Archive for the ‘3D Scanning’ Category

Digitizing Plaster

Here at MakerBot Headquarters, every desk is a little world of printed objects. Since the release of the MakerBot Digitizer, all these funny, lumpy clay creatures have joined the ranks. They’re great, but when we put a trained sculpture to task, the results really started to get exciting.

FISH 2 fishhead

Along the Pont Neuf in Paris, there are a series of lampposts designed by Victor Baltard in 1854, depicting Neptune and his dolphins. Robert Steiner, our Chief Product Officer here at MakerBot, wanted to incorporate elements of these lampposts into a design for some furniture of his own. He sent these two pictures (above) off to a sculptor in the Philippines. A few months later these sculpts (below, left) arrived in the mail, but they were not great objects for casting into molds, as Robert had planned. He put them in a box and nearly forgot about them until we launched the Digitizer. Sensing an opportunity, he brought them into the office and the dolphin scanned beautifully. Plaster, due to its pale and textured surface, is a great material for scanning. The Digitizer software had no problem filling in the occlusion behind the lips.

Plaster originals at left, Digitized and Replicated versions at right.

Plaster originals at left, Digitized and Replicated versions at right.

Robert asked the sculptor to give Neptune an open mouth, in hopes of turning it into a fountain spout. The Neptune face didn’t scan well laying flat, so I attached some clay to the base to help it stand up straight. This gave his beard a trim, but now the printed version has a flat base to stand on.

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Digitizing Clay

One of the most exciting things about the MakerBot Digitizer is the ability to bypass 3D modeling software altogether. Software is great for blocky shapes like houses, and for complex, algorithmic shapes like fractals, but not so great for organic or irregular forms. No matter how good a GUI is, there are no manipulators we know better than our own hands. With the help of a MakerBot Digitizer, we can make digital 3D models from clay.

roma plastilina-1

I made a small model head out of Roma Plastina modeling clay. This is an Italian plastiline that will stay soft and pliable until it’s fired. Since it’s non-reflective and not too dark, it shows up really well to the scanner. Make sure you get grades #1 or #2 because the #3 and #4 grades are hard to work with— much less mushable. If you’re getting a MakerBot Digitizer, pick some up at your local art supply shop and start modeling stuff, so you’ll be ready when your Digitizer arrives. If you can’t find Roma Plastilina, other modeling clay should also work. Besides making models, you can also use this clay to help hold up challenging things that don’t have a flat base.

model heads

I spent about ten minutes making the head. Sculpting is not easy but I’m no professional, and I’m sure you could do something this good or better. I put it right in the center of the MakerBot Digitizer’s turntable, enjoyed the lovely noise made by the machine as it turns, and waited about twelve minutes for it to scan. The Digitizer software automatically filled holes in the mesh to make it watertight, but also left some light striping (above, right). I opened the model in MeshMixer, a free tool from Autodesk, and used the smooth function to smooth it out (above, left).


Here is the model and it looks great as a 3D print! If I were a sculptor or animator, I could make multiple heads with different facial expressions to use in stop motion animation. It took 10 minutes to sculpt the head, 12 minutes to scan it, and 2 hours to print it with a raft and support. When it was done, I shared it on Thingiverse!

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MakerBot Digitizer | LASER CAT

The test lab here at MakerBot has issued me one of the first MakerBot Digitizers to play with and I’m going to put it through its paces. The setup was easy: I just installed the software, plugged in the power supply and connected it to my computer via USB. The software will guide you through the configuration process. This is one of those times where you really have to follow directions. The Digitizer comes with a checkerboard configuration object, which you’ll put on the turntable. The software uses the checkerboard configuration object to analyze the laser alignment, then adjusts for any slight imperfections or misalignments. Calibration is easy so if you ever notice that something with your models doesn’t look right, recalibrate. If you travel with your MakerBot Digitizer or move it around, you’ll want to recalibrate it then too.

When we were looking for scannable objects to showcase the MakerBot Digitizer, there came a moment where we asked, “What goes well with lasers?


Cats go well with lasers! We found a ceramic cat on eBay and put it in the announcement and named it… LASER CAT!

What makes this a great thing to digitize? LASER CAT is a great candidate for scanning because it’s all one piece, and as the MakerBot Digitizer spins it around, the laser can see all the parts. LASER CAT has no occlusions, which are parts of a model that obscure other parts of the model. If the camera can’t see the laser, then it can’t render that part. Occlusions form the internal harbors of an object, like the armpits of objects… always there, but not always seen. One of the superpowers of the MakerBot Digitizer is the ability to deal with hidden geometry— the software will fill in the holes— but we don’t need that superpower for this model.


What is the challenge? So LASER CAT does present a challenge to the MakerBot Digitizer because LASER CAT has a reflective surface. If you scan things that are reflective without dulling the surface, you may get some weird results. To make LASER CAT non-reflective, I sprayed it with some dry shampoo, which is basically an aerosol can of rice starch. I did this in a well ventilated area and the result was a fine layer of powder over the whole thing. Now the lasers won’t reflect off of the object and I stand a much better chance of getting a clean scan. I washed the dust off the cat when I was done digitizing it.

MeshLab v1.3.2_64bit

Result: LASER CAT scanned beautifully on the first try. Here is a close up of the mesh so you can get an idea of the density of the 211,034 triangles that make up this model. It didn’t require any post processing. It’s a nearly perfect copy. The MakerBot Digitizer software made it easy to share LASER CAT on Thingiverse and just because it came out great, don’t be afraid to post process and make a derivative.


We went ahead and made a derivative with actual lasers, which you can check out on Thingiverse as well.

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Digitizer Update 9 | Scan And Scale


The MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner gives you the power to unleash the creative potential of the things you already own.

Did your child create a stencil in art class? Customize an iPhone case with her design. Did you just win the biggest award in your field? No need to stick to just one trophy: print that baby out in every color of filament we make. Are you an interior designer trying to replicate a favorite vintage piece? Scan it in and print as many as you’d like. Got a treasured figurine from grandma? Scan it, scale down, and turn it into a pair of earrings, like we did with our thrift store cat this week.

Those are the kind of possibilities that get us really excited about the Digitizer, especially when combined with the power of a desktop 3D printer like the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer.


What would you scan and scale down? Tweet @MakerBot with the hashtag #digitizer or leave a comment below with your suggestions. You can find our cat figurine and all the STL files from all our scanning adventures in our “Digitized!” Thingiverse Collection.



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Digitizer Update 8 | Digitizing Tips

We already know a lot about the Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner. To recap:

•   The Digitizer scans an object with two lasers to create models that are more complete. [More]
•   Digitizer’s software automatically fills in missing scan data to complete a model. [More]
•   The software also adds flat surfaces to the top and bottom of an object to create a watertight model. [More]

Bottom line, it’s pretty amazing that we can take real-world objects, and scan them into the digital world as 3D models. But how does it all work? The process is simple and elegant.

To start, a user places an object in front of the Digitizer’s camera. Then the scanner’s two lasers project light onto the object. The lasers are 60 degrees apart, and they scan one at a time to get the most accurate results. Once light bounces back into the camera, two sets of 3D points are formed, which the Digitizer software merges to create a 3D image.

But not all objects or materials were created equal when it comes to reflecting light. Highly reflective materials, like this trophy, can create an effect much like a lens flare on your camera, overloading the sensor with light. You can solve this problem by dusting your object with baby powder (we used a little bronzer). Just look at the difference between the models below:



Learning what scans well and what doesn’t is a lot of fun. It’s exciting to think that, pretty soon, you’ll be running your own experiments and sharing the results.

Are you ready?

You can find the STL files from all our scanning adventures in our “Digitized!” Thingiverse Collection.

What would you scan? Tweet @MakerBot or leave a comment below with your suggestions.

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Digitizer Update 7 | Two-Laser Scan


What’s better than one laser? You guessed it: two. Why? Because, lasers!

Last week, the MakerBot development team passed a major milestone, equipping the Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner with a two-laser system. Now that the Digitizer is packing double the heat, it can average the data from two scans to produce a more accurate model. We showed you the 3D model of a puppy that we scanned with two lasers, but check out the contrast when we used just one. From refinement on the snout to the removal of artifacts, the two-laser scan shows vast improvement.

We’ve been inspired to re-scan some other objects to compare the results. For example, this thrift store totem has been captured in greater detail using two lasers, including an impressive rendering of the top of the object.


We’re so pleased with the results that we decided to share this model, along with everything else we’ve scanned so far, in a new Thingiverse Collection called “Digitized!”.

The increasingly great progress coming out of the lab is getting us really excited about scanning things, and about our forthcoming MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner.

Tweet @MakerBot or leave a comment below with your suggestions on what we should scan next week.


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Digitizer Update 6 | Missing Puppy Data Found


The Digitizer team at MakerBot is hard at work trying to make the scanning experience as easy and intuitive as possible for our users. We want the Digitizer to help take the guess work and effort out of creating good models for 3D printing and 3D modeling projects.

For example, other 3D scanning options often deliver files with missing data, like this puppy on the left. The puppy model is filled with holes, which makes it almost impossible to process for 3D printing or use for additional 3D modeling. Repairing all the holes is crucial but it can be a time-consuming process. In order to fulfill on the promise of time savings and ease of use, we engineered our MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner to automatically repair any holes and streamline the capture and print process.  The result is that you can send every scan to your 3D printer without any repair work. A round of a-paws for our hole-free puppy!

Have suggestions for our next scan? Email us at [email protected], or click here to sign up for email updates about the Digitizer.

You can see the full “Digitized!” collection here.

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Digitizer Update 5 | Watertight Scans


When we announced the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner, we asked people what they would scan. Art and artifacts were at the top of the list. This week we scanned this ancient relic we found at the thrift store to test and see the print results from our scan.

The Digitizer’s software automatically finds the bottom of the object and creates a closed flat surface. This is important because 3D models that aren’t completely watertight, or “manifold” in technical terms, can cause major problems for 3D printing algorithms. Making a model watertight can be labor intensive, so we automated the process.

There’s also the option to flatten the top of your model. Above, you can see what the scan file would look like without the flattened top (left) and what it looks like after this option is applied (right).

Have suggestions for our next scan Email us at [email protected], or click here to sign up for email updates about the Digitizer.

You can see the full “Digitized!” collection here.

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Digitizer Update 4 | Cat Scan


In order to continually optimize the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner, the MakerBot team tests objects to see the results. We found a feline friend at our thrift store trip last week, and decided to take him on a journey through our 3D scanning workflow.

The first step in scanning an object is finding an object with the right specs to scan well. This friendly feline has a matte texture that is perfect for scanning, as glossy surfaces can overexpose the camera’s light sensor, making surfaces difficult to capture.

Our cat fit within Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner’s size parameters, as it can scan objects up to the size of an 8″ by 8″ cylinder.

At last, we can print our 3D object on a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer. There are many ways to scan a cat, but the best option is with the MakerBot Digitizer 3D Scanner.

The advantage of 3D scanning an object is the ability to spend your time tweaking a design instead of starting from scratch. If we weren’t in such a rush to show off our scan to the MakerBot community, we would’ve refined our model by adding more texture, or increasing the level of detail on the cat’s tail. Softwares like Autodesk’s Mudbox or 123D can be used to refine your design.


Have suggestions for our next scan? Email us at [email protected], or click here to sign up for email updates about the Digitizer.

You can see the full “Digitized!” collection here.

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Digitizer Update 3 | Thrift & Scan


In order to continually optimize the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner, the MakerBot team scans and tests objects to see the results. MakerBot engineer Jamie found some test subjects at a local thrift store:


The scan accurately captures the feathery details of the Angel’s wing, thanks to the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner’s depth resolution specifications.


The  lighthouse has subtle textures that are beautifully captured in our scan. Many of the organic textures found on the original model lighthouse can be found in the resulting scan.




Have suggestions for our next scan? Email us at [email protected], or click here to sign up for email updates about the Digitizer.

You can see the full “Digitized!” collection here.

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