How to Scan an Object for 3D Printing

3D scanning objects for 3D printing can be a complicated process that takes some time to learn. Once you can get the right tool or software then the best guide to follow to create 3D prints.

To 3D scan an object for 3D printing, you will want to use a 3D laser scanner. There are applications available that allow using a phone or camera to take several pictures around the object and stitch them together using photogrammetry to create a 3D scan. However, to create an ultra-precise 3D print, you will want to use a 3D laser scanner.

scan an object

3D laser scanning platforms are expensive. It will include the scanner, software, and computer that can handle the amount of data created in the process. One option I would recommend is to reach out to 3D scanning services provider who can perform an individual scan, instead of taking on the heavy investment.

For further details and information on 3D scanning objects for 3D printing, keep reading more.

Prepare the object for scanning in the workflow for reverse engineering. Spray a matte powder on the object to improve the scanning accuracy. Scan the object using 3D technology. Mesh should be refined. CAD should be imported with the mesh. Surfaces that are important should be extracted. Create new objects by integrating existing ones. Using 3D printing, a new design is produced.

How to Use 3D Scanning and 3D Printing for Reverse Engineering

If you want to create a digital design from a physical part reverse engineering is the best way to create. It is a key tool in your prototyping toolkit alongside technologies like 3D printing and 3D scanning.

3D laser scanners measure complex objects very quickly and can speed up your design workflow tremendously when real-life references are involved. You can design 3D printed parts that fit perfectly on existing products of all kinds and modify physical shapes as well. 3D printed jigs allow you to frequently locate a saw or drill or assemble parts accurately with adhesive Create reusable masks for sandblasting close-fitting, etching, or painting.

In this blog, we will go through step by step reverse engineering process and explain how to scan a part for 3D printing along with helpful tips & the best way for using the right reverse engineering tools; from CAD to 3D scanners and 3D printers.

How to Scan an Object for 3D Printing: The Reverse Engineering Workflow

When you want to create new parts that reference or incorporate older designs Reverse engineering is the only process to consider. This will occur when the original CAD design isn’t accessible or needs to be recreated entirely.

Although, you can produce replacement parts that match the original design of damaged existing pieces on the other hand you can also use reverse engineering processes to integrate complex surfaces from existing objects into 3D printable jigs. This is useful when modifying mass manufactured and handcrafted products.

Object for 3d PrintingTo reveal the very basic steps in a reverse engineering workflow. Let’s dive into the process of producing an assembly jig for an aftermarket digital gauge that fits onto the air vent of a Volkswagen Golf.

Prepare the Object for Scanning

Depending on the 3D laser scanning system you or the service provider utilizes, will determine how to scan an object for 3d printing. The 3D laser scanner we have uses targets, and small 6-millimeter stickers that help send back the laser to the scanner, to record the data by triangulation. Targets are placed on the product’s entirety and its surrounding environment.

With ultra-precise blue light laser scanners, previous methods of spraying CAD/CAM spray like AESUB disappearing spray is not necessary. However, with products that are ultra-reflective or see-through, a scanning technician will spray coat the object with a temporary matte powder to improve scan accuracy.

3D Scan the Object

The accuracy matters a lot in 3d scanning use a high-accuracy 3d scanner to capture the important section of the part. I think Tabletop structure light or laser scanners are the right tools for the job, with an accuracy of 0.02mm or even better.

Refine the Mesh

The 3D laser scanner will scan everything it sees, especially within its target field. The table where it is scanned for example and any debris on the object, all this data will need to be deleted in the software. Saving this erroneous data will produce extremely large mesh files, which will make later steps grind to a halt.

Scanner software, like the native software of our 3D laser scanner, will allow a technician to repair small gaps and simplifies the scan, making the data more manageable when it is reverse engineered into CAD. All data will need to be post-processed in order to create planes, and origins, and established into a universal file format.

Import the Mesh to CAD

Once the scan data is post-processed and exported, you will want to import the mesh into CAD software equipped with reverse engineering tools. Geomagic for Solidworks is the best and most powerful choice for resurfacing complex, organic shapes.

Xtract3D is a less expensive, lightweight alternative. In the case if you are reverse engineering a part with simpler flat surfaces,

In this step, rotate and move the scan mesh into alignment with any existing design components. When you are using these steps to explain on how to scan an object for 3d printing, the origin of the project will already be established in step three.

5. Extract Important Surfaces

There are 3 paths to extract the shape of the scan to create a solid model that is editable with CAD tools: semi-automatic surfacing, automatic surfacing, and manual redrawing.

Semi-automatic surfacing

it is very hard manually draw on complex curved surfaces. so sometime you may choose semi-automatic surfacing. This function generates surfaces that fit to detected regions of the scan. By varying the sensitivity of the surface detection function, different surfaces will be found.

You might repeat this process many times with different sensitivity settings to detect all your surfaces. These surfaces can then be trimmed and knit together to create an editable solid. This process is not always ideal for complex shapes.

Use semi-automatic surfacing to re-create curved shapes when you want maximum editability later on and when sharp edge accuracy is important.

Automatic surfacing

You can use standard CAD tools to subtract and add to this auto-surfaced body, but it will be more difficult to move basic features around on the body itself. Automatic surfacing generates a solid model from any watertight scan.

In many cases, automatic surfacing is the best way to save modeling time. For example, if you are scanning a part of the human body to create custom ergonomically-shaped products, or want to create a jig to precisely or repeatedly modify a handmade object even You do not need control over edge placement.

Manual redrawing

For simple features such as pockets, bosses, and holes, it’s usually the fastest and most accurate to redraw the features using the scan model as a reference. Reverse engineering software allows us to create sketch planes aligned with plain surfaces on the scan and to extract cross sections from the scan mesh, which assist you to match the shape of the original object.

When you are learning how to scan an object for 3d printing, manually reverse engineering scan data is going to give you the most accurate digital data.

6. Integrate New Objects

Once the scan has been ready and converted to a solid it can be subtracted from another solid body to create a jig that securely holds the original part.

The design of the new gauge aspect additionally references the scale of the scan, and the use of curves extracted with semi-automatic surfacing.

7. 3D Print the New Design

Printing the jig on a Formlabs stereolithography (SLA) 3D printer gives you a high degree of accuracy comparable to the output of engineering-grade 3D scanners. Use Formlabs Rigid 4000 Resin for its strength and precision.

How Do I Scan 3D Objects for 3d Printing?

  1. Prepare the scanned object by eliminating debris and applying scan targets.
  2. Scan the object using a 3D laser scanner.
  3. Mesh is refined by refining it.
  4. The mesh should be imported into CAD.
  5. Surfaces that are important should be extracted.
  6. Create new objects by integrating existing ones.
  7. A new design is created using 3D printing.

Can You Scan an Object for 3d Printing?

3D printers can be used to create objects that have already been captured into the computer, so they can be modified or simply re-created. The outer shape of an object can be captured by optical scanning, but the data can also be used to create models of internal structures by using ultrasound imaging or CT scans.

Are There 3d Scanners for 3D Printing?

Laser triangulation or structured light are the best methods of 3D scanning for a 3D printer. A 3D scan can be sent directly to a 3D printer by using these methods but only for simple models. A digital STL file is required for 3D printing but data may require reverse engineering into CAD and then exported into a mesh-only file.

What Is the Best 3D Scanner for 3d Printing?

As technology advances, there are many 3D laser scanners on the market but they do vary in precision. The 3D laser scanner platform we trust is a Creaform HandyScan Black Elite. It is a blue light scanner that is unmatched in accuracy and detail; still the best on the market.

Depending upon your budget, here are some other options:

  • EinScan-SE Elite is the best 3D scanner for education.
  • CR-T 3D scanner from Creality.
  • A 3D scanner from SOL.
  • A 3D scanner from XYZprinting that can print 3D objects.
  • Laser scanner with Ciclop Rotational Technology for HE3D.
  • The HE3D 2020 scanner is available now.


When you are looking at how to scan an object, you have the option of either investing heavily into a 3D scanner platform or reaching out to a service provider like Tangent Solutions. How to Use 3D Scanning and 3D Printing for Reverse Engineering is a powerful way to create digital designs from a physical part, and can be a valuable tool in your prototyping toolkit alongside technologies like 3D printing and 3D scanning.

Sean Kepler

Sean is lead 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, manufacturing, and data verification. 

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