Can I 3D Scan With My Phone?

by | Oct 14, 2022 | Hardware, Software

3d scanning with phone

Summary. 3D scanning with a phone offers convenience but has limitations compared to specialised equipment. While smartphones make 3D scanning accessible, lighting conditions and object type can affect results, requiring post-scan editing. For critical projects, professional handheld scanners are advised.

3D scanning is something you can do using a smart phone. But is it a realistic alternative to more specialised technology and programmes?

As scanning technology develops and advances, it is becoming increasingly widespread, and accessible, to a broad range of users.

In the recent past, both Microsoft and Sony, for example, announced the development of smartphone apps that could create detailed 3D scans using the device’s built-in camera.

More recently, there are now several smartphone apps available that can produce successful 3D scans on the move.

But should mobile convenience be your main driver when selecting a 3D scanning application?

For business-critical decisions, should you be looking beyond your smartphone for a 3D scanning solution?

How 3D Scanning Works on a Phone

One way a smartphone can create 3D scans relies on transforming its RGB capabilities into a means of capturing multiple times, at various angles.

From these images, the app then builds a 3D visual model.

This approach has been previously applied, but only to PCs and other hardware.

Its use on a smartphone makes 3D scanning capabilities much more mobile and accessible.

There are, however, certain things you must do to ensure satisfactory results:

  • Successful 3D scanning on a smartphone requires good light conditions. It is important that the object you wish to scan is illuminated evenly, with the light spread equally around it. If there is complex geometry involved, or if the object is hollowed-out or has pronounced edges, then you need to be sure the light is not creating shadows. Shadows will prevent the 3D scanning software in the phone reading the object properly.

  • Good 3D results will only come from selecting appropriate objects to scan. Anything that is too plain will not scan well, since it can cause reflections which make it difficult for the process to work properly. Objects that are thin, or moving, will not 3D scan successfully either.

  • 3D scanning requires that the application can differentiate the body from its background. This enables the depth sensors to capture the volume of the item the phone is scanning. Consequently, you cannot scan transparent objects effectively on a smartphone.

  • You can scan people’s faces in 3D with a smartphone app. To achieve a uniform result, you need to walk around the person, scanning the face from ear to ear. It is important to catch the face’s different angles, so as not to miss any edges of it. Keep an equal distance from the person as you walk around them. Obviously, the person you are scanning should keep still and not move during this process.

What Are the Limitations of 3D Scanning with a Phone?

Whereas the use of phone-based apps for 3D scanning clearly widens the potential for everyday use of this technology, it does have disadvantages.

Firstly, as highlighted above, the technology has its limitations.

It requires a well-lit environment, preferably with ambient rather than harsh lighting.

Smartphone 3D scanning apps struggle with translucent objects, or objects that are reflective or shiny.

Secondly, the scan is only part of the process.

Initial 3D object scans can contain holes and stray objects and display other issues.

A smartphone may offer convenience in some 3D scanning situations, but you will still need to edit the scans afterwards.

Thirdly, consider what your objective is in making your 3D scan in the first place.

If the results you are seeking will be critical in the development of a project, for example, then you should consider using the type of advanced scanning equipment that will meet your overall objectives.

Many advanced level, professional 3D scanners are designed to be handheld and highly mobile.

As a critical part of the 3D fabrication process, 3D scanning is hugely important, and in this context the simple convenience of using a smartphone scanning app may not be adequate for your needs.

Choosing a Portable 3D Scanner

Portable 3D scanners are available at entry level, such as the Artec Eva Lite, or for a dynamic, multi-camera facility, there is the ZEISS T-Scan range.

For more information about our complete range of 3D scanners, please contact us to discuss your scanning needs.