3D Scanning

What's so cool about 3D scanning and why does it matter for the design world and for furniture?

We've got a number of answers for you. Documentation and visualization are huge parts of making a digital experience special. They are also primary tools for informing someone about a piece of furniture and sharing the condition, material qualities, shape, and size. As of the past one to two decades, the breakdown has been something like this: 1) Furniture brands use photographs and renderings to show their designs and typically do this with limited stock photos. 2) Used and vintage online retailers show photos of the exact object but rarely are they photographed professionally and often the presentation is lacking in curation. 3) Auction houses photograph the exact pieces, but share very few photos.

The main issue is that when buying new or vintage designer furniture online, there is often missing information and it becomes difficult to understand the condition of the furniture and/or what the materials are like. With 3D scanning, we have the capability to record the geometry of an object with one-quarter millimeter accuracy (or higher if desired) and have the exact color and material textures shown on the 3D object also. This means that a viewer can rotate around the object to see its size and shape, then have a better understanding of the material also.

How does 3D scanning work? 3D scanning has actually been around since as early as the 1960s in the form of laser scanning, though massive growth in technological advancement has not happened until more recently for academic and commercial usage. The goal of 3D scanning is typically to produce a digital 3D model of an object. It does this by creating a series of points at the locations that it identifies an object. This can be done either through physically touching the object to record the location or if can take place via a light/projection based approach. Common approaches include lasers, which rely on the reflections to identify a location. In our lives today, 3D scanning is playing an increasingly intimate role. Apple's Face ID, introduced in 2017, uses an infrared camera to project invisible dots onto our faces to produce a mesh that needs to match the original scan of our face. As of 2020, Apple also introduced LiDAR scanners as part of the iPhone 12 Pro's, which help in advancing Animoji's, but also can allow for users to 3D scan objects from their phone. Photogrammetry is a different kind of "3D scanning" method. This instead uses images to extract 3D geometry, often requiring views from multiple angles and directions to produce an accurate model. Google has used photogrammetry to produce 3D maps in Google Maps. Apps like 123D Catch (no longer available as of 2017) were available as early as 2009, allowing you to create a 3D scan from an iPhone much earlier on.

The cutting edge in 3D scanning, however, has often come with an unbelievable cost. Only a couple of years ago, a professional 3D scanner for furniture or similarly sized objects would have cost $60,000-$100,000. Today, those numbers have changed considerably, while the functionality of software and capabilities of the hardware have been continuing to improve rapidly. One of the scanners that we use at Rarify is a handheld structured light scanner, which projects white light with a pattern on it to pick up and identify the location of what we are scanning. It simultaneously has a camera that is capturing the colors and textures of the object. Some of the challenges that exist for furniture include time and materials. While some pieces with unique textures and geometry can be scanned quickly, others with more consistent materials and sharper forms can take hours to scan. A typical structured light scanner using white light has great difficulty with dark or black objects, shiny surfaces, and transparent materials such as glass. While there are ways around this and other equipment better suited for the job, this continues to be a difficult territory for 3D scanning today.

As we move forward, the barrier to entry for 3D scanning will continue to get lower and lower. It would be reasonable to imagine that most smartphone users may have high resolution 3D scanning capabilities on their phones in the next two to four years. For the world of architecture, design, and interiors, this may forever change how consumers interact with objects and designers. It will also make for new experiences in augmented and virtual reality.