If you started a 3D print shop or offer 3D printing services, chances are you implemented some kind of 3D scanning system. If your target is more consumer oriented, the objects you are more likely to scan are people who want a 3D miniature or physical photo of themselves. In that case you may have invested in an Eva 3D Scanner from Artec and by now you have practiced enough to know the ins and outs of the closest thing to a professional scanner that is also within the reach of a start-up.
For the rest of us, since Artec’s Eva costs upwards of €10,000, getting our hands on a semiprofessional 3D scanning system is more difficult. So when 3DZ, one of Italy’s 3D Systems distributors, gave me the opportunity to try one out, I jumped and went to visit them in their Brescia office, about 100 Km from where I live.
Just like 3D printers, 3D scanners have been around for a couple of decades, only their costs have seemingly remained more prohibitive for longer. That is all changing now. A high level scanner for industrial reverse engineering will still run close or over €100,000 but a new generation of 3D scanning systems, such as that from Artec, have been able to scale down the technology and its costs to meet the requirements of consumer targeted services, while guaranteeing a quality and an ease of use considerably superior to the PrimeSense based hardware (like Microsoft’s Kinect or 3D Systems’ Sense).
So while I probably will not have the opportunity to buy an Artec Eva anytime soon, I can share my experience with it with anyone who might be interested in investing into what is rapidly shaping up to be an interesting market: consumer 3D scanning services.
The first and foremost thing you want to keep in mind, if you intend to invest in an Eva 3D Scanner, is that it is not like taking a picture. It is more like having a professional photography studio: you will need to develop skills, dedicate time and have some innate ability but nothing that requires a doctorate degree. A minimum aesthetic eye, some medium level computer skills and most of all a passion for both virtual and physical 3D.
The fact that these skills are required means that Eva is not a kid’s toy and that you will have to dedicate some time to learning the ins and outs. On the other hand it also means that if you want to offer 3D printing services and get into 3D scanning now you will definitely be ahead of the curve when the trend becomes widespread. And it will, since the personalized manufacturing world of tomorrow will always need a “virtual you” to digitally manufacture things for you.
The starting point is the scanning process. Unlike more basic scanning systems, all you need to do is move the scanner around the person you want to digitize: after you get the hang of it, three different angles will suffice, moving from top to bottom. You also have to remember to tell your human model to take some precautions: no shiny or lucid objects, black is more difficult than colors to capture, keep the fingers tucked inside the pockets (they are more difficult to scan than other surfaces, not just because of their reduced size but also for their shape).
Hair is too lucid to get scanned so you will probably have to add it in in post-production, at least until the recently developed method by Disney Research makes it to the market. That’s about it though, so the limitations are definitely less than any of the low cost 3D scanners. The more complex part begins in post production.
That is because the scanner is nothing but a 3D photo camera — capturing millions of points, which form the point cloud of the object, and colour details. This raw and very rough image then needs to be cleaned, calibrated, and worked into a fully solid and 3D printable mesh.
Artec Studio 9.2 is among the best 3D scanning software around. That is where the intelligence really comes in. It is capable of evaluating all measurements to give an approximation of the captured data precision. It can then automatically apply a wide range of tools to further refine the 3D model, while you can also use simple manual control to clean up the more obvious errors, away form the scan. What is particularly impressive is how accurate the colour is, from the very start.
Once the scans have been cleaned they need to be aligned to form the solid figure. If you’ve been sufficiently precise the software will do it automatically, otherwise you have to give it some reference points common to both scans, for example the pupil or the tip of an ear. Onec the software stitches it together you will still have to uniform and revive all the colors. Once again, nothing impossible, just a bit time consuming. All in all the entire process could take you as little two hours or less, if you get really good at it.
Currently consumer 3D scans run between $100 and $200 for one person, depending on how valuable time is in the particular place of the world you are being scanned in. It can soon become a very worthwhile business, as more and more services will be based on your digital and physical replica. The Artec EVA and relative software offers an in: the alternative is investing from $50.000 to $100.000 in a dedicated booth: it may make the scan a bit faster but the post production is still going to be on you.