Should You Buy a 3D Scanner or Hire a 3D Scanning Service?

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If you are in the need to have your product 3D scanned for post-processing, design optimization, and any other applications, you’ll either need to buy a 3D scanner or approach a 3D scanning service near you. Since the technology is still growing, you’ll notice a discrepancy in the rates you might receive. 

3D scanning may cost anywhere from $200, $300, or even more than $1000 for processing a particular part. The cost depends on the intricacies of the product, the brand name of the service, and various other factors which we’ll try to understand in the following sections.

Buy a 3D Scanner vs Hiring a 3D Scanning Service

Before we discuss the factors that can affect the cost of 3D scanning, let’s discuss if it’s smarter to simply buy a 3D scanner of your own. Why not spend some money once and have an excellent piece of tech at your disposal? The proposition may sound fantastic, but it’s not. In most cases, using a 3D scanning service may be a more cost-effective route. Here’s why:

You’ll Have to Bear A Significant Initial Cost

3D scanning is still in development and powerful scanners capable of capturing intricate details for industrial applications require significant investment. The scanner itself is not the only thing you’ll need to spend money on. You’ll also need access to a strong CAD tool and a skilled resource if you want to make edits or manipulate the scanned design during post-processing. So, you’ll need to bear additional costs unless you already have a CAD team with all the latest tools.

Tech May Become Obsolete Quickly

The initial investment is not the only thing you’ll need to worry about if you decide to buy 3D scanners. The technology is still developing and improving at an unprecedented rate. The scanner you buy today may become obsolete and lose its value after a while. You’ll have to keep spending money to keep up with the industrial standards. There are different kinds of scanners that use different methodologies, and each type is suitable for a specific application. 3D scanning services specialize in this field, have an experienced workforce, and possess all the equipment you’ll ever need for any application.

Your Scanner May Not Be Capable of Handling All Projects 

If you are a hobbyist, you’ll probably be able to find a reasonably priced scanner for basic applications. However, your work quality will surely suffer as basic scanners can’t give you the accuracy you might need for some serious projects. Some high-end models might have the capability to deliver the results you want, but the cost becomes a factor again. Approaching a 3D scanning service is still better because most of them charge by the hour. Basic objects can be processed fairly quickly, so you won’t have to incur a heavy cost.

When is it Beneficial to Buy 3D Scanners?

Buying a 3D scanner instead of using a scanning service is beneficial in very specific circumstances. You must frequently use the technology in your processes, have the skilled workforce and tools for pre-and post-processing, and be ready to keep reinvesting to keep up with the advancements in the field. 3D scanning services are capable to do all that because of the unmatched versatility of this technology. From industrial prototyping to academia, and even the entertainment industry, any competitive 3D scanning service can meet all their demands without making any significant changes in their process. 

Factors That Affect the Cost of 3D Scanning Services

As stated before, 3D scanning services have varying rates because each project comes with its own set of challenges. Some of the factors 3D scanning services use to determine the cost of a project are:

1 – Geometry and Complexity of the Product

Simple parts with minimal details and contours generally cost a lot less to 3D scan. Product features like grooves, threads, and textures take time to process, which can increase the cost. The size also plays an important role in determining the overall price, but it’s not a definite indicator. There are many instances where a smaller part may cost more because it has more details and complex features. 

The increased costs are not because of inaccuracies in the 3D scanning technologies. A 3D scanner will deliver the same accuracy and tolerances irrespective of the complexity. However, processing surface details and complex geometries require time and processing power. Most 3D scanning services charge by the hour, so spending more time on each surface naturally drives up the cost. 

2 – 3D Scanning Technology

There are multiple methods and technologies that make 3D scanning possible. For simplicity, we’ll only discuss 3D laser scanners and blue-light 3D scanners. These two are the most commonly used scanners available in the market because they can handle all kinds of applications and deliver precise results.

When it comes to the scan-quality, blue light 3D scanners generally perform better than their laser counterparts. Blue light scanners use structured light technology to carry out the scan and are less susceptible to errors due to external light sources. Some 3D scanning services may have different rates for laser and blue light scanning, so you’ll need to make a choice.  

3 – End-use Application of the Scan

Why you need the scan is another factor that can drive up your 3D scanning costs. Applications like prototyping and inspection demand high-quality scans with higher resolution and accuracy. On the other hand, scans for rendering or presenting a concept can be of low quality as their main purpose is to show the product for presentations and other similar events.

4 – Required Post Processing

Building on the application part, most 3D scanning projects do not end at the scan. 3D scanners deliver files in the STL format which needs to be converted into a parametric 3D model. After the conversion, your file is ready for any additions, simulations, analysis, and various other processes depending on the actual use. 

5 – Quantity of the Parts in an Assembly

3D scanning is not restricted to single parts. You can scan and recreate complex machines on your computer with this technology. Naturally, machines are made up of several parts and all of them need to be properly scanned. The number of parts in a single mechanical assembly can also have an impact on the cost of a scanning project. Most competitive 3D scanning services might offer some discounts and other promotions on a bulk order, but you must prepare yourself for high costs when dealing with assemblies. 

6 – Location

The final factor that can affect the prices is the location of the 3D scanning service you select. You’ll either send the part to their location for scanning or their experts will come to your site to carry out the scan. In both cases, you’ll have to bear the freight costs or transportation charges. 

Follow Up on 3D Scanners

For many applications, having a quality 3D scan is imperative as most of the other processes are interconnected. When selecting the 3D scanning service, you have to be careful of the associated risks. Simply going for the cheapest bidder can end up in a disaster if they use shortcuts or subpar equipment to process your scans. However, you have to make sure that you are not being overcharged as well. The best advice for you is to research the company’s reputation in the market and know more about the technologies they use for their processes. 

At Tangent Solutions, we guarantee state of the art 3D scanning services at the most competitive prices in the market. We have the most updated 3D scanners, industrially recognized CAD tools, and an experienced team to meet all of your requirements and deliver the best results in the shortest time. On top of the excellent 3D scanning, Tangent also offers a variety of excellent services designed to help you take your product from concept to the market. Contact us today to know more.  



Sean is head engineer with his previous career stemming from mechanical engineering, automotive dynamics, and aerospace. Pulling from real-world experience, he has over 15 years of experience as a designer and in fabrication. Before creating Tangent Solutions, Sean was the lead designer for many winning off-road race teams as well as mass-market production companies

About Tangent Solutions

Tangent Solutions offers the latest in 3D scanning technology paired with 15 years of CAD design experience, to bring your ideas to reality. Our team specializes in reverse engineering and data verification.

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