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The best 3D scanner in 2021

best 3D scanner
(Image credit: XYZprinting)

Want to find the best 3D scanner? This guide will help you choose the best one for capturing a 3D image for your budget – and will help you find it at the best price.

3D scanners have not, thus far, sold in the same numbers that 3D printers have, which rather suggests the world needs more 3D content creators. Owning a 3D scanner might even give you a marketable service, though don’t expect it to be instant.

There are two distinct approaches to 3D scanning – the other one you might be familiar with is photogrammetry – 3D triangulation from a camera (even a phone, or a drone) moved around the subject. That is using software, like, to re-purpose existing devices. Dedicated scanners, however, use lights (structured patterns thereof) or lasers – and perhaps a rotating platform – to illuminate the subject. By controlling the light and positioning of the subject, the 3D scanner is able to accurately take measurements at more precise detail and not depend on software ‘guesses’ as to where the 3D positions triangulate.

When you’re scanning a photo, the main job is capturing the color; it’s possible to get the 3D shape without any such tone at all depending on the device, so bear that in mind. 3D game makers may not mind, but retailers will want the colors so that visitors can rotate their product and consider it from every angle. 

There is still a degree of imperfection in a digital scan; just as a photo scanner has a limited resolution, there will be a limited gap between each laser trace on the outside of the subject. It’s useful to find software which can fill these gaps, creating ‘closed models’ though there might be some loss in surface detail. Repairing the mesh will almost certainly need a little hands-on activity, just like photo editing, too.

• See also: Best VHS to DVD converters

The best 3D scanners in 2021

(Image credit: Afinia)

Afinia EinScan-SE Elite

Ideal 3D scanner for education and exploration

Scan dimensions: 200x200x200mm (turntable) 700 x 700 x 700mm (manual) | Accuracy: ≤0.1mm | Light source: LED | Speed: Auto: 2 mins, Single: 8 sec | Texture: Yes | Compatible: Windows 7, 8, 10

Accessible price
Fast scan times
Minimum object 30x30x30mm

Supplied with a plastic stand, this looks more like a complete product than some scanners and that’s great news for reliability (especially in education). That’s because the scanner is hard-wired to the turntable meaning the two are far less likely to part ways thanks to a knock once they’re calibrated – unless, of course, you’re going over the 200mm (7.9”) size for auto-turned objects.

The scanning is achieved via a projector built into the scanner. Unlike earlier models, the signal with the patterns of light is sent to the EinScan-SE using the same USB cable as the information is returned on – the only other cable to knock is the power lead, which is better than earlier systems from Afinia.

The software is easy to use, with on-screen guides through the process and – crucially – the repairing and assembling of the scan afterward. You can export a number of file formats too, including .3mf with color data.

Note, the EinScan-SP, the pricier model, approximately halves speed and doubles resolutions, as well as allowing specific coded targets to be added.

(Image credit: Creality)

Creality CR-T 3D Scanner

The best all-in-one 3D scanning solution

Scan dimensions: 300 x 200 x 250mm | Accuracy: ≤0.2mm | Light source: White | Speed: Auto: 2 mins / circle | Texture resolution: 2-13 million | Compatible: Windows 7, 8, 10 | Weight: 520g

ablet with built in scanner
Scan includes texture map
Bluetooth turntable
Functions as a media projector 
Supply issues

By building a structured light scanner into an Android tablet, though admittedly one 15mm thick, Creality have produced an accessibly priced 3D scanner which can also handle rudimentary processing and editing tasks without a computer. Given that it’s possible to buy some tablets for more money than this one, it’s not hard to understand why this one has encountered supply issues, especially with components tricky to source during the pandemic and the 3D scanning hardware also being able to act as a projector. That’s right, there’s a video projector built in!

Featuring automatic turntable stitching via a Bluetooth-linked turntable, the scanner is easy to use once set up and calibrated, but the real beauty is the ability to place it in your bag like any other tablet. There is a tripod mount in the bottom and a couple of hours battery (though you’re probably better off with mains power). This is a fun device for exploring the possibilities of 3D scanning which might also be useful for retailers since it captures a 24-bit color texture of the surface.

(Image credit: Matter and Form)

Matter and Form 3D Scanner V2

The best portable 3D scanner

Scan dimensions: 249 x 178 x 178mm | Accuracy: ±0.1mm | Light source: White | Speed: 65 sec (+Quickscan) | Texture resolution: 2-13 million | Compatible: Windows 7, 8, 10 | Dimensions: 345 x 21 x 85mm (folded) | Weight: 1.7kg

Built-in case
Mac & Windows compatible
Laser scanner
Global power compatibility
Calibration somewhat vague

By building this 3D scanner into a fold-closed housing Matter and Form have made it portable and robust. Inside that briefcase you can safely transport a laser-based scanner anywhere – it is supplied with 4 interchangeable world power plugs. Others will just appreciate what the desk does to demark the zones of their desk space and promote tidiness. It depends on whether you’re a freelance archivist or offering another service.

If you’re accustomed to working with large or heavy models, the 3kg (6.6lb) limit, but this system is better suited to smaller subjects and the MFStudio software (a download) is more than capable of generating full watertight meshes, with color surfaces, which can be opened in Blender, Max, Autodesk Maya or exported for 3D printing. Regular 3D printers will appreciate the high-speed scan mode to test the ‘scannability’ of possible subjects before lights are adjusted and powder and other treatments are applied. 

(Image credit: SOL)

SOL 3D Scanner

Best 3D scanner for creatives

Scan dimensions: 25mmx 25mm - 170 x 170mm | Accuracy: ±0.1mm | Light source: White | Speed: 10min turbo | Texture resolution: 2-13 million | Compatible: Mac, Windows 7, 8, 10 | Dimensions: 345 x 21 x 85mm (folded) | Weight: 3.1kg

Automatic turntable calibration
High quality scan per rotation
High color accuracy
Easy to assemble
Steps need to be taken to avoid wobbles
Availability issues

The SOL 3D scanner is an ideal tool for creatives looking to get real objects into their digital workflow. Part of what makes it fit that bill is the fact it’s USB 3.0 and Mac friendly (like so many creatives) but there is more than that – the software also has amongst the widest range of export formats meaning the device should have little trouble slotting into whatever your workflow; .obj, .stl, .xyz, .dae, and .ply are all an option.

In operation, too, it’s a more elegant design than others; the camera mount can be used to re-position the scanner’s height and distance and the black-out tent in the box was a nice touch.

SOL also offers a nice glimpse at a potential world of 3D sharing, providing each of their customers with about 30 model’s worth of space to share their models from. This is both a kindness not bestowed by others and has the nagging effect of making you want more!

(Image credit: XYZprinting)

XYZprinting 3D Scanner Pro

Best for scanning real people into 3D

Scan dimensions: 1000 x 1000 x 2000mm | Accuracy: 1mm (spatial) | Light source: White | Speed: 30fps (overall time depends) | Texture resolution: 2MP | Compatible: Mac, Windows 7, 8, 10 | Dimensions: 153 x 76 x 41mm | Weight: 238g

Accessibly priced
Uses Intel RealSense technology
No turntable calibration
Will only operate horizontal
Won’t work on AMD systems

The XYZscan Handy, which is – according to the chosen mode – able to scan objects, whole human bodies, heads or (presumably for the film memorabilia community, masks). This makes it a good deal more flexible and portable than others on this list. It is pretty easy to grip and manipulate, though the process – perhaps inevitably – still takes a little longer than anyone would want! The on-screen warnings (like “Too Close” or “Too Far”) are useful, but it would be useful to have more and clearly labelled buttons on the device itself.

Don’t be surprised if you have to do a lot of post-production work with 3D scans from this device, but the XYZ software does include handy repair tools including a measure. On the other hand at less than 1/10th of other handheld 3D scanners, and capable of scanning around a person (if they stand very still) this could be a useful tool. The wired design makes the system reliable, but doesn’t help with what’s already not as comfortable as the design could be if it were a bit more forgiving of use angle.

(Image credit: HE3D)

HE3D Ciclop Rotational Laser Scanner

Open-source 3D scanning option for enthusiasts

Scan dimensions: 203 x 203 mm | Accuracy: 0.3mm | Light source: White | Speed: 2-8mins | Texture resolution: - | Compatible: Mac, Linux, Windows 7, 8, 10 | Dimensions: 390 x 230 x 160mm | Weight: 5kg

2 Lasers scanner
Up to 3Kg object
Injection moulded option (tends to be better quality)
Simple design easy to understand
Logitech webcam needed

The 3D printing community is one backed by a wave of enthusiasm, and so it’s only fitting that this scanner has made itself thoroughly at home with that customer base by offering itself in pre-assembled and do-it-yourself kit forms, the later for a significant saving as well as an educational experience to do or share.

Because this machine is built with the open source would in mind, there is also Linux software as well as Mac or PC on hand. Open Source will appeal to many, but not others so we should also note that you’ll need to pick up a Logitech C270 HD camera – the webcam the designer has used to scan hue and sit between the two (that’s right, two) lasers on the platform. Construction is reasonably simple – a few M3 screws, nuts & washers – if you’re inclined to self-build though, as with all such projects, there is always the risk of imperfect parts.

(Image credit: HE3D)

HE3D 2020 scanner

Cheapest 3D scanning option for enthusiasts

Scan dimensions: - | Accuracy: (phone/camera dependant) | Light source: White | Speed: - | Texture resolution: - | Compatible: Windows 7, 8, 10 | Dimensions: 153 x 76 x 41mm | Weight: 238g

+ A great way to better understand the tech
+ Includes phone accessory like tripod
+ More control than hand-held phone apps
-Requires assembly
-Small area

Not everyone would even see this as a 3D scanner, and they’d have a fair point. What you’re buying here is a kit of parts – mostly the motors, wires, nuts and connectors – with which you can add a 3D scanner to your phone. You already have the necessary computing power, and the camera, to do all that you need in there, and most of the time it’s dutifully following you around doing nothing so useful.

HE3D have had some success in this area already – see above – but this version will also allow you to use any camera you choose, and the firm have created tutorials for assembly and use on YouTube. The only thing you don’t get, in fact, is pre-made main body plastic parts. Instead you’ll get the files so you can print your own with your 3D printer so make sure you’ve got one, and the time to use it!

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Adam Juniper

With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 

Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 

He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video and The Drone Pilot's Handbook