Wide acceptance of 3D printing is held back by several snags: price, fear of early-adoption regret, and—perhaps most importantly—the difficulty of creating 3D models on a computer. Photoshopping 2D images is difficult enough, but 3D modeling is tototally inaccessible for a large portion of even the computer-literate crowd. For this reason, many 3D printer manufacturers make pre-fabricated 3D models easily available, allowing those not trained in CAD (computer-aided design) software to at least print cookie cutter objects.
But what if you want to make an action figure of yourself, or family members? Modeling people or faces is difficult even for professionals, and requires hours upon hours of an expert's time. The best way to sidestep this dilemma is to digitize the actual physical object you're attempting to replicate, and that's where 3D scanners come in.
3DSystems introduced two 3D scanners at CES 2014, the standalone "Sense," and the "iSense" which requires an iPad. Both scanners are similarly equipped with a camera and optical sensor array that are capable of identifying and digitizing surfaces. By moving around the object in question and collecting surface data from all angles, the accompanying software stitches together a high-resolution, full color digital model of the object in real time. The process is surprisingly quick: A human head can be completely digitized in less than a minute, including the face.
After a little touch up and, potentially, a few re-scans, the model is ready to be saved, sliced and printed. 3DSystems is aiming for a Q2 release date and will be charging $399 for the standalone Sense and $499 for the much more compact iSense (iPad not included).