3D Capturing

Shawn O’Grady uses the Handyscan laser scanner to digitally replicate this fossilized Maiacetus skeleton.


The term “Capturing” means different things to different people, at the UM3D Lab we define it as:

Capturing is the ability to take an existing physical object and re-create it in digital form.

This is a process often used in the preservation of artifacts and in iterative design. The ability to take an existing object and re-create it digitally allows artifacts to be forever preserved and also made more widely available through digital platforms. For inventors, designers and creators, capturing an existing object can allow for improvements to its design and functionality in digital form.

  • Types of Capturing

  • How to Get Started

  • Available Technologies

  • Other Resources

Types of Capturing

There are many types of capturing and attempts to categorize it. Some break it down into three categories such as:

Laser Scanning

A laser scanner can produce very precise scans. As a service, we can provide a student to scan your object for you at an hourly rate, ensuring objects are scanned correctly and efficiently. Scanning costs $30 for the first two hours, and $15 for every additional hour.


Photogrammetry is the process of using digital photographs to generate a 3D model. The great thing about this technology is it can be done by just about anyone with a digital camera.

Depth Sensor Scanner

This type of scanner creates a digital grid and recreates the object by sensing how far each point is from the camera. The best part is that even a Kinect can double as a depth scanner.

However, if you want to scan something, here are some questions you need to keep in mind:

  • How large is the object?
  • What is the shape of the object?
  • How accurate does the scan need to be?

We can help you work through these questions and help you decide what mode of capturing is best for you.

How to Get Started

While it’s better to start think about capturing your data sooner rather than later, depending on where you are in your project’s life-cycle there are various ways to get started.

  • Consultation Session

    Even if your project is nothing more than an object in your hand, the best way to see if you’re on the right path or have fully considered what sort of capturing may be required for a project is to schedule a consultation with our group. Our team of experts can help walk you through the key questions, demonstrate various technologies, help with fund raising and development, and bring in other resources from across campus to ensure the right people are at the table as we figure out a solution.(Cost: Free)
  • Attend a Workshop

    Interested in learning more or doing the capturing yourself? The Library has a wide range of workshops and training sessions focused on 3D laser scanning and photogrammetry. These are great opportunities to learn more about a particular topic or build up your own skills. We’re in the process of rolling out more training opportunities including micro-credentials (i.e. badges). If you have suggestions for workshops, let us know at the bottom of the page.
  • Experiment on Your Own

    Sometimes you just want to casually build up your skill set or explore a topic on your own. One way of doing this is through tutorials. When considering your options for capturing a model in 3D, there are some processes you can even do in the comfort of your own home. The 3D Lab is able to provide some guidance in this process through online guides to Photogrammetry. You could also check out a surface scanner from the 2nd floor of the Duderstadt center.

Available Technologies

Just as the software you use to design a 3D model on CAD can affect your final model, how you scan the object can also affect the accuracy of the model and the ease in making it. To accommodate the different shapes needed to be captured and tolerances needed, the lab has a few different technologies available to use. If any of these seem like the right method, contact us and we can help you get started.

Motorcycle 1

Laser Scanner

We offer two kinds of laser scanning, via a Handyscan hand-held laser scanner and a NextEngine multi-laser scanner. NextEngine scanning can be done by students on a walk-in basis at the scanning workstation in the 3D Lab. This station is outfitted with software and tutorials to get you started. For larger objects that may require the Handyscan, these can be scanned by one of our on staff student consultants for an hourly fee.


By taking pictures from every angle, you can make a digital model of an object. Sounds crazy right? It’s the same technology that is used to make topographic maps and by archeologists to produce plans of large complex sites. Well it’s possible and with this method you can capture just about anything as long as it fits in the pictures. We also have a rotating platform that makes taking evenly spaced photos of large objects much easier.


Depth Sensor Scanner

A Kinect works by creating a grid and sensing how far away the points on the grid are. This can also be applied to scan an object. At the lab we can help you with this but you can also try this on your own. However, 3D capturing with the Kinect is not very accurate compared to other modes of capturing.

Other Resources

  • 123D Catch Overview
    123D Catch Overview
  • Ann Arbor News – 3D Scanning
    Ann Arbor News – 3D Scanning
  • Digital Humanities
    Digital Humanities
  • Jaw Surgery with Virtual Reality
    Jaw Surgery with Virtual Reality
  • Photogrammetry – Digital Preservation: Stearns Collection
    Photogrammetry – Digital Preservation: Stearns Collection
  • Photogrammetry Experiments
    Photogrammetry Experiments