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Digital Creativity: a Practical Guide

3D scanning

A practical guide to getting digitally creative and using digital tools and technologies to explore work, ideas, and research.

3D scanning

Want to turn physical objects into 3D models? One option is using 3D scanning technology.

What is 3D scanning?

2D scanning, using scanners that you are likely familiar with, involves capturing a 2D image from a surface like paper and turning it into a digital version of that image, a bit like taking a photo. 3D scanning is a similar process: capturing a 3D object and turning it into a digital version of that object. You'll end up with a 3D model which can then be manipulated and added to virtual reality experiences and games.

3D scanning is a close relative to creating your own 3D models, but this option is great for capturing more complex shapes and finite detail when you have a real-life object to work from. 3D scanning apps and devices allow you to move a camera around a real object to take pictures which can then be converted into a 3D model. You can then use this file for Virtual Reality (VR), games or 3D printing. It’s also good for being able to observe a real-life object to get the right scale, details and proportion.

How do you do 3D scanning?

There are multiple ways of capturing an object in 3D.

One way is using an app that uses something called photogrammetry. This is the idea of taking a series of 2D pictures, which the program can then ‘stitch’ together to then determine the depth of a 3d object to create a 3-dimensional model. It cleverly uses unique features and colours to match up the images and work out where all the images should go. You just need to take a series of photographs from different angles, and the app is able to give you a 3D model which you can then modify or add to in 3D design software. These can vary in level of detail, and may need a bit of trial and error to capture something with clear definition.

There are also dedicated 3D scanners, which have a dedicated lens for being able to measure depth and can capture texture in more detail. Using things like a turntable (which could be a make-shift one) can often help you to get a clearer model with fewer imperfections.

3D scanning apps

As well as physical 3D scanners, many phones and tablets these days can have various kinds of 3D scanning apps installed, allowing you to do some basic 3D scanning without any additional hardware.

These won't give you a full detailed scan and may struggle with certain kinds of objects, but they can be useful for having a go with 3D scanning or getting some basic 3D assets.

Apps like Polycam or Scaniverse (iOS only) are some of the options. Some of them only work on certain devices, for example either iOS or Android, or only on newer models. You might have to explore which options are available to you, and if they have free versions or options that still allow you to scan and get files from your scans.

3D scanners

3D scanners are physical devices that allow you to scan objects, spaces and people with more accuracy than app options. They can often measure depth and capture detail using dedicated lenses and tend to come with specialist software for scanning which gives you cues on how successful your scan will be. These devices can vary hugely in cost and quality.

If you want to have a go with 3D scanners, members of the University of York can access workshops and DigiCreate Fridays at the Creativity Lab in the Library. See the full training list for how to sign up to these.

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