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Which 3D Scanner is Best for Small Objects?
precise 3d scanner

Small components present particular challenges for measurement. Certain aspects of small parts contributing to these challenges include the fine level of detail required, the scale of dimensions and crevices between features, and the difficulty in setting up and positioning small objects.

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Examples of Small Objects for 3D Scanning

Non-contact 3D scanning helps overcome these challenges by collecting complete measurement data, also known as full-field measurement data. Due to the ability to capture intricate details, 3D scanning is often used with smaller components such as:

Mechanical components: often, in industrial settings, the ability to 3D scan objects gives a detailed, in-line measure of conformance to drawings and quality standards

Jewelry: used in production, evaluation, modifications and repair

Medical devices: due to their sensitive nature and small features, many medical devices make use of non-contact measurement and analysis in manufacturing and quality control settings

Injection molded parts: these small, complex parts have tight tolerances, requiring the precise, accurate measurement results a metrology-grade 3D scanner delivers

While using a 3D scanner for small objects is a great way to capture fine details, not all 3D scanners are a good fit for this application. Sourcing the right 3D scanner for your purposes can be tricky, given the factors that must be considered when scanning smaller objects. In this article, we'll look at:

1. Budget & Quality Considerations
2. Handheld vs. Stationary vs. Automatic Scanners
3. Measuring Volume

 3d scanner for small parts

Budget vs. High-End 3D Scanner for Small Objects

Choosing the right budget for your 3D scanner is a key consideration. Inexpensive 3D scanners may work for hobbyists, but for applications requiring high data accuracy, it's crucial to invest in a high-quality 3D scanner to meet your requirements. There are specific factors that you should consider when choosing between a basic or high-quality 3D scanner.


Resolution & Quality

When selecting a 3D scanner, the first consideration is deciding the required level of detail you need to achieve based on the purpose of your scans.

Low level: Maybe you just need a quick digital scan to create an image of an object for reference or presentation, and the details of the surfaces are not important. Capturing shapes, outlines and some rough dimensional measurements is the goal.

Medium level: In many cases, the outline geometry plus dimensional accuracy will be enough to produce results for basic applications. Medium level resolution and quality allow some sizing and analysis and reveal defects at the edges of gross defects in a product.

High level: Imperfections in surfaces and coating must be spotted and measured for metrology and quality control. The dimensional measurements are not only for outlining but must be precise and repeatable. Of course, this higher level of detail guides towards a different level of data quality than lower resolution 3D scanners.

Your specific application will dictate your requirements, with the level of detail and accuracy required having the most significant bearing on the cost of the system.

Versatilityscanning small parts

Different scanners offer different levels of versatility in terms of applications, features, configurations, shapes, sizes and colors.

Features: Budget scanners are great when you are just testing the water with 3D scanning. Handheld 3D scanners can be taken anywhere and offer a high degree of versatility and different applications. Higher-quality 3D scanners can be customized with automation to suit your application and increase throughput.

Shapes and sizes: Many budget scanners can handle the basic scanning of large-scale objects such as construction connections, people or body parts, and large automotive components such as engine blocks. But they struggle with the smallest of objects in many instances. High-resolution stationary or automated 3D scanners are suitable for the smallest of objects with a high degree of customization on detailed sections, features, and measurements critical to quality control.

Color and surface type: Many low-end 3D scanning systems will struggle with shiny or translucent materials. Some 3D scanners require sprays, spots or other identifiers added to the surface of an object, but a high-quality 3D scanner captures precise details without having to modify the surface. The ability to capture data from challenging surfaces is especially important for high-value components, where modifications or witness marks on surfaces are out of the question (such as jewelry or medical components).

high resolution 3d scanner
ATOS Q offers the industry-leading standard for versatility and precision. This blue light 3D scanner captures high-definition, accurate and reliable data from objects of all sizes. Ideal for engineering, R&D and manufacturing, the ATOS Q is lightweight and portable (weighing only 4kg) and can be configured for manual or automated use.

Repeatability & Precision 

The data quality your 3D scanner captures is impacted by how easily it is influenced by environmental disturbances during data acquisition. One example of an environmental disturbance that affects the quality of your measurement results comes from vibrations through the platform (or surface) upon which the component or 3D scanner is placed. A higher level of specification in your 3D scanner helps to reduce the vibration but also makes it more capable of filtering out disturbances.

Budget devices can be useful for taking quick, partial scans of surfaces and shapes for contour analysis. In many quality control applications, the measurement process itself must be calibrated (or validated) and cannot vary, so an automated or semi-automated process of positioning and scanning is necessary. Where repeatability is required, the external vibrations and variations will require clamping in place, with precise, repeatable paths and movements of the 3D scanner.

accurate 3d scanner for small parts
GOM Scan 1 utilizes a stereo camera principle, allowing the sensor to recognize vibrations or disturbances during scanning. The 3D scanner compensates for the variation during scanning to produce a consistent result, regardless of the environment.


Choosing Stationary vs. Automated vs. Handheld for Small Objects

The type of positioning and support of the object you are trying to measure greatly affects the results your 3D scanner collects. There are three basic types of 3D scanning configurations to choose from:

1. Handheld
2. Stationary
3. Automation/Semi-automation


Handheld scanners are great for objects like people and their features, cars and automotive components. Low-quality handheld scanners are notorious for losing their position during a scan (especially going around a corner). This issue results in the user having to stitch two scans together or restart the entire scan again.

handheld 3D scanner

High-quality handheld 3D scanners produce metrology-grade inspection data with no custom setups or platforms required for the object. The ZEISS T-SCAN hawk is an excellent example of a precision handheld scanner that can be taken anywhere and can switch between scanning modes at the touch of a button. This handheld 3D scanner also rapidly feeds your measurement data into GOM Software for analysis. Handheld scanners are the most portable 3D scanning option available. These can be easily taken outside for fieldwork in the open air. They are relatively easy to transport in a bag or case (compared to some larger and more built-in solutions).


Stationary 3D scanners hold the scanner in position, and the object rotates in front of it using a turn table. This setup can be more repeatable than scans from handheld scanners, as the object's movement is in one plane (rotation around a central axis), which leads to fewer opportunities for error.

Scans produced from stationary scanners are usually far superior to handheld scanners due to the control of the movement, resulting in finer details and higher resolution. Stationary scanners are larger than handheld units but are more portable than automated systems.

3d scanner gom scan 1GOM Scan 1 is excellent for use as a stationary scanner. This highly portable 3D scanner is lightweight and provides industry-leading precision. Highly suitable for many small and medium-sized applications, GOM Scan 1 is a reliable tool for reverse engineering, quality control, research, art, 3D printing and more. 

Automated and Semi-Automated

When using an automated 3D scanner, the object is held in place, and the relative movement of the scanner or the object (or both) is controlled by the system itself. The object can be passed in front of the scanner at different angles using different paths to precisely control the speed and motion. This highly repeatable process can be finely tuned for precise details on small components. This advantage is especially important for quality control environments where repeated measurements are compared over time for drift or changes from a baseline. These units generally take up more space than handheld or stationary scanners and aren't meant to be used as a portable solution. Automated 3D scanners are usually larger and require more preparation for moving or transporting to new locations due to their size and layout. Semi-automated systems work similarly to automated systems, but the scanning or the rotation is somewhat manual, requiring the user to rotate the platform or otherwise interact with the system to create a scan.

Measuring Volume

Measuring volume is an important factor when considering the best scanner for your application. Point clouds are the collection of individual points in space captured during a scan. These points in space are the boundaries of the object and its surface. The 3D scanning software uses these points to render the object's surface and create the digitized representation of the object that we see in the finished scan image.

Resolution is the distance between two points, with a lower distance between points giving richer detail in the end result. A greater number of points collected (a higher measuring volume) leads to higher resolution data. A high measuring volume and resolution are especially important when dealing with smaller objects because the ratio of the part's dimensions to the distance between the measurement point is much closer.

Higher measuring volume leads to more detailed data capture but also leads to large file sizes and slower rendering times. This problem is resolved when working with an advanced 3D metrology software solution such as GOM Software.

3d scanner atos 5 high data quality At the highest end of industry performance, ATOS 5 offers point-spacing down to 0.0236mm (the distance between two points on a scan). A single pass of this scanner captures up to 12 million measurement data points in as fast as 0.2 seconds per scan.

Find the Best 3D Scanner for the Small Objects You Work With

Contact a CAPTURE 3D team member to help you find the best 3D scanner for the small objects you work with. CAPTURE 3D carries various 3D scanners for small objects to fit your specific application. Schedule a demo of our accurate 3D scanning solutions or get a proof-of-concept to understand the benefits our technology brings to your components.

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