XYZprinting 3D scanner review: 3D scanning for under £150
I’ve lost a lot of time to the XYZprinting 3D scanner, but not in a good way. What it should offer is a simple way of creating 3D models using a clever USB camera. Unfortunately, my experience was a lot less smooth than I’d like – even for the seeming bargain price of under £150.
So, let’s start with the promise. The XYZprinting 3D scanner is a handheld USB camera that looks like the love child of a staple gun and a pair of hair straighteners. It can scan a person’s head (up to 40 x 25 x 40cm in size) and objects of up to 60 x 60 x 30cm, and will output to .stl or .obj file format, ripe for 3D printing your figurative or literal mug, or uploading to Google SketchUp or Thingiverse for others to enjoy. You plug it into your computer (Windows only, sorry OS X fans), install the bundled software and you’re away. In theory.
3D scanning made easy?
The instructions that came in the box were rather vague, but then the idea behind it isn’t that complex. You select whether you’re trying to scan a head or an inanimate object in the software, then press the single button on the scanner and you’re good to go. Simply move the scanner around the object, and a replica slowly begins to appear in the viewing window.
In practice, it’s a tricky beast to get good results from. For starters, the scanner insists on being held left-handed – a tough task for right-handers, especially when you have a thick, chunky wire trailing after you. True, you can hold it in your right hand if you adopt a “fingers up” stance, but this isn’t at all natural and is a baffling design decision.
Oh, and guess what? If you make sudden jerking movements – the kind your non-dominant hand is prone to making – the preview window freezes and you have to retry. You’ll be doing this a lot, by the way. What triggers a freeze isn’t consistent: all that remains constant is the sense of frustration and the volley of swear-words that follow (sorry, colleagues). Manage it, though, and you’re ready to output… maybe.
It turns out the XYZprinting 3D scanner is incredibly fussy about the computers it works with. Some of these are signposted ahead of time: it won’t work with laptops with Intel RealSense cameras built in, because it conflicts with the scanner, and it only plays nicely with fourth-generation Intel chips or later.
That’s fair enough – you can account for that, in theory. The problem we had was in finding any computer it would accept. We went through a number of review samples trying to find the magic setup. A couple would scan images, but then produce nothing in the editing window, while another would see the camera repeatedly disconnecting, a problem we later learned was down to power output: the camera needs a healthy dose of juice flowing out in order to function. Make sure your machine has a powered USB port, in other words (the one with the lightning bolt next to it), or you’ll fall at the first hurdle.
Should you manage to find the perfect combination, however, the results are pretty good for such a reasonably priced scanner. Obviously, this isn’t top of the range technology, but for a fancy webcam on a wire, it’s not bad at all. Detail is a little lacking, but for approximations of shape and volume, it’s certainly acceptable. See the comparison between the Morph and Chas bookends I scanned in and their digital counterparts:
After editing out any strange artifacts you may have brought in through your scan, you can then output the file to either an .obj or .stl file format. This might sound like a short list, but it’s actually not that bad. The .stl file format, in particular, enjoys widespread support among popular 3D design applications, including the free Google SketchUp, for further edits and beautifying, and online communities such as Thingiverse, meaning your creations can find a home in other people’s homes post 3D-printing.
Scanning someone’s head is a bit harder. It’s certainly something you don’t want to do on yourself, but, even with an accomplice, I found it difficult to pull off. It requires your subject to remain perfectly still, the stray wire of the handheld scanner sometimes gets in the way, and often the scanner will refuse to recognise the whole head, leaving you with just the face. All the same, the results are good enough on a scanner of this type:
All of this leaves me in a difficult position when arriving at a verdict. In some ways, the XYZprinting 3D scanner is hugely impressive. It’s cheap but surprisingly effective at picking out detail in objects for passable, if not exceptional, 3D scans. For under £150, that’s really something.
On the other hand, it was an absolute pain to get working, and the software is at times plain awkward. A cautious thumbs up, overall, if this is the kind of thing that would be useful for your school, or if it matches your hobbies. Just be sure to keep the receipt because whether it’ll play nicely with your hardware is anyone’s guess – no matter what the specifications say.