There are several dedicated 3D scanners out there, all vying for our attention, but they’re expensive toys – and if you aren’t sure you need one, their hefty price tag can put them just out of reach. But you can pick up a second hand Microsoft Kinect on eBay for around $30 (£18 / €22), and that puts it firmly with reach.
If you’re using a Mac, as we are, make sure you get the XBox version rather than the PC version – oddly, this is the one that connects to the Mac platform. You’ll also need a copy of Occipital’s Skanect software, which is available for both Mac and PC. You can download the free version here, or stump up the very reasonable $99 for the Pro version, which has more sophisticated tools (check out the Skanect website to see the difference).
All you need to do next is to find an object to scan.
1. Place yourself in the scene
I chose to scan myself so I sat in front of the Kinect and opened the software. You can set the scanning distance, which allows you to scan just yourself and not the wall behind you; the default is a metre cube, which is a reasonable size. As you sit in front of the machine you see both the view through the computer’s camera, and a 3D view taken apparently from a higher angle:
I completed the scan by sitting on a wooden box and turning, very slowly, while the Kinect captured me from all angles. It warns you if you’re moving too fast; it took a couple of tries to get it right.
2. Refine the model
The mesh produced by the software isn’t going to be perfect straight away. You can use the on-screen menus to simplify the model, to fill holes and to make it watertight; it’s an automated process, and at each stage you can see exactly how the progress is being made:
3. A dash of colour
Even though you’re most likely to be printing your object in a single colour, it’s useful to see how well the Kinect and Skanect combination is able to map the photograph textures onto the 3D model:
4. Trim the model
I don’t know why I chose to fold my arms, but that would clearly present a problem when printing. I’d need to print support beneath the arms to hold them up, and I prefer to print without support whenever possible. But Skanect allows you to crop the model: here, I’ve cropped off the model at a location halfway up the forearms, so they sit neatly on the ground:
5. Export the model
Designed largely for 3D printing, Skanect is capable of exporting models in a variety of formats – including STL, which is ideal for printing. Choosing Export Model completes this process:
6. The finished model
Here’s the finished print, after being sliced in Cura and printed on an Ultimaker printer.
While some features were captured with a high degree of detail – those folds and wrinkles on the shirt, for instance, have come out remarkable clearly – facial features tend to get a little blurred together.
As a first attempt at a self-scan using the Kinect/Skanect combination, it’s not a bad start. We’ll be looking at this technology in greater detail in future, to see how well it copes with scanning inanimate objects.