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Such a Doll: Get Yourself Scanned and Printed in 3D

Rafe Needleman
Editorial Director, Yahoo Tech
Yahoo Tech
April 23, 2014

Such a Doll: Get Yourself Scanned and Printed in 3D

Rafe Needleman
Editorial Director, Yahoo Tech
Yahoo Tech
April 23, 2014

There is an odd little storefront on University Avenue in Palo Alto, Calif. The industrial scanner manufacturer Artec has opened a 3D-scanning studio where you can pop in, get a quick scan of yourself, and receive, several days later, a small, somewhat accurate, color statue of said self.

Step 1: Get yourself scanned. This rotatable computer model is the end result of my time in front of the Artec-driven, Kinect-based 3D scanner.

Why? Because it’s cool, that’s why. And it’s technically pretty slick. First of all, the scanner is a Kinect motion sensor, the same gear used on millions of Xboxes. So, yes, you can scan at home, using the company’s free Shapify software. 

Second, the 3D printer that Artec uses in its storefronts is one of the few in the world that prints 3D models in color.

The $79 cake-topper.

But 3D selfies are not cheap, nor speedy. A 3-inch-high model will run you $79. That’s $158 to put you and the person you’re marrying on top of your wedding cake, instead of those off-the-shelf, injection-molded stand-ins.

The 2-inch party-favor model is $79 for five copies. If you want to go bigger, it’s $129 for a 4.5-inch model or $199 for a 6-inch. All the models take hours to print (although the machine can do several at once) and a week or two to deliver.

Brian Zhang does a special scan of my face, using Artec’s own scanner. It didn’t hurt.

Want your own 3D color printer? Forget it; it’s an industrial-sized monster with a price tag somewhere around $80,000 (the rep I talked to wasn’t quite sure), and it’s finicky. When I visited, the one printer in the store was down for service.

But you can get the 3D scan data that Artec creates for you in its shops, or at home with the free Shapify software, and port it over to a standard mono-color, consumer-grade 3D printer like a MakerBot. Artec charges $20 for this file and says that what you are paying for is Artec’s real value: It has the software that stitches multiple Kinect images together into a workable solid model.

Brian shows off a model of himself.

The software seemed to work fine when I visited. You strike a pose while the imager takes a shot, and then you make eight small rotations (45 degrees each time) and it does it again and again, talking you through the process. Then it processes all the data, and in a few minutes you have a 3D model. My first trial yielded the dreaded “double-head” effect (I looked like a special effect in a horror movie), but the second worked out nicely.

Resolution on the Kinect scans is pretty low, but it makes for cute little models. Artec also has a super-high-resolution handheld scanner that can make, essentially, a 3D photo of your face. That’s very cool. It also has specialized body scanners that can do the same thing with your whole body. Those files will lead to more accurate models, although they’re also more expensive.

But can Artec make bobble heads of you? That’s all I wanted to know. “Everybody asks that,” my rep told me. But, no, they’re not equipped for that. Bummer.

Mini-yous are available in different sizes. The small models in this picture are the 3-inch-tall versions that run $79 each.

To try this for yourself, go to Shapify.me and get the software. The site also has the model-ordering links.

Rafe Needleman can be reached at rafeneedleman@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @rafe