We have been hard at work trying to learn a new process that none of us have ever played with before. The process of scanning objects in 3D for the use of saving them digitally as a point cloud that can be used in other applications or saved as a meshed object so that it can be sent over to a 3D printer or 3rd party service for replication, or even displayed online. How do we do this? With the laser-based 3D scanner by Matter and Form.
M&F’s scanner is one of the world’s most affordable 3D scanning solutions as it falls just under $500 in price and can be used by just about anyone, even if you have never worked with something like this before. Given, if you are new to 3D scanning like we were, there is a learning curve that you will have a lot of fun with.
The 3D scanner nearly works right out of the box. All that is needed is to download their free software (available here) and a quick calibration. After that, you are ready to start running with it, unless you need to catch up on the art of 3D scanning by thumbing through the manual, watching online videos and walkthroughs about tips and tricks and of course researching out to Matter and Form’s website for FAQs and support. There is so much to learn, but you can take baby steps as the software is very user-friendly.
It comes gently packed inside of its box and includes a power cable with multiple outlet adapters for every region of the world you could be located in, a USB type-A to USB type-B cable, a calibration object, a small green frog for practice an some documentation. The weight of the scanner is very light allowing it to be easily transported from one spot to another.
Setup is easy as it folds open and the front swivels to function as a leg. From here, you simply plug in the USB and power cables and power it on by pressing the M&F logo on the back. Your PC will begin to install drivers if this is the first time attaching it. Open the software and it will detect the scanner and you are ready to start scanning.
In some situations, very little effort is required when using the software to begin a scan as you won’t always be clicking through the advanced screens. The auto function that allows you to quickly scan solid and multi-color objects is straightforward and only requires a few clicks on your part. The rest is a little patience and then some cleanup work in the end–possibly a few extra scans at different angles to finish it up with.
They do mention you can scan something in as little as 5 minutes. We didn’t see this as most of our scans took around 30-90 minutes, and with some of the larger ones taking half the day. They may be talking about smaller objects (much smaller objects). Regardless, compared to what we could find that’s out there, there wasn’t much to complain about.
There are a number of things to consider during your scan that helps determine the outcome of things. For example, you don’t want to use any objects that are transparent or reflective. You can see in the image to the right, that we scanned a figure that was holding a sword that was mostly transparent. This was the outcome. Don’t pay much attention to the rest of the figure since we only did one scan and paid little attention to touching it up. We just wanted to see what the sword would lead to, knowing that it was mostly transparent.
Another thing to consider is lighting. You don’t have to have a perfectly well-lit room, but you do want “some” light and you don’t want that light being focused directly at the camera. So a soft overhead presence or most of the light coming from behind the unit maybe, as long as it isn’t casting a dark area around the turntable. The camera can compensate for a many lighting conditions, although not all. Keep in mind that this is one of the most affordable 3D scanners, which also means it isn’t going to have one of the most state of the art cameras.
You have to determine if there is simply one shade of color (an easy scan) or multiple shades, which requires you to point out the darkest and then the lightest region of the object being scanned. This can also be done manually in the advanced screen to really determine how the laser is hitting it.
Objects with a lot of sections and open spaces are harder to scan and may require multiple scans to get a good result. Like figures with spaces between the arms and body, or maybe it has a cape that has open space between the cape and the back of the body. The easiest scans are objects that have simple shape to them, the more detailed objects require some extra attention.
Our Senior Editor had the opportunity to sit down with two members of Matter and Form’s team that really shed some light on the advanced screen to help acquire a better scan. This was important since we are all new to the world of 3D scanning outside of simple discussions in interview at tradeshows and other events. M&F’s team is professional and filled with knowledge. You get that feeling that they really know how to deliver, especially when it comes to customer service. They are passionate about their product and have an open door to questions and input.
In the beginning, some of our scans were less than acceptable, but through some simple guidance, we were able to turn our scans into an obsession as everyone took turns placing an object on the turntable. The trick is to run multiple scans on the same object at different angles, then combine them in the application, starting with the main angle, and applying the additional scans on top of it. You want to maintain your lighting conditions and settings throughout the process in order to prevent any changes to the scans.
You want to make sure to use the cleaning features to clean up any unwanted portions, such as the turntable which always appears in the scan no matter what you do. The auto clean feature really does do wonders and then you can manually erase points one by one if you wanted, drag and select regions or crop it from center or below.
Once you are finished with your scan(s), they will display as a point cloud and won’t appear to be a finished scan (because it isn’t yet). As you can see here in the image to the left, we made one quick scan of the included frog. Once finished, this is what it looked like after using the auto clean feature. In order to get a better scan, you have to save it as an meshed object file. This will bring all those points together to form a solid object.
There are a few settings here to play with as well to fine tune it to where you want it and you are done. Now you have a scan that looks complete. We did two more scans of the frog and combined all three starting with the normal position of him sitting properly. Each scan cleaned and prepped before saving. Once all three were combined, we got the image to the right. Now it looks more like something that could be print worthy. Keep in mind, we are noobs in the world of scanning, so it could probably be a lot better and as you can see from the different shades of green, we did *not* maintain the lighting conditions throughout each scan (user-error).
Once you do have a finished scan that you are happy with and have saved it to an object file, it can be imported into your printing software to send it to a 3D printer or submitted to a 3rd party online service that can do it for you. You can also open it in certain 3D applications where you can view it and edit from there. You could also display the item on your website with a user-interactive window that allows them to spin it around right there on their screen. Matter and Form are actually working on a service of their own right now to support this, that will be coming in the near future. You can see a sample of their new service right here:
We have scanned a number of objects, some coming out pretty well and some looking as if they needed to be touched up using another program of sorts. Regardless, the scans that it delivered were pretty nice and more than we had expected. Through adjustment of some of the settings, I am sure we could have gotten a lot further, but due to how long each scan takes, eventually we had to move onto other projects that were now piling up because we were having so much fun with this.
We had a lot of fun with Matter and Form’s 3D Scanner and feel that many will find it just as enjoyable both novice and intermediate alike. The fact that it is one of the most affordable options out there, you can really expect it to compete with the top scanning solutions, but for what it is, it seems to perform quite well. We still have a lot of learning on our part as you can find scans out there that resulted in much better files than ours, but the fact that you can pretty much plug it in and start running with it is a great bonus. The software is quite easy and a lot of fun to work with. You get a handful of formats to save your scans as and a lot of the scans result in a print-worthy file if you do have a 3D printer handy. Single-colored, non-reflective solid objects are the easiest to scan as they tend to result in a great scan in only one try. A lot of fun was had with this and we will continue playing with it until we get a solid feel for each setting. I am sure we will revisit this some more in the future as M&F continue to tweak the software and add new features.
*Average price is based on the time this article was published
Software – https://matterandform.net/download
MAXIMUM OBJECT SIZE AND WEIGHT
Height: 25 cm (9.8 in)
Diameter: 18 cm (7.0 in)
Weight: 3.0kg (6.6 lbs)
Capture details as small as 0.43mm
Capture size within ±0.25mm
HD CMOS sensor
USB 2.0 high speed interface
SCANNER SIZE AND WEIGHT
Height: 34.5 cm (13.5 in)
Width: 21 cm (8.25 in)
Open Length: 34.5 cm (13.5 in)
Closed Length: 8.5 cm (3.5 in)
Weight: 1.71kg (3.77 lbs)
15°–32° C (60°–90° F)
ESTIMATED SHIPPING DIMENSIONS
cm: 21 x 11 x 53
inch: 4.25 x 12 x 21
Weight: 3.13 kg (6.9 lb)
IN THE BOX
Matter and Form 3D Scanner
USB B /Power cable
Product Information Booklet
Matter and Form Scan
Windows 7+ (64 bit)
Mac OS 10.9+
RECOMMENDED COMPUTER SPECS
FILE EXPORT SUPPORT
STL, OBJ, PLY, XYZ
Are you a manufacturer or distributor that would like us to test something out for review? Contact us and we can let you know where to send the product and we will try it out.