Initially announced in March at SXSW, MakerBot has finally launched its desktop 3D scanner, the Digitizer. The $1400 device can be purchased now, but it won't start shipping until October.

3D models must be closed and have no non-manifold edges in order to be 3D printed. The Digitizer ships with scanning software said to create watertight models fitting that description in just two clicks. The software outputs standard STL files, so the scanned models can be printed on any 3D printer, not just MakerBot 3D printers.

Because the system turns real world objects into computer files, users don't need 3D modeling or CAD skills in order to make 3D models. They only need to be able to place an object on the Digitizer's turntable. Approximately 12 minutes later, a 3D model of the object will be stored on their computer, ready for 3D printing, emailing to friends, uploading to Thingiverse or importing into 3D modeling software for modification.

Not all objects can easily be scanned. Shiny, reflective, black and fuzzy objects are notoriously problematic, not just for the Digitizer, but for most 3D scanners. This is because the scanner's camera (or cameras) must be able to see the scanner's laser line clearly. But, by and large, most objects will scan relatively well and surface darkness and reflectivity issues can be overcome by corn starch dusting or other creative techniques.

The Digitizer captures geometry, but not color data. It can recognize details as small as 0.5 mm and creates 3D models up to about 200,000 triangles. It is dimensionally accurate to within 2 mm, meaning the scanned model will be close to the original object's size in all 3 dimensions. This puts it in the proper ballpark for designers, artists, architects and hobbyists, but not quite in the same league as the $20,000+ scanners used for hyper detailed medical applications and reverse engineering practices.

Key Specifications:

  • 8" x 8" (20.3 x 20.3 cm) scan size
  • ± 2.0 mm dimensional accuracy
  • 0.5 mm detail resolution
  • Approximately 12 minutes scan speed
  • 800 steps per rotation
  • Artificial indoor lighting is optimal
  • 6.6 lbs (3kg) maximum weight on turntable
  • MakerWare for Digitizer software compatible with Windows 7+, Mac OSX (10.7+) and Linux (Ubuntu 12.04+)
  • STL exported file type
  • Two Class 1 laser line generators
  • 1.3 megapixel camera
  • USB connectivity
  • 0.9° step angle with 1/16 micro-stepping stepper motor

More information is available on the MakerBot web site.