This post was originally published in August 2016 and has been updated in February 2017 with more information and example scans

I just got this question as a reply to my Facebook Page:

It’s an interesting one, and the reply I wrote was so long that I decided to put it up here so it’s available for everyone with that wants to start 3D Scanning — and 3D Printing — on a budget:

Occipital Structure Sensor

Buy on Amazon ($379 including bracket)


Let’s start with the Structure Sensor (Review), because that’s the one that I have most experience with. In fact, I think I scanned about 100 200 300 objects and people with it in the last couple of months. It’s is wireless and has great standalone iPad apps and the option to scan wirelessly to a Mac or PC with Skanect (Review). That last feature means you can make scans that a tablet can’t handle, like large objects and rooms.

For 3D scanning with the Structure Sensor in general, but especially in combination with 3D printing, you should read my Review of the itSeez3D app, which adds a few handy—fully automated—features specifically for 3D printing selfies. The one-click “hollowing” procedure saves a lot of money on 3D printing.

Here are some example scans (all with itSeez3D) of a small object, medium object and human bust:

Teddy — itSeez3D 4.1 Review by Nick Lievendag | 3D Scan Expert on Sketchfab

As you can see they’re all pretty nice. If you put the embeds in MatCap render mode you can see the geometry without textures. This might not be as detailed as a professional scanner like the Artec Eva (Review) but those cost upwards of $10,000. The textures are actually great and you can make 3D prints of these scans on small scale pretty well — especially in full color where the nice texture will compensate for the lack of geometric detail.

3D Scanned Selfies (with Structure Sensor and itSeez3D), 3D Printed in Full Color Sandstond (by Shapeways)

These scans are made with Structure Sensor, itSeez3D and 3D Printed in Full Color Sandstone by Shapeways at 10 cm height.


Intel RealSense SR300

Buy 3D Systems Sense 2 ($355.26) on Amazon
Buy Creative BlasterX Senz3D ($199) on Amazon
Buy Razer Stargazer ($149) on Amazon

There are currently three versions of Intel’s RealSense: The RealSense R200 (world-facing) sensor is a bit older, but still being sold. There used to be a F200 (user-facing) version but this has been replaced by the newer RealSense SR300, which is technically a user-facing sensor, but has enough range for 3D scanning up to human size subjects.

The SR300 is integrated into various devices by third parties. For 3D Scanning, the most important one is the 3D Systems Sense 2 (Review) pictured above. This version is really intended for 3D scanning and comes in a housing that makes it easy to hold it in upright position. It works with the great (and free) Sense for RealSense software.

Other products that feature the SR300 are the Razer Stargazer and Creative BlasterX Senz3D (pictured in the header image). I have a Sense 2 and the Creative device (which I purchased as a SDK from Intel earlier) and they both work with the Sense for RealSense Software. But multiple people have let me know that the Razer Stargazer doesn’t work with that Software and I’m not sure if retail versions of the Creative device will. I’ve reached out to 3D Systems to clarify this.

For those devices you can use the free Intel RealSense SDK 3D Scan app which admittedly is less good and a lot more basic than 3D System’ Sense for RealSense software.

You can also use RealSense devices with RecFusion (which I will review soon) — a comprehensive software suite that costs $99. Or with Artec Studio 11 Ultimate (Reviewed as part of my Artec Eva Review) but that costs €800 a year which might be a bit steep for compared to the price of the hardware.

If you want a depth sensor to make 3D Scans on a Windows 10 machine, the RealSense SR300 is a great option. Because of the with free, versatile software I currently advice to get the 3D Systems Sense 2 instead of the slightly cheaper webcam-style alternatives.

Here are the same subjects I scanned with the Structure Sensor, scanned with the SR300:

As you can see the object scans are comparable to those made with the Structure Sensor, albeit with slightly less crispy textures. For scanning people, I found that the SR300 works okay for busts but that things get a bit tricky when trying to do full body scans (see examples of that in my Full SR300 Review). The Structure Sensor is better in that field.


Microsoft Kinect for Xbox One (a.k.a. Kinect V2)

Buy Sensor on Amazon ($99.99) | Buy Windows Adapter on Amazon ($39.99)

Update October 2017

Microsoft Has Stopped Kinect Production.

Read More + Alternatives

Microsoft’s original Kinect for Xbox 360 (V1) has been responsible for the uprising of low-budget 3D Scanning. That sensor is still widely supported by many 3D Scanning apps like Skanect. This sensor is now outdated. It might still be okay for basic geometry capture, but the texture quality isn’t good enough for today’s standards.

On paper, Kinect V2 solves that by upgrading the RGB camera to HD resolution. Microsoft even used to sell a version branded as Kinect for Windows which is no longer being sold. You can still get a Kinect (V2) for Xbox One but you’ll need to buy the Windows Adapter separately. I did that because it’s still cheap and I was curious to the quality and user experience.

Sadly, both aren’t very good and can’t compare to either the Structure Sensor or the RealSense SR300. For starters, many applications that support the Kinect 360 — like Skanect, ReconstructMe and RecFusion — don’t support Microsoft’s latest depth sensor.

Microsoft does have its own 3D Scan app for Windows, but I couldn’t get anything pretty out of it. Here’s a try on the bust:

Bust — Kinect V2 with MS 3D Scan by Nick Lievendag | 3D Scan Expert on Sketchfab

The only program I could get to work with the Kinect V2 and get somewhat decent results was Artec Studio 11, but as I wrote before that costs €800 a year which is probably not the budget of people that are seeking to make 3D scans in the cheapest possible way. Here’s the result:

That result isn’t extremely bad or anything, but as you can see the texture brightness is very inconsistent. That’s because the exposure of the Kinect V2’s RGB camera cannot be locked. This means that it will adapt the brightness based on the direction you’re pointing the sensor. And because the camera’s on the Kinect V2 are very wide-angle this is a real problem.

This wide angle makes the Kinect V2 perfectly suitable for sensing motion and depth of people in front of a TV playing games, but less for 3D scanning — certainly not small things. It also makes it  nearly impossible for 3D scanning on a manual turntable, because the tracking gets confused by your arm entering the frame. I scanned Teddy for comparison:

Teddy — Kinect V2 with Artec Studio 11 Ultimate by Nick Lievendag | 3D Scan Expert on Sketchfab

As a final note, it’s good to realize that the while the Structure Sensor is battery powered and the RealSense SR300 is USB-powered, the Kinect V2’s Windows Adapter needs to be plugged into a power outlet to operate. The cables are very long, but it’s still a hassle that impacts the overal user experience.

Needless to say I don’t think Kinect V2 is a contender for depth sensor 3D scanning in 2017.

This might be a good Kinect alternative!

I will soon review the $149 Orbbec Astra S which offers OpenNI2 & Android support and can be used with software like RecFusion (you can even use multiple ones simultaneously in with RecFusion Pro). The “S” version I’ll test is the Short Range version optimized for 3D Scanning people and objects. For Long Range scanning at a more Kinect-like range, take a look at the similarly prices Astra and Astra Pro (which offers HD RGB quality).

Which one should you buy? (updated)

My advice is very simple.

Don’t get a Kinect V2 for 3D Scanning. Period. Even the original Kinect 360 is more versatile if you don’t need the (texture) resolution.

If you already have a compatible iPad or the budget to buy one, you should really consider the Structure Sensor. It’s indeed “elegant 3D scanning” as Occipital calls it. It works great as a standalone device (itSeez3D is a gem!) with just the iPad and you have the extra option of streaming scan data to a PC or Mac with Skanect (again, that software review is really coming soon now!). You can scan medium to large objects by walking around them or on a turntable with ease. Scanning people is also a breeze. Just mind that you have a good light kit (I’ve written separate post about that).

If you have a decent Windows laptop (let’s say not older than 1-2 years) the Intel RealSense SR300 is also something to consider. 3D Systems has made that sensor into a great value-for-money 3D Scanner, especially because of the software. It’s great for objects, but scanning people will require some more practice. Busts are doable, but Full Body Scanning is not this sensor’s strong point.

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