operated Distributors of Desktop 3D Printers, 3D Scanners, Tools & Parts

Sydney: Unit 7, Kingsgrove Business Centre, 192 Kingsgrove Rd, Kingsgrove, NSW 2208

Melbourne: Factory A5, HallMarc Business Park, 2A Westall Rd, Clayton, VIC 3168