3D scanning techniques


I love how blogging can foster some interesting conversations and connections, and sometimes give food for more blogging material. A few weeks ago, British blogger Barrett Bonden of Works Well expressed interest in the equipment I use in my photography, then mentioned it in his article Beauty’s hardware. Then Barrett emailed me:

I’m really fascinated with your use of a scanner to image 3D objects. My scanner is a cheapo, has no such facility (the hinged lid would have crushed your wonderful onion skins, for instance) and I’ve always wanted something better. I Googled your scanner [Epson Perfection 4990 Photo] and could see it was superior (although the prices range from £125 to £500-plus and I’m rather hoping yours wasn’t at the higher end). There was no indication, though, about how it handles 3D objects. I realise I’m trading on your skills as a professional here but I’d be very grateful if you could explain please.

My reply with some edits: I had the same concerns about crushing objects. In my earlier experiments, I would lay a cloth, black or white or other over the objects, leaving the lid open of course. I’ve even used a shoebox. The most recent experiments like the onion skins were with nothing at all, still with the lid open and I was astounded that I’d get a black background! Now why didn’t I think of that in the first place?!

I spent more money (though got it ‘on sale’) choosing the Epson Perfection 4990 Photo scanner because I needed the higher resolutions for my digital printmaking, and also because this scanner allows transparency and slide scanning, including odd sizes. My husband’s collection of old extra large slides would not fit the slide scanner I used to have (which became obsolete technology, sigh). I haven’t actually tried the slide scanning out much yet – I think that may become a retirement project. Plus my late father-in-law, a professional photographer left thousands of slides… if we have the energy to sort through these one day. We don’t have a working slide projector that fits these, another story of obsolescence!

Barrett’s response: As simple as that! And there I was dreaming up all sorts of technoid-solutions. As a retired journalist I am horribly tempted to outscoop you on this – old, unpleasant habits die hard. I’m joking but you must blog it. Millions will profit and I’ll be able, knowledgeably, to refer in future blogs to the Rathje 3D Scan.

Well (she chuckles), I don’t know about my rights to the technique and millions profiting from it because I think the real pros have been doing this for a long time already. Serious photography is a more recent development and branch in my art practice, previously it was a tool for image capture for my photo-based printmaking such as photo-etching and then archival inkjet printing.

I prefer using the scanner to capture small objects because I think the results are far better than with the camera, at least in my hands, because I can choose very high resolutions (pixels). This allows me to enlarge or magnify the image to a great extent. This can give some wonderful and exciting surprises, such as shown in this my favourite post on scanning.

I thought of linking to some of my other ‘object scans’ but found far too many to choose from! If new readers (like you, Barrett) are so inclined and have a lot of time, check out my images in Photoworks on the side though not all the photos are scans. It’s dawned on me that ‘scanning’ could have been another category here to improve the search!


Regarding the images here… during my recent purging of old magazines, I had found these dried leaves in one of several Finnish magazines passed on to me years ago by a friend’s Finnish mother who passed away a few months ago. That dear association as well as Barrett’s question compelled me to save them digitally. The one up top is scanned with the lid down, the lower one with the lid up. I’ve even ‘blown up’ a section (below) so you can see the incredible detail possible, though much is lost in compressing for the web.

I should add that the quality of the scanning software provided by the scanner may be another important detail to look into when shopping around. As for photo-editing software, as a professional artist I use PhotoShop exclusively, but I would imagine similar things can be achieved with cheaper consumer level software if you are not planning on doing a lot of large printing. As a Mac user, I find Apple’s iPhoto is good at a more basic level. I’ve not done any serious comparisons with other software, so please do your own research if you are shopping around. Best of luck in your search, Barrett, and thanks for the interesting conversation!


Addendum: If you are interested, learn more from my scan tests.

July 16, 2008 in Being an Artist, Nature, Photography, Photoworks, Tools and technology by Marja-Leena