3D Scanning Apps for Architects: What’s the best app?

If you’re an architect, chances are you’ve come across the term “3D scanning” before. Maybe you have the new iPhone, and you’re just curious what that extra camera can do. You may have heard about it from a colleague or read about it in a magazine article. But what does 3D scanning actually entail? What is the best app for architects? In this article, we’ll answer these questions and more!

A majority of the apps that offer this service are free to download and use, but some require an upfront purchase to unlock additional features or export options. The price ranges between $2–40 depending on what type of scanner app you choose. If you’re interested in trying a scanner app for free, there are some options that offer free trials before requiring any sort of payment.

Image of scanner apps from iPad
Image of scanner apps from iPad

When it comes to using the apps and getting started with scanning your own projects, they all work pretty similarly: first, go through tutorials on how to use the app and perform the best scans. From here you can usually export as an .obj or fbx or even glb file or upload directly to Sketchfab if available (Sketchfab is not supported by all apps). However, these features do vary between different scanners.

Below I have included all the various apps indicated above and their current export options.

images from export options
images from export options
images from export options
images from export options
images from export options
images from export options
images from export options
images from export options
images from export options
images from export options
images from export options
images from export options

But how do you use these apps? Why are you scanning in the first place. I find the scanners useful for three scenarios. The first is scanning objects. You might have a piece of furniture you’re trying to fit into a space. It’s much easier to scan the object and then move it around on your computer inside a cad or model application.

The second valuable use is creating asbuilts. Where most apps are not up to the level of accuracy to create exact replicas of your space they do have their place and can provide valuable insight and a great starting point. There are apps that once scanned can be set off to a service for a fee and you will receive cad or model files that have been cleaned up and drawn to architectural standards. It can get expensive though. Especially for large spaces or large buildings. To be safe you will still need to double-check those dimensions with a laser.

The third use case that can be solved by these apps is to evaluate existing conditions during construction. This type of model provides you with a scaled representation of the construction as it is happening in the field.

Finally, if you are not into 3d scanning with lidar, or the quality is not there yet, there are photo scanning apps that use photogrammetry technology to allow you to take detailed photos and reconstruct them into a 3d form. This process has been around for some time and has recently been merged with lidar to create the ultimate mobile scanner. New releases of several apps to soon merge the two systems are expected to be a real game-changer.

When it comes to scanning architecture in the real world, I have found that two apps are my go-to. Polycam and Scaniverse. These apps both work quickly and efficiently on interior spaces as well as exterior. Even in some bright daylight, which can break lidar performance. Both of these apps create great textured mesh models. For point clouds, I have been experimenting with SiteScape. There new app in beta allows for exports of ply and e57 formats. These point clouds can be exported directly to a cloud server to be viewed from your iPad or computer.

Ultimately there are many options out there now for creating models digitally. You should play around with which app you find best for your needs. The best app for an architect will depend on what type of project you’re working on and your budget, but there are many options out there now for creating models digitally. Play around with which you find is best for your needs!

I hope this was helpful in deciding which scanner would be best suited to do work like yours. Keep scanning!

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