From the many questions I get about it, I know that many readers of my site have questions about 3D scanning with depth sensors for making full color 3D prints. Mainly scans of people to 3D print (and sell) small scale figurines in full color sandstone.
3D scanning with the Structure Sensor (or the smilar, but cheaper iSense) is an obvious choice for this — it’s a reliable and affordable. And the combination with an iPad not only makes wireless scanning possible (which is great when scanning people, especially at events) but also delivers great texture quality because of the generally good iPad RGB camera.
Many people started using the excellent itSeez3D software for this. As you can read in my in-depth itSeez3D Review that app has a great, automated workflow that delivers outstanding scans with unmatched texture quality.
Hoever, many people where shocked by the fact that after a period of appearing to be completely free (in reality it was $1000 for commercial purposes), the developer behind itSeez3D implemented a new business model based on a subscription plus additional per-scan pricing above the included scan bundle. Kind of like a mobile phone contract.
For people that actually run a 3D scanning or 3D printing business, the prices of either the Professional the Business subscriptions are probably well worth the extra benefits in workflow and automation. But for people that don’t make money (or very little) from 3D scanning, they might be steep.
Up until now, there weren’t any alternatives, because the free Occipital 3D scanning sample app is too limited in terms of workflow and quality. And while Skanect has always been a great tool, it was lacking in texture quality to keep up.
This changed with the update to Skanect 1.9 which I reviewed recently. Aside from a lot of under-the-hood optimization and support for recent nVidia graphics cards the focus of that update was mainly on texture quality. And as you can read in the review, it pays off — texture quality in Skanect 1.9 has greatly improved.
The question I’m trying to answer in this post is: is it good enough?
Let’s start with two scans of myself with Skanect 1.9 (top) and itSeez3D 4.3 (bottom) respectively (at different moments in time but with comparable conditions with a basic light setup):
The Skanect version has slightly better geometry, but in my opinion that’s negligible for most purposes. If the purpose is online viewing, sharing and VR the better textures of itSeez3D make up for the generally lower quality geometry of the Structure Sensor (or depth sensors in general).
However, if that purpose is full-color sandstone 3D printing — which I now many readers are doing or planning to do — the end result would really depend on the scale the model is printed at. 3D printing human busts at 10-15 cm is quite common because it keeps the figurines relatively affordable. At that scale I think the low resolution of the sandstone printing material might make the difference in texture quality between itSeez3D and Skanect negligible.
To illustrate this, here’s here’s a photo of the itSeez3D scan, printed by Shapeways in full color sandstone at 10cm tall:
As you can see much of the texture quality gets lost because of the physical properties of the material.
Of course, be scientific about if there’s a noticeable difference between itSeez3D and Skanect at this scale, I have to make more controlled scans with both applications and print them both at the same time size to be scientific about it. If I do that in the future, I’ll surely update this post with the result.
Besides texture quality there are more things to take into account when deciding between itSeez3D and Skanect and then it quickly becomes an apples-vs-oranges comparison:
Skanect is just $129 with unlimited scans, but does require a separate computer (and preferably one with a decent graphics card) for best performance. If you want to scan on location, this needs to be a serious laptop and they’re easily $2000+.
itSeez3D’s costs can easily surpass $80 / month on subscription plus per-scan fees if you’re setting up a professional service for 3D printing. But if you just want to share scans online and in VR through Sketchfab, it’s good to know that you can do this completely free of charge.
Besides price, itSeez3D is a fully automated workflow with no manual editing options. However, the web interface allows you to manage and share your scans from the cloud while Skanect projects are stored only locally on the computer.
ItSeez3D’s web interface also allows the models to be hollowed automatically and can add escape holes and pedestals based on a few simple parameters. Both features are missing in Skanect 1.9 and depending on how you calculate business costs and how expensive 3D artists are in your area the per-scan price of itSeez3D might be not be a big deal.
However, while itSeez3D does a good job of producing a 3D printable model, in reality I think many professional would want to edit them anyway — both textures and surface. Especially when dealing with people, there are always some things you (or your client) want to polish. Simple things like removing blemishes or touch up other imperfections are as normal (and arguably necessary) in 3D as they are with 2D photography.
This means you’ll have to edit models anyway, or hire a 3D artist to do so, before sending models of for 3D printing (or doing it yourself). And if that’s the case, doing the hollowing (and other 3D printing optimizations to the surface and texture) can be part of the job.