A 3-D scanner is an imaging device that collects distance point measurements from a real-world object and translates them into a virtual 3-D object.
3-D scanners are used for creating life-like images and animation in movies and video games. Other applications of 3-D scanning include reverse engineering, prototyping, architectural and industrial modeling, medical imaging and medical device modeling. 3-D printers can use data from 3-D scans to create physical objects.
Contact-based 3-D scanners work in a number of ways. One type has a carriage system and a control flat bed on which the object rests, while arms take measurements. Another type has articulated arms, and measurements are calculated from the joint angles of those arms.
Laser-based methods use a low-power, eye-safe pulsing laser working in conjunction with a camera. The laser illuminates a target, and associated software calculates the time it takes for the laser to reflect back from the target to yield a 3-D image of the scanned item.
Non-laser light-based scanners use either light that is structured into a pattern or a constantly modulated light and then record the formation the scanned object makes. Some medical tomographic scanners use X-rays to create a 3-D X-ray scan image.
Commercial desktop and hand held 3-D scanners vendors include Digitizer, NextEngine, Go!SCAN and Fuel3-D. Most products use a combination of the techniques to make a faster and more accurate device that can capture color as well as form.
See a 3-D scanner demonstration: