3D scanners, which record the shape, geometries, textures, and colors of objects in the physical world, transfer the data to the digital realm Creaform has put together some great resources to help you get started in understanding metrology and how Creaform’s 3D measurement solutions can kickstart your product development, NDT inspections, quality management systems, and teaching curricula. As a pioneer in all forms of 3D measurement technology, including 3D scanners as well as photogrammetry and probing solutions, Creaform has put together some great resources to help you get started in understanding metrology and how Creaform’s 3D measurement solutions can kickstart

What is the history of three-dimensional measurements?

3D measurements are one of the most recent developments used in metrology, which is the study of measuring and the standardization of measurements. The ancient Egyptians were the first to use scales to promote trade, construct structures, and monitor human life. Classic metrology, on the other hand, has its beginnings in the French Revolution.

Would you like to learn more about the evolution of metrology? Take a look at this historical timeline of metrology from Galileo to today’s optical systems.

How does three-dimensional measurement work?

3D measurement is the method of gathering 3D data on real objects, including their structure, scale, and color, in order to create and analyze digital 3D structures of high-density point clouds or triangle meshes. The scan data is then fixed up utilizing computer tools to cover gaps, fix mistakes, and increase overall data quality. For 3D CAD modeling, it is exported as an STL file or translated to NURBS. These 3D models will then be used for reverse engineering or QC, archived for possible digital references, printed out with a three-dimensional printer, used in scientific documents, and more.

Types of 3D measurement technologies

Touch and non-contact measurements are the two most common forms of 3D measurements. Touch probes, articulated bodies, and some coordinate measuring machines are examples of contact 3D measurement solutions that probe objects by tactile touch (CMMs). Non-contact 3D measuring technology, as the name implies, allow for the collection of 3D data without the need to touch objects. 3D laser scanners, structured light scanners, photogrammetry solutions, and optical CMM scanners are among them. The acquisition type of 3D measurement solutions can be further subdivided.

Laser-based 3D scanners

Such scanners project a laser beam onto the target being scanned, allowing a camera to record where the beam and the object overlap. The equipment used, such as articulated arms or laser trackers, determines the scanner’s location in space. Laser-based scanners may also use positioning targets (small stickers supplied with the device that can be mounted directly on the part) to determine the scanner’s location in space in relation to the part being scanned.

Advantages: High-end laser-based 3D scanners deliver high-quality data while still being fast, precise, and reliable. Portable laser-based 3D scanners allow users to search all types of objects, regardless of their location (in a lab, on the shop floor or on the field).

Creaform’s HandySCAN 3D and MetraSCAN 3D portable 3D scanners are two examples of laser-based 3D scanners. Explore their latest capabilities and features.

HandySCAN BLACK 3D scanner projects 11 blue laser crosses to capture intricate details such as helicopter rotor components. The Creaform MetraSCAN 3D scanner is the most complete target-free scanning solution used for medium to large parts.

Structured-light 3D scanners

Structured-light (or white-light) scanners, in contrast to laser-based scanners, which project one or more laser lines on an object, project light and shadow patterns when taking photographs with a camera. The scanner senses changes in the pattern and positions the data based on the geometry and texture (color) of the material. Several pictures from different locations must be obtained before the mesh is complete.

Structured-light 3D scanners are fast and need little or no setup time. Furthermore, since they are compact and can be used to scan objects anywhere and in any place, handheld structured-light 3D scanners are very useful.

Do you want to hear more about 3D scanners that use organized light? Creaform’s white-light structured-light 3D scanner.is worth checking out.

Creaform Go!SCAN SPARK 3D scanner performing the full scan of a car seat in a metrology lab.


Photogrammetry takes several photographs of an object in various locations using coded targets. The points in the photographs are then triangulated by the photogrammetry method to determine their position in three-dimensional space.

Advantages: Once more, photogrammetry-based 3D scanners are incredibly reliable and provide repeatable results for larger-sized objects easily. Find out all about photogrammetry solutions.

Creaform MaxSHOT 3D photogrammetry camera capturing the cockpit and fuselage of a commercial airplane for quality control.

Contact-based handheld 3D measurement solutions

Portable optical coordinate measurement machines (PCMMs) are contact-based portable 3D solutions that physically probe the surfaces of an object that is placed securely in place to be measured. These instruments can accurately calculate any solid substance because they come into contact with it.

Advantages: Compared to legacy CMMs, the latest generations of contact-based 3D probing instruments are much less vulnerable to instabilities.

Quality technician performing jig/fixture welding adjustments on the shop floor using Creaform HandyPROBE and C-Track.

Other types of 3D scanners

Other 3D scanners, such as time-of-flight scanners that use laser pulse technology, are available. The time it takes for a laser or infrared ray to be transmitted back to the scanners is measured by these scanners. These scanning solutions require multiple scans to complete a single mesh and are usually used for very large structures such as buildings or other facilities.

Go!SCAN SPARK white light scanner from Creaform capturing an Audi R8 car cargo room for developing aftermarket components.

White light 3D scanners, such as the recent Go!SCAN SPARK, are suitable for capturing medium to large-scale items like car pieces, models, or furniture, the human body, or other parts with complicated color patterns or geometries.

HandySCAN BLACK from Creaform with a scan of an automotive die casting part shown in VXelements software.

HandySCAN 3D and the new HandySCAN BLACK allow you to minimize processing times and improve profitability by providing reliable and repeatable outcomes on a variety of surfaces in all work situations or environments.

Creaform MetraSCAN 3D handheld laser scanner capturing 100% of the surface on a transmission casting.

The MetraSCAN 3D optical CMM scanners embody the most comprehensive metrology-grade 3D scanner on the market, with its expandable measuring volume, amazing speed, shop-floor precision, and remarkable capability on large pieces.

What are 3D scanning solutions specifically used for?

3D scanning solutions can be applied to a wide range of markets and applications. Did you know that 3D scanners can be used in the following applications:

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive and transportation
  • Consumer products
  • Manufacturing
  • Heavy industries
  • Healthcare
  • Oil and gas
  • Power generation
  • Education
  • Other 3D scanning sectors

The capabilities of 3D scanners are almost limitless! Accelerating product production, optimizing manufacturing procedures, improving quality management and inspections, increasing product quality, reverse engineering, educating potential engineering students about metrology, saving objects, and many more are only a few of the many uses 3D scanning technology is used for.

Choosing the right 3D scanner

There are many articles and webinars on how to choose the right 3D scanner for your specific applications.

Overall, it’s critical to differentiate between low-cost 3D scanners and those that aren’t certified or metrology-grade. Low-cost 3D scanners clearly cannot provide the precision, resolution, and repeatability demanded by discerning engineers, quality management managers, NDT specialists, academics, and other experts.

Any large-scale or significant 3D scanning project may be affected by low-cost 3D scanners that are not metrology- or professional-grade. Smaller ventures that require precise results cannot be reduced to inexpensive 3D scanning knockoffs.

Do you want to hear more about 3D scanners for metrology and technical use? Check out Creaform’s article on the advantages of high-end 3D scanning solutions over low-cost options.

3D scanners and 3D printing

The terms 3D scanning and 3D printing are also used interchangeably. However, 3D scanning and 3D printing work well together for rapid prototyping and reverse engineering in a variety of industries. Discover more about the different applications 3D scanning and 3D printing can come in handy.

Manufacturers, for example, can speed up their product production or reverse engineering processes by scanning a part, making adjustments to the 3D image, and then printing a physical model of the newly developed part using a 3D printer.

3D scanning and 3D printing are much more straightforward than making designs from scratch. What’s the reason? Instead of having to adjust physical prototypes to each design update, users can scan a component, make some changes, clean up the mesh with dedicated 3D scanning software, and submit the new model to print! Workflows for additive manufacturing have never been easier!

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