Digitizer Education | Part 3: Materials for 3D Scanning

Two Types of Objects
The MakerBot® Digitizer™ Desktop 3D Scanner is an amazing tool that quickly turns things in your world into 3D models you can modify, improve, share, and 3D print.  Scannable objects fall into two categories: Ready-to-Scan and Prep-to-Scan. In this post, we’ll help you determine which category an object’s in, and share some expert tips and tricks to help you create the best possible 3D models.

A Ready-to-Scan object is exactly what it sounds like. You can put it on the MakerBot Digitizer’s turntable and start scanning it right away. When the laser line hits the object, the laser will bounce back to the camera in a focused line producing a good 3D model.


Ready-to-Scan objects are:

Matte: A matte-like or dull surface texture creates a sharp visible line that the MakerBot Digitizer’s camera can easily detect.  This lets the camera pick up a lot of data about the object’s position. Conversely, if the object is shiny or reflective, it will reflect the laser away from the camera, which makes it hard to detect.

Opaque: Things that aren’t translucent or transparent will scan better. If the object is too clear, the laser will pass through it instead of bouncing back to the camera.

Single Colored: Light colored and red surfaces are best for reflecting the lasers back to the camera. Dark colors, including darker greens and blues, tend to absorb the lasers.

Multiple Colors: If an object’s surface has more than one color, choose the setting in MakerBot® MakerWare™ for Digitizer that represents the object’s darkest color. Or, prepare only that dark-colored part of the object for the scan (see next section).

Close-cropped: If your object has hair, fur, carpet, or any kind of pile, it’s best if the fibers are very short. If the fibers are too long, the laser will get scattered too broadly and won’t convey accurate information to the camera.

A Prep-to-Scan object is an object that doesn’t meet one or some of the Ready-to-Scan criteria. You’ll need to prep it to create a good 3D model.

A few months ago we wrote a post that showed how to prepare a shiny object to achieve better results. Here we’ll take a look at two more Prep-to-Scan objects and see how they were improved for scanning.

A dark object
Look at the contrast between the laser line reflections from a light-colored object vs. a dark-colored object. When the dark object is scanned as is, it generates a below-average 3D model.


When the dark-colored object is prepared for scanning, the laser line becomes focused, creating a good 3D model.


A transparent object
Most of the laser line passes through or deflects away from the glass, so the camera doesn’t get enough data to generate an accurate model.


When it’s prepared for a scan though, the difference is impressive.


More Tips and Tricks
Improving an object’s scannability often means putting something on it. Here are some further suggestions for setting up Prep-to-Scan objects for the MakerBot Digitizer:

If you’re going to place powder on a dark or shiny object, we’ve had success using cornstarch, flour, talc, or dry shampoo. You might want to check its effect on a small part of your object first before you commit to covering the whole thing though. These powders tend to wipe off easily, and you can wash them off if water won’t damage the object.

Developer’s spray is an aerosol that leaves a fine white coating on your object. We’ve found it to be very effective for improving the scannability of Prep-to-Scan objects, and it wipes off well when you’re done using it.

Painting an object white, matte gray, or red works well too. Because most paint doesn’t come off easily, we suggest experimenting with tempera paint. Tempera is safe, makes a great scannable surface, is water-soluble, and washes off easily.

 We’re discovering more helpful tricks every day, and encourage you to find new ones to share with the community. Keep experimenting with your MakerBot Digitizer, and have fun taking 3D scanning to a whole new level!