The process of 3D laser scanning is the means through which information about the shape of an object is collected. The object can be so small as to be difficult to see with the human eye or as large as a building. Since 3D laser scanning is just now becoming prevalent in our everyday lives, there are many misconceptions, and here are four important facts that you may not be aware of.

Fact #1: Laser Scanning Often Refers to Two Separate Concepts

The term laser scanning often refers to using a precise deflection of either visible or invisible laser beams. This type of laser scanning is prevalent in 3D printers and often used for rapid prototyping, laser engraving and even laser shows for the public. It also refers to the deflection of laser beams in which there is distance measurement at each pointing location. This is an important distinction and the particular approach used in laser rangefinders and 3D object scanners.

Fact #2: Laser Scanning Is the Big Roadblock in 3D Printing

3D printing still seems like magic to a lot of us, but we’re really not that far away from a future in which 3D printers are common in our homes. The major roadblock — meaning the reason why these printers are so expensive and unstandardized — is the laser scanning process. The software is still in the relatively early stages. It’s often proprietary, which means its unavailable for public usage. Even when it is sold or in the public domain, the software isn’t user-friendly or otherwise practical enough. As this changes in the coming years, prices will come down and 3D printers will be more readily available.

Fact #3: Handheld 3D Scanning Is Already an Option

Often, when 3D scanning is demonstrated, it paints a picture of bringing an object to the printer, but scanners are already hand-sized, and this has two important implications. One is that you’re not bound to what you can move, carry and so forth. If you see an object you like out in the city or the country, you can scan it, and then, bring it back home for printing — perhaps with some scale adjustments. The other effect is that home-based units will likely have a distinct scanner and a distinct printer rather than one machine that does everything.

Fact #4: 3D Laser Scanning Is Being Patented

It will take some time to see how this all shakes out, but in the meantime, companies are patenting two aspects of 3D laser scanning: the software, which we mentioned earlier, and calibration. The company that makes it easy for the average person to calibrate and use a 3D printer stands to make a lot.