Can You Be 3D Scanned?

We recently were contacted by a reader interested in 3D scanning  a person. The answers to their questions may be of interest to other readers, too. 

We’re not naming the party, but his questions related to an elderly relative whom he wished to capture in 3D while he still could do so. Here’s the questions and our answers:

Question: Can he be scanned to create the bust?

Fabbaloo: More than likely a 3D scan can be successful. There are a few situations where someone cannot be properly scanned. One involves what we’d call “complex hair”. It seems that most scanners get confused when attempting to scan “deep” hair, because they cannot properly recognize the “surface” of the hair. Bald equals good, when it comes to scanning. Afros, not so much. We’ve also found that glasses can sometimes be problematic, as scanning methods either go thru the lenses (missing them) or the arms are too thin to be scanned at all. 

Question: What can the bust be made of, what material?

Fabbaloo: Once a 3D model is captured and properly edited, it can be 3D printed in a variety of materials, ranging from cheap plastic to solid gold, if you want to pay for it. However, “cheap” plastic can be made to look quite beautiful if it’s finished with a good paint job, or even a metallic finish. 

If a 3D model is captured in color, it can be printed in color on certain 3D printers, but this is typically more expensive. Another option for color is to paint the printed model, but the results are never as good as capturing them properly. 

Question: How big can the bust be?

Fabbaloo: How much can you afford? A life size bust would be very expensive, even if done in plastic, mostly because 3D printers usually are of small size. This means a life size bust would be composed of many smaller printed parts assembled together. This means: longer printing time, as many parts have to be printed; more labor required to slice the model into parts and assemble them later. Printing in one large piece would have to be done on a more expensive device, raising costs. 

Question: How long would he have to sit still to be scanned?

Fabbaloo: Usually scanning can be done in a few minutes using simple handheld equipment. Occasionally such handheld scans have to be repeated because the subject moved or something else screwed up. However, A good practice is to immobilize the subject by having them sit calmly in a rigid chair with back, or lean against something. 

Some locations have “real” 3D studios with near-instantaneous scanning booths, but they are not available in all cities yet. These scanning booths can be expensive to set up, as they sometimes use 60 or more DSLR cameras - you can do the arithmetic. However, we’ve seen these operations able to 3D print small figurines for a few hundred USD$. These studios are really your only option if you want to scan uncooperative children or pets.

General Fabb

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has been writing Fabbaloo posts since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!