The most frequently asked question I get is:
How can I easily make 3D captures on a smartphone — for free?
For a while many people enjoyed photogrammetry through Autodesk 123D Catch for this. Since that has been discontinued, alternatives have surfaced like my ReCap 360 Android workflow but that still requires taking separate photos. Many people find that process too time-consuming. TRNIO for iOS fixes that problem with a tracking-based continuous photo-taking feature but its results can be hit-and-miss and it’s not available for Android.
Microsoft seems to be working on a crossplatform app, but but nobody knows when that 3D Capture app will be released. And then there’s Google Tango, which can also be used for 3D scanning with dedicated apps. But that requires a special Tango-phone that I guess very few consumers will ever own.
Looking at my personal preferences for mobile on-the-go 3D capture, I came too the conclusion that I don’t actually need the results directly — I just want to make the capture as soon as possible. I don’t mind processing them later, just as I do with with my photos after a vacation.
After reviewing the photogrammetry software 3DF Zephyr, I discovered that its video-to-3D feature started to change the way I approach “casual 3D capture”. Let me define that! Like photography, I sometimes want to capture things at the highest quality but other times just want to capture something in 3D in a way that’s as fast as possible and delivers an acceptable result that I can share on Sketchfab. Acceptable for me is a 3D model with depth sensor-like geometric detail and a good texture.
I think the workflow I’m going to describe here delivers that. And the good news is that it’s totally FREE!
Like Photography years ago, 3D Scanning — or, more broadly known as Reality Capture — has become affordable for consumers and small businesses. While professional grade 3D scanners are still expensive, two technologies that are commonly used for 3D scanning on a budget are Depth Sensor based 3D Scanning and Photogrammetry, which uses a regular camera and special software.
But like Photography, buying just a scanning device and software might be enough for hobbyists but won’t give the best results. If you want to make 3D scans for professional purposes, you need to invest in some extra equipment to populate your (mobile) 3D scanning studio. Luckily, these can be found for prices that match the affordable scanning hardware and software.
My definition of affordable for this post is using hardware and software that won’t exceed an investment of $1000 (not counting a computer of tablet you probably already have).
Further down this post you’ll find a selection of essential products that I actually use myself to make many of the 3D captures you see on this website. And I’ve taken the time to search for the best deals, so you don’t have to.
But if you haven’t done so already, you should first choose which 3D capture technology you’re going to use.
Update September 2017
Autodesk ReCap 360 will be discontinued on December 1, 2017. The photogrammetry functionality of this web application will be moved into Autodesk ReCap Pro as a feature called ReCap Photo.
Now that 123D Catch is no longer available, ReCap 360 is the only way of accessing Autodesk’s excellent photogrammetry engine from you smartphone — for free.
I wrote a Full ReCap 360 Review earlier, but in this Tutorial I’ll show you how you can make 3D scans with the Autodesk ReCap 360 web app on your Android phone and share them through Sketchfab. I made this separate post because I personally like photogrammetry (and photography in general) on mobile. This is actually the workflow — which is kind of a workaround — I use myself!
Unfortunately, ReCap 360 doesn’t work on iPhones — Safari and Chrome will trigger “not supported” message. If you’re an iPhone user you can check out Trnio for iOS or just shoot photos with your phone and upload them to ReCap 360 on your computer by following this tutorial.
Maybe you got inspired by my Holiday Gift Guide and got (yourself) an infrared depth sensor to dive into the world of 3D Scanning — Good! If you’re a Windows 10 user, you probably chose an Intel RealSense-based device, like the Sense 2 3D Scanner that I reviewed recently, the Creative BlasterX Senz3D ($199) or the Razer Stargazer ($149). Those are all based on Intel’s latest SR300 hardware and can make pretty decent 3D scans. But it can do more than that…
An increasing amount of 3D Scanners and Software can record and export color information in the form of a so called UV Texture Map. This means that each polygon is textured with a part from an image file. The letters U and V stand for the 2D texture coordinates (Y, Y & Z are already taken by the 3D system), which are “mapped” onto surface of the polygonal mesh.
Like a regular map, UV maps are usually made of a series of smaller and larger islands representing adjacent parts of the 3D model. If a human designs a 3D model from scratch, you usually make a UV map that’s both efficient and makes sense. For a character, you’d create separate faces for different body parts and pieces of clothing. For memory-efficiency, these islands are then put into a power-of-two-sized square image file (e.g. 2048 x 2048 or 4096 x 4096 pixels). Like this game character:
In Part One I showed you how you can view and share your 3D scans Online and in Virtual Reality by using a service called Sketchfab. A great free alternative to expensive full color 3D prints! But there’s another technology besides VR that has caught a lot of media attention lately—AR or Augmented Reality. And I’m not talking about headset based AR (or Mixed Reality) like HoloLens, but the kind that just requires a smartphone or tablet—like Pokémon GO.
I’m amazed by the developments in 3D scanning since I started researching and writing about it in January. In particular, I like that the technology of 3D capturing has quickly become affordable and will continue to do so with sub-$500 smartphone-based 3D scanners and free photogrammetry apps.
Besides capturing objects in 3D, people seem to really like to have themselves volumetrically digitized, or in less funky words: 3D Selfies are the new Selfies.
One thing I also noticed is that 3D scanning is still very much tied to 3D printing. The scanners themselves are sold by stores that also sell the printers. And manufacturers of affordable 3D scanners—like the XYZ scanner and Sense scanner I reviewed earlier—are still marketing them to consumers as accessories to desktop 3D printers.
Like 3D Printing a few years ago, 3D Scanning has become affordable for consumers and small businesses. At entry level, people that are interested in capturing 3D can now experiment with Free Photogrammetry Apps or affordable 3D Scanners for Smartphones and Tablets.
Here are six tips for things to buy that will greatly improve the results of your 3D scans: