Category Archives: 3D Scan

Scanning Stories: Fine-Tuning Your 3D Scans

A group of 3D Selfies

In the last edition of the Scanning Stories series, we discussed the gold standard: a 3D scanning booth. Most of us don’t have the money, time, or space to set up a scanning booth, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all get in on the action. Below, Shapeways’ 3D Scan Engineers Brigitte and Astrid tell us how to make the most of easy-to-use 3D scanning software Skanect to edit scans captured with the Structure Sensor.

While scanbooths are amazing, most of the time, we use a tablet-mounted Structure Sensor with Skanect software. Today, we won’t get into exactly how to take those scans (for a full rundown, click here), but we’ll go ahead and skip to the tricky part: editing the 3D models created by your scans.

3D models created using Skanect usually need some editing to become printable. Most of the time, the texture is too dark to print and has small flaws that need to be fixed. Thankfully, these fixes can be fairly easy.

There are multiple ways to edit your file:

After editing your scan in the Skanect software (most common steps are “Fill Holes”, “Move & Crop”, “Remove Parts” and “Colorize”), you can either choose “External Edit” in the Process tab or “Export Model” in the Share tab.

skanect 1

Let’s start with “External Edit,” which you can find on the Process tab:

Clicking this button will allow you to export a file named editme.ply. You can import this file into different editing software that can handle .ply files, like MeshLab and Meshmixer. Both of these programs are Freeware.

MeshLab is a free and open-source software you can download here. There are lots of easy-to-follow videos tutorials available. See MeshLab tutorials.

Meshmixer is a tool with several functions for manipulating 3D meshes. It’s great for tidying up a 3D model. You can remove unwanted areas, fill holes, sculpt the shape, and correct its orientation prior to 3D printing. You can download it here. For video how-tos on this software, see Meshmixer tutorials.

In our experience, MeshLab works best for adjusting texture. It has a bunch of filters you can use to adjust the texture’s appearance, like contrast, brightness, and hue. You can also add supporting platforms to your 3D selfies with MeshLab. Meshmixer also has the ability to adjust the texture, but doesn’t have too many options for doing so. It’s better for adjusting the mesh.

Once you’re satisfied with the result, you can export the model with the same name (editme.ply). This will overwrite the previous file.

Then, go back to Skanect and reload the edited file.

skanect 2

Then, if you go to the next tab, you can upload and save your model.

We have tested both MeshLab and Meshmixer, and now we also work with ZBrush.

One of the advantages of ZBrush is that you can export scans as .obj files, which creates separate mesh and texture files. With the texture file, it’s possible to adjust the colors and brightness of the texture in programs like Photoshop, Lightroom, etc. In our next post, we will import the mesh and texture from ZBrush to further adjust it. Orientation, hollowing, and platforms will be done in Netfabb.

If you have a subject in mind that we should address in a future Scanning Stories post, please get in touch.

Let us know what you think of this story, stay focused, and enjoy the world of 3Dscanning!

Scanning Stories: How We Created Ultra-Lifelike 3D Selfies

3D Selfie Row

Our Scanning Stories series continues this week with an update from Shapeways’ 3D Scan Engineers Brigitte and Astrid that lets us in on how they achieved incredibly detailed 3D scans at Dutch Design Week. Learn more about 3D selfies in our first Scanning Stories post, and read on below for more tips and tricks to help you make the most of 3D scanning.

As 3D selfies get ever more popular, we’re excited to have the opportunity to use a variety of scanning tools, from top-of-the-line scanning booths to handheld tablet-based software.

At Eindhoven’s Dutch Design Week (DDW) in October, we were lucky enough to present the amazing 3D Scan Lounge from Scanologics and offer members of the public a chance to have their 3D scans taken.


We 3D scanned lots of people during DDW: young and old, parents with their kids — together or separate — grandparents, and even a man with his dog. Everyone was super enthusiastic about the booth. Plus, taking a 3D scan within a split second gave some the opportunity to experiment with different poses.


The scanbooth is a portable, full body, photogrammetry 3D scanning solution. That means that in one second, hundreds of 2D pictures are taken that will be processed into a printable 3D selfie. The main differences between a 3D scan made with a scanbooth and those made with a handheld scanner like the Skanect are speed and quality. Taking a 3D scan in a scanbooth only takes a few seconds, whereas handheld scanners will take about a minute. And, the faster the scan, the more accurate it will be.

Check out the high-definition results below:


In our next post, we’ll talk about editing your manual scans from tablet-based software Skanect.

That’s it for now. Stay focused and enjoy the world of 3D scanning!

We 3D Scanned a Famous Brooklyn Pig — And It Was Oinkredible

The team took a short break from holiday gifting magic this week to take a field trip to Crest Hardware in Williamsburg — and visit their resident Garden Keeper, Franklin the potbellied pig, and his dad Joe. The mission of the trip was to 3D scan Franklin while documenting the experience on Facebook Live.

Screenshot 2016-11-18 15.17.00

Franklin’s a beloved local celebrity. He’s often mobbed by fans, and his 2.4k Instagram followers are increasing their ranks every day.

The team had an amazing time hanging out with Franklin and his dad while we scanned both of them at once. Keeping Franklin still was surprisingly easy while he had some pig food to eat, but he also liked to wag his little tail and lift his head to check out what we were doing.


Despite being famous, Franklin was great to work with. Some of the challenges we encountered were the typical obstacles involved in working outside (meh lighting and spotty wi-fi) and trying to capture a scan of the leash between Joe and Franklin. We captured a few scans of the two of them standing near each other, but it was tricky capturing the two of them both in still poses. All things considered, we managed to snag some decent scans and are hoping to mesh a few scans together.

Screen Shot 2016-11-18 at 2.07.44 PM Screen Shot 2016-11-18 at 2.09.26 PM

Sad you missed it? No worries! You can still catch the adventure (and questionable pig puns) here! What else would you like to see us attempt to 3D scan? Let us know in the comments!

NextEngine Ultra HD 3D Scanner – Now Click-to-Print on Shapeways

Scanner Image

Replicate precious heirlooms. Recreate two-million-year-old hominids from fossils. Model George Washington’s face from his death mask, in breathtaking detail. NextEngine’s 3D Laser Scanner inspires and enables new possibilities. We’re excited to announce a new partnership that transforms richly detailed objects into accurate 3D prints, seamlessly.

Dog Model and 3D Print

Starting today, NextEngine scans not only create a 3D model file, they also link directly to Shapeways. NextEngine’s ScanStudio app now has Shapeways built in – once you finish your scan, just click the Shapeways button to upload directly to your Shapeways account.

“NextEngine is thrilled to partner with Shapeways’ leading 3D print platform to bring ultra high precision 3D laser scanning to the designer community, at remarkably low cost,” said Brad Bryker, NextEngine’s VP of Business Development. “Now designers worldwide can share exquisitely accurate and detailed scans of their original creations, and just click to print them in high-quality materials on Shapeways.” See the video below for how a spaniel dog figurine was recreated, right down to the lines in the fur.

NextEngine’s 3D Scanner is the most affordable, high-precision laser scanner available. It captures objects smaller than an acorn, and larger than a seven-foot statue. A robotic motion stage is included, to do full 360-degree capture automatically, so the scanner does the work for you. It even includes a tripod mount to capture stationary objects like stone building reliefs. And powerful software is included, standard.

All this means that you can produce high-quality, precisely detailed 3D models, all in less than an hour, automatically. These model files are much more accurate than other low-cost devices, and turn complex organic shapes into beautifully detailed 3D prints.


Your NextEngine scanner can also be used to market services to other designers, artists, archeologists, anthropologists, architects, scientists and more. Shapeways community member Sophie Barret-Kahn created her own thriving scanning business.

And, right now there’s a special promotion to celebrate this new partnership. Get a NextEngine 3D Scanner, and you’ll get a $300 credit toward any upgrade of your choice. Just enter promo code “Shapeways”.

And to make the deal even sweeter, Shapeways will give you 20% off your first print order once you register your device. Order now – this promo ends in November.

What do you want to scan? Share your vision in the comments.

Shapeways at Dutch Design Week 2016

Dutch Design Week is here! Based in Eindhoven (Shapeways’ hometown), this annual nine-day festival draws designers and design-lovers from around the world. Each year, we join forces with our community of independent designers to showcase their amazing creativity. And in keeping with this year’s theme, The Making Of, we’ll be opening our factory to visitors — giving them a chance to see where (and how) the magic happens, get 3D scanned, and take part in workshops and presentations by some of our Dutch Shapeways designers.

Keep reading for a rundown of how you can join the fun at Dutch Design Week.

Visitors to Shapeways' Eindhoven factory during Dutch Design Week 2015

Visitors to Shapeways’ Eindhoven factory during Dutch Design Week 2015

Shapeways EXPO | Shapeways Factory | Oct. 22-30

Every day, we’ll be inviting visitors into our factory to explore how our community of independent designers is using Shapeways to break new ground in product design. We’ll also be offering:

  • A 3D scanning booth to bring more fans into the world of 3D Selfies. (11 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily)

  • Community Workshops and Presentations to connect visitors with Dutch designers and the products they’ve brought to life with Shapeways. (1 p.m. – 3 p.m. daily)

  • Factory Tours that provide a rare glimpse into how files are turned into finished products. (10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. weekdays; registration required)

A winning design from our 2015 Helsinki Design Week CHIL-DISH Project

Shapeways Presents: CHIL-DISH Project | Yksi Expo | Oct. 22-23

After our successful event with CHIL-DISH at Helsinki Design Week, we’re partnering up again to unleash kids’ creativity at DDW. At the CHIL-DISH Project:

  • Kids will be invited to reimagine everyday objects using paper and crayons.

  • We’ll then choose 10 designs to be 3D modeled by CHIL-DISH designers, turning the kids’ drawings into 3D printed porcelain objects. (11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., Oct. 22-23)

Wired Life Tiger by Shapeways Designer Dot San

Wired Life Tiger by Shapeways Designer Dot San, on display in our Eindhoven factory

Shapeways Presents: Community & Materials Exhibit | Yksi Expo | Oct. 24-28

  • Come explore some of the materials we use and check out how our designers are exploring these unique and versatile media. (Oct. 24-28, 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.)

A group of 3D Selfies

A group of 3D Selfies

Shapeways Presents: 3D Scanning | Yksi Expo | Oct. 29-30

  • Don’t miss your chance to get scanned for a 3D Selfie.

  • We’ll take a scan of your head and shoulders using Occipital’s Structure Sensor and an iPad. Then, you can easily order your mini likeness through Shapeways. (Oct. 29-30, 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.)

If you make it to Dutch Design Week, be sure to come to one of our events and say hello! And if you can’t make it, keep an eye on the the blog, where we’ll be highlighting talented Dutch Shapeways Designers throughout the week.

Scanning Stories: 3D Selfies Are All Around You… and They’re Amazing


In our new Scanning Stories series, Shapeways’ 3D Scan Engineers Brigitte and Astrid will share tips and tricks to help you make the most of 3D scanning.

Selfies are as old as photography itself. But lately, miniature clone-like 3D printed figurines — better known as 3D Selfies — are taking the world by storm. People are always amazed to see themselves or their loved ones appear in miniature for the first time. But, actually making one of these figurines can be tricky, so we (Brigitte and Astrid, Shapeways 3D Scan Engineers) are here to show you around the world of 3D scanning and 3D Selfies, and share our knowledge about this new industry.

First, let’s get back to basics. Think about where you want to start. Would you like to be 3D scanned or would you like to start your own 3D scanning business?


If you want to be 3D scanned, you can visit one of our certified 3D scanning retail partners, all listed at this link. Get it touch with one of them and make an appointment.

Make sure to wear a colorful, fun outfit that you’ll feel great immortalizing yourself in. You can also bring an object that represents your hobby. This enables a 3D Selfie to capture your personality, making it truly a miniature you.

Once the file is created, your scan will be sent to Shapeways, and you’ll get an email prompting you to choose a material, then purchase your own miniature 3D Selfie.


As members of the scanning team, we will focus more on the scanning itself in the Scanning Stories series. To help you get comfortable with 3D scanning, we’ll be posting blogs in the coming months to provide inspiration for your own scanning business.

Over the course of scanning hundreds of people, we came across a few recurring hurdles. Here are some of the things we will go over in this series:

  • The best software to use for scanning and/or editing

  • Do I buy expensive software, or use freeware?

  • How to create the highest-quality selfies and edit colors, shapes, etc.

  • How to share selfies with my customers

  • Materials

  • Scanning events we participate in

  • The future of 3D scanning

  • And lots more!

When you want to start your own 3D scanning business, it only takes a few small investments. Buy a handheld 3D scanner and software, research the market, and go!

Tips for using handheld scanners:

At the moment, we use the occipital handheld scanner. This device is very easy to set up and quite user-friendly. We also use software (Skanect) that works well with the occipital sensor. It has an upload link to the Shapeways site, so your scan can immediately go from scan to product. Both the software and the scanner are accessibly priced.

Visit this link for more information about the handheld scanners we use.

We’ve made a workflow for you with all the settings and best practices while scanning with the occipital sensor and the skanect software. You can find this workflow here.

If you’d like a more guided approach, here is a series of video tutorials you can follow:

Skanect Tutorials

In our next installment, we’ll talk more about how to improve your scans after scanning. And if you have a subject in mind that we should address in a future Scanning Stories post, please get in touch.

In the meantime, enjoy the amazing world of 3D Selfies!

New Whitepaper on 3D Scanning and (the Lack of) Copyright

Posted by in 3D Scan


We are excited to announce a new whitepaper, 3D Scanning: A World Without Copyright*.  As the name suggests, the paper examines how 3D scanning intersects with copyright law.  We are big fans of 3D scanning here at Shapeways, and so we thought it was important to start a discussion around how copyright might impact all of the scans that are coming into the world.

It may come as a surprise, but in many cases 3D scans will not be protected by copyright.  That does not mean that scans are not important, but it does mean that people making and distributing scans should understand what rights they do – and do not – have in those scans.

Why aren’t the scans protected by copyright?  One of the key requirements for copyright in the United States is originality. Even if it takes a large amount of skill to create a scan, if making the scan does not involve originality it is simply not eligible for copyright protection.

The vast majority of scans fall squarely in that category.  By definition, most 3D scans attempt to create a perfect digital replica of the model being scanned.  Injecting “original” content that deviates from the object being scanned into that digital file would undermine the purpose of the scan.

Again, lacking originality does not mean lacking skill.  Making accurate 3D scans can be hard work, and there is a real difference between someone who knows what they are doing and an amateur.  But without room for creative interpretation, the resulting scan is not eligible for copyright protection.

Even without copyright, people making scans still have the ability to profit from and control their scans.  Today many professional scanners charge for scanning services, and someone in possession of a scan file can charge someone else for access.  This system seems to work; the ranks of professional scanners is swelling as 3D scanners become cheaper, better, and easier to use.  These types of professional arrangements are strong because they are built on contracts which do not require copyright in order to be legally enforceable.

A lack of copyright on scan files will also make it easier for designers to access and build upon digitized works.  It means that the person who scans a 2,000 year old Roman sculpture does not suddenly pull part of that sculpture out of the public domain.  Once the sculpture is digitized anyone is free to print their own copies to have at home or in classrooms, increasing access to our collective digital heritage.  Furthermore, those scans can be freely remixed into new interpretations of classic works.  These scans can form the building blocks of all sorts of new creativity – new creativity that might itself be protected by copyright.

It is also important to recognize that just because most 3D scans are beyond the scope of copyright does not mean that all 3D scans will be.  Scans that do intentionally inject original, creative elements such as Geoffrey Mann’s Shine and Sophie Kahn’s portraits are likely to be eligible for copyright protection.  And, of course, 3D scanning is relatively new and the law around it could evolve right along with the technology.

Obviously we are going to keep our eye on this area of law and will do our best to update you as developments occur.  If you are intrigued, I would encourage you to check out the new whitepaper here.  For a more EU-centered take on 3D scanning and copyright (especially in the context of access to cultural heritage), try this paper by Professor Thomas Margoni.  And, since our whitepaper is primarily written for a non-legal audience, if you are looking for a law review article that addresses many of these same issues keep your eyes peeled for an article by Paul Banwatt and Laura Robinson of Matter and Form in a forthcoming edition of the Intellectual Property Journal.

Turn 3D Scanning Into a Business

Recently it came to my attention that one of our community members runs a 3D scanning business. As a scanning enthusiast, I had to know more about what she’s doing. So I got in contact with Sophie Barrett-Kahn and asked her the tough questions on 3D scanning and turning 3D scanning into not only art, but also a business.

Emerging Jobs: 3D Scanning Pro from One Planet Pictures on Vimeo.

Sophie runs a studio in New York, called ScannerWorks NY. She has been working with 3d laser scanners and printers since 2003. She has an MFA in Art & Technology studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and has experience in preparing prints for almost any 3D printing technology that you can think of.

How did you come about starting a business in 3D scanning?

I’m a visual artist and I needed the scanner for my own artwork. I took out a lease on one during art school, and had to come up with the payments somehow! I realized that there must be other artists with the same need. I also know how overwhelming the world of 3D can be if you’re new to technology, as I’ve struggled with it so much myself as an artist, so I started the business to help demystify digital production for people who don’t have that background and just want to get their work made.

Sophie performing a scan


What types of things do people ask you to scan? What kind of requests do they have?

I am endlessly surprised by the phone calls I receive. The bread and butter of my business is scaling maquettes for sculptors: I will 3D scan a small piece they’ve made, and then provide a digital file which they can modify, sculpt and fabricate at a much larger scale using CNC milling. But I’ve also scanned surfboards, meditation stools, toy prototypes, train and car parts, furniture, flowers… really, anything handmade or analog that needs to be brought into the digital world so it can be modified and remade. I’ve scanned art and architecture for archiving and historical preservation. I’ve also scanned celebrities, singers and models. More recently, I’ve had people requesting facial scans in order to pre-visualize the results of plastic surgery… There’s never a dull moment!

How do your customers find out about your services? Do you find you need to educate them on what a scan can do for them?

Google ads, word-of-mouth, and a lot of in-person networking.  Mostly the people who find me already have an understanding of how 3D scanning can help them, but I also work on educating potential customers. I often receive emails requesting guidance on developing a project, from people who aren’t sure whether digital is the way to go. Sometimes it isn’t – there are cases when a sculptor can achieve the results they want using analog means like mold making and casting. But if they want to scale an object up or down, or modify it in ways that can’t be done by hand, then digital is usually the better choice.

How did you first connect with Shapeways for printing these scans?

I use Shapeways for my own sculptures and have actually been a customer for five years. It’s nice that the pieces are printed here in New York City.

What kind of hardware do you use to scan and how did you come about using it?

I have a Polhemus Cobra handheld laser scanner and a DAVID SLS structured light scanner. I have been using the Polhemus for a long time in my artwork because I love the errors that it generates; when I started doing commercial work I had to learn to use it correctly, which is an entirely different skill set! I have tried quite a few other systems. I use the Polhemus in my artwork, so I would use it regardless. I love the DAVID scanner. The level of detail it can achieve on small objects is really amazing. minifig detailsResults from Sophie scanning of a boot for The Frye Company and a minifig for Lego 

What kind of advice would you give others looking to start a 3D scanning business?

For scanning physical objects, location is everything. 90% of my clients are based in Brooklyn or Manhattan, and because the objects I scan are handmade and unique, they either bring me their pieces in person, or have myself or an employee come to their space to scan. Even though the end result is digital, and many of the ZBrush artists I collaborate with work remotely, my role in the process needs to happen here in New York. I also try to connect clients to local fabricators whenever possible. I’m not sure my business model would work in a smaller city with a smaller concentration of creative people; those people would need to be scanning items by mail, and then they would  be competing with a larger tier of businesses. I also strive to provide a higher level of service: I bring an artist’s perfectionism to the work I do, which my clients appreciate, and I have experience in 3D printing and casting my own sculpture so I can consult on the entire production workflow, and make referrals to designers and fabricators if my clients need guidance. I liaise with designers and fabricators, and I keep in touch until the job is done, to make sure that the end result turns out the way my clients want. So I would say to concentrate on your local creative networks, and build your business around your own strengths and experience.

What do you see for the future in 3D scanning?

I hope that the software and hardware will become more accessible and user-friendly – even though that may cut into my own profit margins! I’m not too worried; my feeling is that photography is incredibly cheap and accessible now, but people still need professional photographers and photography educators, and I see scanning going the same way. I’d love to scale up and start a Shapeways for 3D scanning, but I’m not sure if the market exists quite yet. As more and more people understand the vast potential that scanning has, I think demand is going to grow exponentially.

Sophie’s scan sculpture “Triple Portrait of E.”


What a wealth of knowledge we have in our community! Thank you so much Sophie for allowing me to interview, and sharing such valuable information with us! And thank you for helping us build into an even greater 3D printing community.

3D Scanning Trees with Kathleen King

Posted by in 3D Scan

Recently, through our feature this section, I came across some prints of 3D scanned trees. The quality of the scans, combined with the detail and complimentary look of the cast metals, really caught my attention. As a 3D scanning novice, and a 3D modeler, and 3D printing enthusiast; I had to know more. So I contacted the designer to try and learn as much as I could about her techniques and thought process.

tree square-2

The pieces were designed by artist Kathleen. Her background in movies and photography, as well in 3D modeling, lined her up perfectly to start 3D scanning. While learning Zbrush, she happened to sit in on a webinar about Photoscanning. Figuring it would give her something to make in Zbrush besides monsters, and would lead to learning how to troubleshoot models. The webinar introduced Kathleen to Agisoft. Agisoft is a software that takes photos and uses locations in photos to generate a point cloud. From the point cloud, a mesh can then be generated. You can download Agisoft, and try it for free (with no export or 30-day trial). There’s also 123D Catch, and Autodesk Memento, that are free to use.

sparce point cloud

Along with Zbrush and Agisoft, Kathleen uses an assortment of software to create her works, including: Lightroom, Photoshop, Rhino, Netfabb, and Illustrator, with Keyshot and Maxwell for rendering. To take her photos, she uses a Canon 5D Mark II with a 24-70mm zoom and a 50 prime lens.

stump in zbrush

Personally, I’d never thought to scan a tree. I live in the country, where I all too often pass by them without a second thought. Kathleen is from the city, where trees aren’t as common of an occurrence. Being in the city, the trees around her also have a uniqueness to them. Kathleen likes natural patterns, but was drawn to the trees because of the way the city has forced them to grow against their nature. I think you’ll agree, that the subjects, and the materials are an amazing combination!

oxidized stump-2


Be sure to follow Kathleen on Shapeways to see all her work and to be notified when she adds new, amazing products to her shop!

Photos courtesy of Kathleen King.

Get your 3D Selfies from Pixel Academy


Earlier this year we announced that we partnered with multiple locations in the Netherlands to offer 3D scanning to everyone, and today we’re excited to announce that anyone in New York will be able to get scanned on Friday, November 27th and Saturday, November 28th at Pixel Academy locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan. For this special weekend, anyone can be scanned for free and will have the chance to purchase their very own 3D selfie on Shapeways.

Pixel Academy is a company that enables students to learn 21st-century in a relaxed environment through workshops, camps and more. They offer a unique learning experience for kids and teens and utilize a project-based approach encourages exploration and creativity with cutting-edge technologies – like 3D printing!

We’re thrilled to be partnering with a company that is committed to educating students about emerging technologies and giving them the hands on experience it takes to learn. Offering 3D scanning means students (and their families and friends) can take their learnings further and see themselves come to life through 3D printing. With this partnership, Shapeways and Pixel Academy are taking selfies out of your phones and into your hands!

3D Selfie group

The scanning process will be done using Skanect, a 3D scanning software made by our partners Occipital. Without their innovation, we would not be able to offer these 3D selfies for so many people. Because the software is so simple to use and set up, anyone can get started quickly and efficiently. The subjects being scanned will just need to hold a pose for 1-2 minutes, and the scanner does the rest! It’s a fun activity for kids and adults of any age and, just in time for the holidays, these prints will make for amazing gifts.

Scanning is open to the public and will make for a fun after-Thanksgiving activity for families in New York. After this first weekend, Pixel Academy will be offering scanning through December at their Brooklyn location every weekday from 1-2 p.m. and 6:30-7:30 p.m. Their Upper East Side location will offer scanning every Thursday and Friday from 6-7 p.m.

Drop-ins are welcome on the 27th and 28th, but you can reserve your spot and make an appointment.

Find out more about scanning here.


Get your 3D Selfie printed with Shapeways

We take pictures because we want to remember. To freeze a moment and make it everlasting. With technology ever evolving, the next step in capturing those precious moments is to make it more tangible. 3D scanning and printing does just that. With 3D scanning you are able to digitize a form, space or shape, and even a human. With 3D printing by Shapeways, you can transform those digital scans into memories you can hold in your hand.
3D Selfie group
Today, we’re happy to share that Shapeways has partnered with 10 locations in the Netherlands to support their 3D scanning service by seamlessly 3D printing Selfies for customers. It only takes 60 seconds to get scanned and then Shapeways will 3D print and ship your Selfie.
When I started working at Shapeways, I was constantly asked jokingly by friends: “Do you also 3D print people?” I finally have an answer to that question: Yes! I’ve already had myself 3D scanned and printed, and did the same for my girlfriend who lives in the Netherlands (I live in New York). Having a 3D print of her brings good memories to life.

As with photography in the early days, the 3D scanning process is constantly improving. Today you have to stand still for about 60 seconds while somebody walks around you with a scanner. Google is working to equip its future phones with a 3D scanner built in and in the Shapeways factory in Eindhoven we are building a massive walk-in-3D-scanner which creates a scan in 0.1 seconds.

Scanning couple

But don’t take my word for it, go get scanned and get a 3D printed Selfie to gift to a family or friend, or just to have as a fun desk toy! Check out this page for more information and to find the nearest location.

Get Scanned

Super excited and want to start 3D scanning yourself? Soon we will finalize connections between scanning software, hardware and Shapeways so you can also start your own scanning business.  Click here for more details.


The Mystery of Missing Obama

Posted by in 3D Scan


No, this isn’t a post about President Obama being “absent” from some policy debate or another.  Instead, this is really about President Obama being missing.  More specifically, this is about the missing high resolution 3D scan of President Obama being missing.  The file exists – why isn’t it public?

A little over a year ago, the Smithsonian’s Laser Cowboys came to the White House to create the first 3D portrait of a sitting president.  The resulting 3D printed bust made a cameo appearance at the first White House Maker Faire and was on more general display in the Smithsonian Castle at the end of 2014.  The White House also released a great video that detailed the entire scanning process.

The bust popped up again at the National Portrait Gallery for Presidents Day 2015 and then, presumably, made its way back to storage.  Which is fine.  The nature of physical artifacts is that they can only be displayed at one place at a time and, in most cases, spend some time in storage away from the public.

Screenshot from 2015-07-08 11:04:20

Of course, this is not just a regular artifact.  It is a 3D printed bust created from a 3D scan file.  While the bust can only be one place at a time, the file could be any- and every- where at once.  So why isn’t it?

The Smithsonian’s X3D platform could easily distribute the file (they already have President Lincoln’s face – both with and without a beard).  The White House could host it on or open an account at any number of other places online.  Then anyone could download the file and print their own President Obama bust.  They could also remix President Obama to their heart’s content.

The strangest thing is that keeping this data under wraps isn’t even preventing 3D files of President Obama off the internet.   The team over at Sketchfab managed to extract a version of the President Obama scan from the White House video above.

What’s left to lose?  The White House flickr feed is already full of public domain (bogus usage restrictions aside) images of President Obama.  Now that a 3D file is in the wild, why not provide the public with a high quality version?

Why is President Obama missing from the world of 3D printing?

Keeping 3D Scans of the Public Domain in the Public Domain

3D scans of objects in cultural institutions could make them much more widely available.

3D scans of objects in cultural institutions could make them much more widely available.

One of the most exciting things about widespread access to 3D printing is how it has started to push cultural institutions to begin digitizing their 3D collections.  Now, in addition to being able to see free high quality 2D scans of paintings like a 15th Century Italian Pentecost  and 18th Century Japanese Woodcuts, you can see (and sometimes download, print, and modify) high quality 3D scans of the Cooper Hewitt Mansion, Abraham Lincoln’s face,  and Musette the Maltese Dog.  With objects reaching back thousands of years scattered across cultural institutions around the world, it isn’t hard to imagine a future where the world’s cultural heritage objects are available to anyone with a 3D printer (or, say, a Shapeways account).

We've been able to access high quality 2D world heritage items online for years.  (Image from the J. Paul Getty Museum Open Content Program, which is awesome).

We’ve been able to access high quality 2D world heritage items online for years. (Image from the J. Paul Getty Museum Open Content Program, which is awesome).

Why not high quality scans of 3D objects? (image courtesy Met Museum)

Why not high quality scans of 3D objects? (image courtesy MetMuseum)

But a question about copyright is lurking in the background of this glorious future.  Specifically, a question about copyrights in the scans of the objects themselves: are 3D scans protected by copyright?  If the answer is yes, scanning could drag parts of cultural heritage objects away from their home in the public domain and lock them up behind proprietary walls for decades.  That would make it much harder for people to access their own cultural heritage.

Fortunately, at least one court in the United States has found that scanning an object does not create a new copyright in the scan.  That means that scanning a 9th century Hanuman mask doesn’t wrap the scan in a new copyright.   However, a paper from earlier this year by Thomas Margoni illustrates that the copyright status of scans is not as clear in the European Union.  That lack of clarity alone could slow the dissemination of objects housed in Europe’s finest cultural institutions.  Hopefully, the EU will move to clarify that 3D scans of objects do not create entirely new layers of copyright protection.

Remember, in this context we are not talking about copyrights in the objects themselves.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s just focus on the thousands of years of cultural production prior to around 1920 that is well in the public domain.  In these cases we are talking about someone who did not create the original object scanning it and then claiming a new copyright on the scan – and only the scan – itself.

Background: Originality

Originality is a key to understanding why a scan should or should not be protected by copyright.  Originality is a general requirement to obtain copyright protection, although the bar for what qualifies as “original” is famously low.  That being said, while the bar is low it does exist.

It takes a lot of work to put together the phone book.  That doesn't mean it is protected by copyright. (image credit: flickr user James Cape)

It takes a lot of work to put together the phone book. That doesn’t mean it is protected by copyright. (image credit: flickr user James Cape)

Note that in this context originality is not synonymous with “complicated” or “labor intensive.”  Instead, it suggests that the author of the work made creative choices about how to create the work. In a famous US case, the Supreme Court denied copyright protection for the phone book.  The court acknowledged that putting together a phone book takes lots of time, effort, and resources.  But it denied copyright protection because there isn’t room for creative expression in how you assemble a phone book.  The form pretty much dictates that you list everyone in alphabetical order and that each entry starts with a name and ends with a phone number. Given a pool of names and phone numbers, everyone’s phone book is going to look pretty much the same.

The same type of theory can be applied to scanning.  It can take a lot of work and technical expertise to accurately scan a 3D object.  But at the end of the day, the goal is to create as accurate a scan as possible.  Some people may be better or worse at achieving that goal, but the nature of the task does not leave a lot of room for creative interpretation.  Without creative interpretation there is no copyright protection.

That distinction is reasonably straightforward in the US.  However, Margoni’s paper highlights that fact that it is not as clear in the EU.  EU-wide laws designed to harmonize copyright leaves the test for originality up to each member state, and those member states have each structured that test slightly differently.  That means that at least some types of scanning in some EU member countries could be protected by an additional copyright.

Why This Matters

Everyone is sad when cultural heritage objects are locked up. (image credit: flickr user Ania Mendrek)

Everyone is sad when cultural heritage objects are locked up. (image credit: flickr user Ania Mendrek)

It would be bad to protect 3D scans with a new copyright because it adds another wall of rights around the object being scanned.  This is especially harmful in the context of scans of world heritage objects.  World heritage objects are part of our collective inheritance.  Adding additional rightsholders creates a barrier for everyone who wants to access that inheritance.

Beyond copyright’s capacity to simply block use, additional layers of protection also undermine confidence in use.

Copyright lasts for a long time, and copyright rules can make it hard to determine the protection status of a given object.  But, at a minimum, a statue from 1900 – or 1900 BC –  is clearly in the public domain.  “Made by a civilization unfamiliar with electricity = public domain” is a rule of thumb that everyone should be able to rely on without consulting a copyright attorney.  If there is the potential for an additional scanning copyright, every time you came into contact with a 3D scan of a world heritage object you would have to ask a host of questions: Who made this actual scan?  How did they decide to license it?  Will I have to worry about someone who made a different scan suing me for copyright infringement?  Regardless of the answer, the mere existence of each of these questions make it less likely that people will make use of the scans.

World heritage objects belong to everyone.  There are already plenty of people trying to pull them into an ownership box without adding an additional layer of copyright protection to scans.  There is no reason to make it more likely that one person will have a veto over how these objects are used.  The Margoni paper is an important step towards understanding how 3D scanning may be treated in the EU.  The next step is making sure that those rules arc towards openness and accessibility for all.


How To Make A 3D-Print Of Your Brain

A few weeks ago, I made a 3D model of my brain and sent it to Shapeways to get 3D printed. My little brain arrived a few days ago and I’m blown away by how good it turned out. I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but I think this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. The whole process was relatively straight forward once I figured out the best program to use. I wrote a step-by-step tutorial of what I did below in case you want to print your brain too.

And if you want a brain on your desk and you don’t care whose it is, you can order a 3D model of my brain here.

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I have a deep fascination of the human brain and I’ve wanted a 3D model of my brain for quite some time. I considered using a modeling software (like Blender) to create my own 3D brain model based on my MRI scans, but I quickly abandoned that idea when I imagined manually outlining the cortex one slice at a time.

A few months ago, one of my friends posted a link to a company that sells custom brain models that range from $165.00 (for half scale models) to $342.00 (for full scale models). I was tempted to order a model, but I finally decided that it was too expensive. I love brains, but not quite that much.

Then, a few weeks ago, I came across this blog post that included do-it-yourself instructions for creating a 3D model of your brain for 3D printing. The neuroscientist and cheapskate in me rejoiced. My computer was being serviced so I bookmarked the page and waited until I got my laptop back.

When I finally sat down to follow the tutorial, I found that it left out some crucial steps and required a lot of manual editing. I spent a few hours looking at other tutorials, downloading software packages, and trying to create a halfway decent 3D model, but none of the models I created had anywhere near the level of detail I wanted.

Finally, I found this tutorial which describes how to create a 3D model using Freesurfer. I had been wanting to learn how to use Freesurfer for awhile, so it was a win/win. The tutorial is pretty thorough, but it didn’t explain the installation of Freesurfer, which ended up being somewhat complicated. In case you’re like me and haven’t used Freesurfer before, I added detailed information about how to download and install Freesurfer below. If you already use Freesurfer, you are in luck! You are only a few steps away to creating your own 3D brain model (you can skip to the “Create the 3D brain model” section).


    1. First, you need to get a T1 anatomical scan of your brain with MRI. I understand that that’s easier said than done, but there’s no way around it.
    2. Add all of your DICOM files from the T1 anatomical scan into one folder. My folder is named “t1_mprage_DICOM.”

If you already have Freesurfer installed, skip to the next section. 

    1. Download Freesurfer here. I downloaded the freesurfer-Darwin-lion-stable-pub-v5.3.0.dmg file.
    2. If you don’t already have XQuartz installed, you’ll have to download and install it in order to use Freesurfer. Download the latest release here.
    3. Install Freesurfer by following the detailed instructions here. You should come to a screen that looks like this:


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In order to get everything set up correctly, you have to modify two files (the first time I tried to install Freesurfer I didn’t read this this page (oops), and I ran into trouble later on). Your computer may be set up differently, so these steps may not apply to you.

4. Create a .cshrc file in your root directory by typing the following commands into the terminal window:
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A new text file should pop up.  Copy the first two commands from the READ ME section of the install window, paste the text in the new text file, and save. Your file should look like this:
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5. Modify your .profile file by typing the following commands in the terminal window (I already have a .profile file that is named .bash_profile so I opened that file):
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Copy the second set of command lines from the install window and paste it at the bottom of the file that pops up. My file looks like this:
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6. Get an installation key by filling out the form here. You will receive an email containing information about your license. Copy the text in between the –CUT HERE– lines and paste them into a new TextEdit file. Convert the file into a plain text file by clicking Format –> Make plain text. Name the file ‘license.txt’ and save it in the Freesurfer folder.


1. In your terminal window, type the following command to set up Freesurfer:


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2. We will use the function called recon-all to create the 3D brain model. Detailed information about the recon function is available here.
The function uses the following format:
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Replace the <DICOM file> part with the path to any one of your DICOM files (and not the folder that holds all the files). Replace <folder name> with the name you want to call the folder that will contain all of the output files. The folder will be added to the same directory that your DICOM folder is in. My function looked like this:
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Enter the command into terminal and press enter to start the analysis. The analysis takes a long time. The reconstruction took 8 hours on my computer, but others estimate that it can take between 10 and 20 hours. Make sure that you turn off your computer’s sleep mode so that it won’t go to sleep while the analysis running.
3. After the analysis is completed, all of the output files should be located in the folder you named. In the folder, you should have another folder called “surf” which contains the surface reconstructions. We need to transform these file formats into  a format that is used in 3D printing. To do so, navigate to the surf folder in the terminal and enter the following commands:
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If you don’t have access to a 3D printer, you can get your brain 3D printed by a 3D printing service. I used Shapeways so I’ll show you how to order from them.

  1. Go to the Shapeways website.
2. Click “Design” in the top navigation menu. Then click the blue “upload” button underneath the Shapeways logo.

3. Sign in to your account or create a new one and click “UPLOAD” again. A box should appear that looks like this:


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4. Click “Select file” and load the “lh.pial.stl” file that you just made. The model units are in millimeters so keep that radio button checked. Click “UPLOAD.” The model should take a few minutes to upload. Once the model finishes uploading, you should see a screen like this:


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5. If you scroll down, you can see the prices for creating a 3D printed model in different materials. A full size brain replica costs about $250.00 per hemisphere. If you want to scale your brain down (and save a lot of money), click the “SCALE” button and change the SCALE % from 100 to 50. This will create a 3D printed replica of you brain that is 1/8 of the actual size.

6. At this point, you can decide what material you want to use to print your brain. I went with the strong & flexible material in polished white.

7. Click the “View 3D tools” link under the name of the material you want to use.


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8. Shapeways 3D tools will analyze your model and identify potential problems with printing. For one of my models, I had a wall that was too thin. To fix thin walls, click on the “Wall Thickness” menu item on the left of the page, then click the red button that says “FIX THIN WALLS.” Shapeways will automatically adjust your model for you.
9. Go back to the model editing page and add your desired model to your shopping cart. Now repeat these steps for your right hemisphere model. Check out when you’re ready and your little brain will be on its way! I got my brain in less than two weeks.
Here’s what my model looks like in Shapeways:
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And here are more images of my final 3D printed brain:
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Designer Turns Brain Waves Into 3D Printed Sculptures

Imagine if you can visualize your thoughts into brainwaves and then turn those brainwaves into a 3D print. Architect and Artist Ion Popian deals with human perception and how we understand our environment and what effect that has on the individual and the greater community. This is why he created The Mental Fabrication Project. The Mental Fabrication project uses a NeuroSkyelectroencephalogram (EEG) sensor  to capture data on the brain and creates a 3D model based on the brainwaves.

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Behind the Scenes. Mental Fabrications Project from Ion Popian on Vimeo.

Ion uses Shapeways to 3D print his brainwave sculptures and his work has been exhibited in galleries like SoHo’s HarvestWorks gallery. You can learn more about Ion and his work on architecture fabrication projects on his website here.

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