3D scanning allows you to take a physical object and convert it into a digitalized three-dimensional file. The trick is getting a good representation of that real-word object on a computer, one that can be viewed and manipulated as needed. With a quality 3D model, one can print duplicates on a 3D printer or animate it in a game or a movie.
Modern 3D scanning is accomplished using a variety of techniques. For example, we can scan a laser across an object and measure the deformation of the laser light and, thus, the object. Alternatively, we can take a series of photographs of an object and, through software, render a 3D model. Lastly, we can use a combination of cameras and sensors to view the object and register depth, creating our model.
This final method is what’s used by the Xbox Kinect, which employs a combination of cameras and an IR rangefinder. On that note, let’s explore the best software tools for scanning with the Kinect!
Software capable of working with the Kinect has come and gone over the years. The device was first released for the Xbox in 2010, and matching 3D scanning software followed around 2013 when Skanect, by Occipital, and Shapify, by Shapify.me, were both released. Some of the software in use back in those days is now devoid of support both from the respective companies and the community, so the full list of software available has been trimmed back, removing those without support.
History aside, there are few things that software must or should have before you might consider using it with your Kinect. In this article, we consider the following criteria.
Microsoft saw this market take off and they had to jump in, so they created 3D Scan, 3D Builder, and 3D Viewer to stay relevant. The software used to work with both the Kinect version 1 (Xbox) and version 2 (Xbox One), but Microsoft dropped support for version 1 after it went out of production. There are still many version 1 Kinects on the market, so this solution may cost you a little more, unless you already have a version 2 Kinect.
The software is available, along with all the drivers, on the Windows store. There’s also a good deal of documentation to support it, making this a relatively easy solution to get up and going. The workflow is very straightforward and scan quality is good.
The support from Microsoft and from the community of users is active and there are many tutorials on the net, so getting help or advice is easy.
Skanect from Occipital has been in this space since the Kinect was first used as a 3D scanning solution, and they remain an active player. They’ve even added many more scanners to the list of those that work with Skanect, and both the version 1 and version 2 Kinects still work.
Skanect offers a free version of the software and it performs just as well as the $149 version, but the number of polygons for the export is limited to 5,000, which has a pretty big impact on the quality of most models. Many claim the limited polygon version looked worse than with other software, even though the model displayed in the software looked very good.
Skanect has a scan workflow built into the software that’s easy and intuitive. You just follow along, setting your scan size and scanning the object. It even has good post-processing tools that will help you fix areas that didn’t scan correctly, including stray points, which almost every scan has. The software also offers helpful feedback as you scan, indicating which points the software is able to read and those it’s having trouble with.
The software doesn’t require a GPU, using the CPU instead, although you’ll be adding time to any post-processing tasks. After you scan and post-process, you can export in OBJ, PLY, STL, or VRML formats, but here’s where the limitation of the free version bites you back, with the limitation of only 5,000 polygons.
Skanect has great support, like 3D Scan. Both the company and an active community are writing tutorials to help you get started and continue on your 3D scanning journey.
When you first look at Artec 3D’s Shapify, you’ll probably find these great-looking “mini-me” prints. In fact, using Shapify, you can scan yourself and upload the model to Artec 3D, after which they’ll print the model and send it back to you, in color! Indeed, one of the reasons they look so great is that the scans include color. The scan quality is about the same as other packages, but this option makes it very attractive.
The software is so good that it’s used commercially in worldwide walk-in scanning locations, where people can go to get themselves scanned and have their own mini-me printed, on the spot. The quality of the scans is very good, even with the lower-quality cameras in the version 1 Kinect.
The last software update was in 2014, so there isn’t a good deal of support on the scanning side with the Kinect. As a result, the software only supports Kinect version 1. Since Artec 3D’s focus seems to be more on the industrial side, there isn’t a very good support network within the community.
ReconstructMe offers a free version of their software if you use it in a non-commercial manner. The software can be used with either the Kinect version 1 or version 2.
The workflow is a bit more complicated than with other tools, leaving a steep learning curve, but there is some power under the hood if you’re willing to learn. After scanning, you get a decent model that’s a bit coarser than other examples. Export file types include PLY, STL, and OBJ.
ReconstructMe’s website looks a bit dated and doesn’t seem to be maintained on a regular basis, making the support from the company suspect if you were to need assistance. The minimum OS requirements list Windows XP…. well, enough said.
Scene Capture from Faro started back in 2013 as Scenect, indicating its roots in the Kinect scene. Since then, Faro, heavy into 3D measurement and scanning, has added support for many other scanning cameras. They offer a free license with no limit to the size of the scan (except your disk space). And when we say no limit, we mean it – Faro even did some 3D mapping with a Kinect mounted to the front of a car, collecting over 60 million data points. The name change to Scene Capture takes on a whole new meaning, as you see entire workshops being scanned with this software.
The workflow is a bit more cumbersome than other solutions, but it works well. It has a “live tracking” mode, as most software does, but it also offers a mode that imports a video and computes a 3D model. The software also has very good post-processing tools that can remove stray points, fix issues, and adjust color.
Support from Faro looks very good, but most of the community support and tutorials are back from 2013-2015. We aren’t sure who is still using the Kinect with Scene Capture, but this software is very powerful, so it’s worth a try. Just watch out for the very high minimum requirements.
So which software should you choose?
The answer really depends on what you want to use the software for and how much money you want to spend. For instance, Scene Capture is great for scanning large areas, while Skanect excels at smaller objects but has the limitation of a high price point to unlock full-resolution exports.
The Kinect isn’t a dedicated 3D scanning unit, so the quality of any of the above programs will be limited by that factor. Still, limited quality is better than not having a scanner at all, and with some playing around, who knows what possibilities you could unlock!
If you think it’s time to move past the Kinect and upgrade your scanning workflow, have a look at our list of what we think are the best 3D scanners on the market.
(Lead image source: Microsoft)
License: The text of "5 Best Kinect 3D Scanner Software Tools" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.