The best 3D scanners are in demand like never before. With a rise in use of 3D apps and software, as well as new ways to use 3D such as Apple's forthcoming Vision Pro and VR and AR headsets, creating accurate 3D models quickly is needed more than ever before.
For many artists, creating new 3D assets can be an intimidating mess of learning new software to make the right asset or a frustrating search for a generic stock models that don't fit the bill. For the artists who want to just get on with making the real world digital as quickly, efficiently and practically as possible, a 3D scanner will most likely be the best option. With the metaverse demanding more 3D models, and game engines like Unreal Engine 5 and Unity easier to use, a cheap 3D scanner is vital.
A 3D scanner does what it says on the tin. It creates a 3D model in a computer from a real-life object. It does this by a range of methods depending on the type of scanner you choose. A scanning unit casts rays onto the object to be digitised from a unit that looks a lot like a much bigger version of a smartphone's camera array.
Scanners can either be portable or a fixed unit into which the object to be scanned is placed. Naturally, portable scanners offer the opportunity to scan much bigger things. The ability to scan details to less than 0.1mm in the range of detail available can lead to dense meshes, which the software with the scanner may be able to optimise.
As with everything, there are caveats with 3D scanners; not all scan texture colour, only detail, and as mentioned, while fixed scanners may provide a more accurate scan, they will be limited by how big an object they can digitise. In this article, I will list my choice of the best 3D scanners on the market, including one you may, to your surprise, already own.
The best 3D scanners available now
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The Creality CR Scan 01 is a fantastic all-rounder and comes from a manufacturer with a track record of being a true innovator in the maker space, with a wide range of 3D printers and scanners available.
The Creality CR Scan 01 is the brand's latest enthusiast model with the ability to scan down to 0.1mm, supports 24-bit true colour texture mapping, and requires no markers for scanning. It offers both handheld and tripod mounting with portable turntables, too.
This is a great 3D Scanner for artists already invested in the Creality product range but is also easy to grasp and offers good results, making it an ideal gadget for newcomers.
Born from a Kickstarter project, the Revopoint POP 2 is the second iteration of this affordable 3D scanner and highly mobile 3D scanner, with a range of hardware improvements that have modified the scan accuracy up to 0.05mm. This is an ideal 3D scanner for quickly grabbing from real life.
With the ability to scan full colour at 10 frames per second, with a much smaller physical size than most other scanners on my list, the Revopoint POP2 makes an ideal entry point for artists new to 3D scanning. Weighing just 195g and with a special carry bag the Revopoint POP 2 is also one of the best handheld 3D scanners on my list.
The laser triangulation Matter & Form 3D Scanner V2 offers a different form factor than my previous picks. This is a foldable desktop scanner suitable for smaller objects and those who only want to scan items occasionally, as it can be easily stored away.
The box-like, folding design of the Matter & Form 3D Scanner V2 gives a stable platform and comes with a solid software solution, making it easy for those new to 3D scanning. I would recommend the Matter and Form V2 as an excellent choice as a ‘first 3D scanner’ as its software makes scanning a simple, and it's compatible with both Mac and Windows.
The Shining 3D Einstar is an excellent option for artists wishing to scan larger objects or for objects outside. With fast 3D scanning, 14 frames per second and decent software, the Einstar can make short work of scanning big objects, including ornaments. The detail is excellent, and even features a "Hair Mode" option to get improved hair data from human scans.
This is a handheld scanner and so requires more practice than a tabletop one, so I recommend the Einstar to those already familiar with 3D scanning. This is a powerful scanner that can be harder to setup than others on my list, such as the Revopoint POP 2, and you will need a good graphics card. But it does excel at macro human scans (note, not eyes) and has been designed for AR and VR use.
The Creality CR Scan Ferret is for the artist who wants to try 3D scanning but is budget constrained or wants to see if 3D scanning is for them; basically, from my experience, this is the best cheap 3D scanner around and a good tester for the undecided.
Connecting either to a PC or, for true portability, an Android phone, the Creality CR Scan Ferret offers class-leading scan ability, with the option to capture textures as well. With a claimed 60 frames per second of capture, the Ferret offers speed, value and portability. It also looks neat too, and has a decent build quality for the price.
The downside? As you may expect from a cheaper device there is a slight lack precision, or at least, a bit of trial and error to get the results you want. The Creality CR Scan Ferret lacks the approachable use of a more expensive 3D scanner, and it doesn't currently support iOS (it does run on MacOS) making it a good choice for Android users who need a cheap mobile scanner.
With the ability to scan down to 0.05mm, the Shining 3D EinScan SP is a true bridge between hobbyists and professional 3D scanners. It can be made portable and can generate scans and colour scans in under four seconds with the attached turntable option for accuracy and stability. (It can create a 360-degree scan in around a minute using the auto scan feature.)
While not cheap, the Shining 3D EinScan SP offers speed, versatility and accuracy backed by excellent software. This is a 3D scanner that will appeal to any artist wanting to get into scanning but has a demanding end-use case that ensures its scans can easily be used in a professional VR, AR or 3D modelling project.
Why is the Shining 3D EinScan SP so far down on my list? Purely because it is costly and aimed squarely at dedicated 3D artists with a professional pipeline who need high-end results. You will need to understand a slightly more complex software and have a good graphics card and a good desktop PC.
Bit of a curveball, but the iPhone 14 Pro (and in act the iPhone 13 Pro) are excellent 3D scanners. Sometimes the best tool is the one you (may) already have, and since the release of the iPhone 13 Pro, the LiDAR Scanner that comes with both the 13 and 14 Pro has been used as part of the AR solution for creatives and as a 3D scanner.
A wide range of apps can turn your iPhone into a portable or tripod-mounted 3D scanner. While not as accurate or sophisticated as the other devices mentioned in my list, the iPhone is still a perfect stepping stone for those artists curious about 3D scanning.
If you need to be sold on just how handy and powerful an iPhone can be, take a look at the newly announced Metahuman Animator from Epic Games that enables you to scan an actor's performance and render the mocap data into a 3D, animated model.
Are 3D scanners worth the money?
While you can create 3D scans of small objects from a phone these days, you'll soon find the resolution lacking if you need to create professional models for games or AR and VR. So a high-resolution, dedicated 3D scanner with proper software to tidy-up and refine scans is important. So yes, for the best results a 3D scanner is needed.
How much should I pay for a good 3D scanner?
While there are cheap options, a good price for a 3D scanner from a reputable brand is around $500 - £400. This can go up to around $1,000 / £1,000 if you need a more professional 3D scanner with better resolution and accuracy. Also consider what you need it for, whether it's scanning small objects to use in with one of the best 3D printers or to create assets for AR and VR, such as used in the best VR headsets.
What app do I need to 3D scan on an iPhone?
I'd recommend Polycam to create 3D scans using an iPhone or iPad (read our iPad generations feature to find which is best for you). This will capture 3D scans using the LiDAR sensor and you can edit the results in your mobile or tablet.
Is photogrammetry better than 3D scanning?
Overall, photogrammetry is better for realism and for scanning large rooms and spaces. But it's expensive and requires more work to generate models, if you need quick and accurate 3D models of small objects, 3D scanning is relatively cheap, very accurate and easy.