a list of terms frequently used in 3d laser scanning

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2D Drawing

A 2D drawing shows an object or space from a single perspective and does not have any height. They can be different views of a 3D model. An example would be a floorplan or an elevation view of a building, or a reflected ceiling plan.

3D Laser Scanner

A 3D laser scanner is a device that captures the shape and surface information of an object in three dimensions using laser technology. The scanner emits a laser beam that sweeps across the surface of the object and measures the time it takes for the laser to bounce back to the scanner. This information is collected by a sensor in the scanner and used to create a point cloud of measurements that represents the surface of the object. 3D laser scanners are capable of capturing objects of different sizes and shapes with a high level of detail and accuracy.

3D Modeling

3D modeling refers to process of building CAD models from available information which can include 3D scan data, 2D drawings or sketches.

3D Printing

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process of creating physical objects by layering materials based on a digital design. The process involves slicing a 3D model into thin cross-sectional layers, and then building up the object layer by layer using various materials such as plastic, metal, or even biological tissue. The resulting object can be highly complex, customized, and accurate, and can be used in a variety of applications, including prototyping, manufacturing, and biomedical engineering.

3D Scanner

A 3D scanner is an electronic device that captures the shape and surface information of an object in three dimensions and stores the information digitally in the form of a point cloud. There are many types of 3D scanners, but they all capture the real-world shapes or spaces for the purpose of 3D modeling.

3D Scanning

3D scanning is a process of capturing the shape and surface information of an object in three dimensions using specialized hardware and software. The technology uses various methods such as laser, structured light, or photogrammetry to capture the object’s geometry and create a digital model. The resulting 3D model can be used for visualization, analysis, simulation, and manufacturing, and is useful in a range of industries such as architecture, engineering, facilities management, and healthcare. 3D scanning can be used for objects of different sizes and shapes, from small components to large structures, and can capture a high level of detail and accuracy.

3D Visualization

When we think of 3D Visualization we mostly think of creating 3D replicas of real world objects such as museums, telecom rooms, facilities, and other external environments. 3D Visualization can also be used to make the non-visual visual such as displaying the flow of waves in visible context or representing the various profit charts of an organization as different faces of a polyhedron.

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The accuracy of a scan is a number representing the degree of difference between the measured value obtained by the scanner to the correct measurement. All scanners have some degree of inaccuracy, but some are much better than others.


The process of rotating a 3D scan or 3D model into the desired orientation or coordinate system. Most scanning processes require alignment at some point to “square up” the data.


An as-built drawing is a reflection of how an object or structure was actually built. Nothing is ever built exactly as designed, and ad-built drawings and 3D models are a way to document what was actually created.

Augmented Reality

The ability to overlay computer generated images onto real systems. Some of these systems are 3D, but the others just provide additional sensory information you don’t normally have at your disposal.

Auto Surfacing

An autosurface model is an automatic modeling process that uses the scan directly to “shrink -wrap” it resulting in the creation of a NURBS surface that can be exported as generic STP and IGES solid models.

Autodesk Revit

Autodesk Revit is a computer-aided design software that is used for building information modeling (BIM). BIM is an approach to design that uses a 3D model to represent a building’s physical and functional characteristics. Revit allows architects, engineers, and construction professionals to design, document, and analyze a building’s systems and components in a collaborative, integrated environment. It includes tools for creating and modifying 3D models, generating construction documentation, and simulating performance analysis such as energy efficiency and structural integrity.

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Building information modeling (BIM)

BIM is a broad term that describes the process of creating and managing digital information about a bulit asset such as a building. BIM models are typically parametric and hierarchical in nature so that when a change is made, components are updated automatically in line with specified parameters.

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Compauter-Aided Design (CAD)

Computer Aided Design (CAD) is a software-based tool that is used to create, modify, and optimize 2D or 3D models of products, buildings, or other objects. CAD software allows designers and engineers to create and manipulate digital models with precision and accuracy, using a range of tools and techniques. CAD models can be used for visualization, simulation, analysis, and manufacturing, and can be exported to other software tools or machines for further processing. CAD software is widely used in industries such as architecture, engineering, manufacturing, and construction, to speed up the design process, improve quality, and reduce errors and costs. There are a number of different CAD programs on the market. It is frequently easier for a customer to utilize CAD files as opposed to raw 3D scan data, so we can convert scans to your desired CAD format.

Compauter-Aided Inspection (CAI)

Computer Aided Inspection (CAI) is a process of using computer technology to automate and improve the inspection of manufactured parts and products. It involves using computer software to create digital models of parts and compare them to the desired specifications to identify any defects or deviations. CAI can be used for a range of inspection tasks, including dimensional measurement, surface inspection, and defect detection, and can be integrated into various manufacturing processes. It can significantly reduce inspection time and improve accuracy compared to traditional manual inspection methods.

Computer-Aided Industrial Design (CAID)

Computer-Aided Industrial Design (CAID) is the use of computer software to aid in the design and visualization of industrial products. It involves the creation of digital models, simulations, and prototypes, which can be used to test and refine product designs before they are manufactured. CAID software is often used by industrial designers, engineers, and manufacturers to streamline the product development process, improve product quality, and reduce production costs. The software can be used to create detailed 2D and 3D designs, as well as to perform simulations and analysis of product performance and manufacturing processes.

Compauter-Aided Manufaturing (CAM)

Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) is the use of computer software to control and automate manufacturing processes. CAM software takes digital models created in Computer Aided Design (CAD) software and uses them to generate instructions for machines such as CNC mills, lathes, or 3D printers. The software can optimize tool paths and tool selection, adjust cutting speeds, and other parameters to ensure efficient and precise manufacturing. CAM software can be used for a range of manufacturing processes, including cutting, milling, drilling, and turning, and is widely used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, and medical devices, to speed up the production process, improve quality, and reduce costs.

Cloud Server

A cloud server is built to host software and hardware. Although its data is accessed over the internet, it is not shared or distributed.


Coordinate Measuring Machines are fixed mechanical devices, usually in the form of an arm or bridge, that can to make precision measurements using probes or other methods. Many companies are switching from traditional CMM’s to laser scanning methods and are seeing substantial cost savings and increased accuracy.

Color Map

A color map utilizes colors to represent how two things compare, such as a 3D scan compared to an idealized CAD model. They often help visually depict flaws or problems very well.

Control Point

A control point is a location with a precisely known coordinate. during scanning, control points can be captured to aid with alignment of the resulting point cloud.

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Datums are reference features on a part that are used to align 3D scans and 3D models correctly when performing things like GD&T inspections.


Decimation reduces the density of points and polygons in 3D scans and 3D models. Ideally it is done in a way to reduce file size without excessive loss of detail in the scan.

Design Intent

A design-intent model created from a scan is idealized and does not contain surface variations, asymmetry or other imperfections.


Deviation refers to a difference between two things being compared, such as scan-to-CAD or scan-to-scan. Overall deviation is best represented as a color maps or section overlays

Digital Twin

A digital twin is a digital copy of a real-world place or object. 3D scanning by nature creates digital twins through the process of point cloud acquisition.


Digitization is the process of converting analog information into digital form. It involves the use of technology to capture, store, and manipulate data in digital format, which can then be easily accessed, shared, and analyzed. Digitization can be applied to a wide range of information, including text, images, audio, video, and physical objects such as buildings, vehicles, and parts. The process typically involves 3D scanning, recording, or otherwise capturing the analog information in a digital format, and then processing the data to ensure accuracy, quality, and compatibility with digital systems.

“Dumb” solid

A “Dumb” solid is a model created through surfacing tools such as an autosurface. They can be exported to generic formats such as STP and IGES, but when imported into CAD programs, they do not have a feature tree, limiting editing to operations such as cutting, offsetting scaling, etc.

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Finite Element Analysis (FEA)

Finite Element Analysis (FEA) is a computational technique used in 3D modeling to simulate the behavior of a product or component under various loading and environmental conditions. It involves dividing a complex 3D model into smaller, simpler parts (or elements) and then analyzing how each part reacts to stress, strain, and deformation.

Fused deposition modeling (FDM)

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is a 3D printing technology that uses a thermoplastic filament as the printing material. The filament is melted and extruded through a nozzle onto a build platform, where it solidifies and builds up layer by layer to create a 3D object. FDM is one of the most commonly used 3D printing technologies and is used in a wide range of applications, including prototyping, product design, and manufacturing.


Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing Inspections

These are very thorough inspections where each specification and dimension are measured and reported on as to whether the value is within its allowed tolerance range.

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Hybrid Surface Model

A hybrid model is created by taking an autosurface or other “dumb” solid and using feature-based modeling tools to enhance it with features. An example would be cutting clean holes into a scan of an ergonomic handle.

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Industrial Computed Tomography (CT) Scanning

Industrial Computed Tomography (CT) scanning is a non-destructive imaging technology that is used to create 3D representations of the internal structure of an object. It works by emitting X-rays or other forms of radiation through the object from multiple angles, and then using computer algorithms to reconstruct a detailed 3D model of the object’s internal structure. Industrial CT scanning is used in a wide range of applications, including product design and development, quality control, materials science, and failure analysis. It can reveal details that are not visible through other imaging technologies such as uniplanar X-ray or ultrasound.

Industrial Design

Industrial design is a field of design that focuses on the development of products that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It involves the creation of products that are optimized for production, use, and maintenance. Industrial designers work on a wide range of products, from consumer goods and furniture to machinery and medical devices. They take into consideration the user’s needs, manufacturing processes, materials, and environmental impact when designing a product. Industrial design can involve a range of skills, such as sketching, 3D modeling, prototyping, and user testing.


The Initial Graphics Exchange Specification is a vendor-neutral file format that allows the digital exchange of information among computer-aided design (CAD) systems. See also STEP.


Inspection is the process of measuring a part to determine whether it has any flaws by comparing it to an idealized version or intended design of the part.

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Laser Scanner

A specific type of 3D scanner that uses light pulses, a spinning mirror and a rotating turret to measure millions of points per second and generate a point cloud of the area.


LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to measure distances and create precise 3D maps or models of objects and environments. It works by emitting a laser beam and measuring the time it takes for the light to bounce back after hitting an object. By measuring the time it takes for the laser to return, LIDAR can calculate the distance to the object and create a detailed 3D map of its surface. LIDAR is used in a wide range of applications, including surveying, building information modeling, 3D scanning of structures and parts, mapping, autonomous vehicles, and robotics. It can provide highly accurate and detailed data, making it a valuable tool in a variety of industries.

Long Range Scanning

Long range scanning is a 3D laser scanning technique used to capture large-scale objects or environments from a distance. It involves the use of laser scanners that are capable of capturing data over long distances, typically ranging from several meters to several kilometers. Long range scanning is commonly used in industries such as architecture, civil engineering, and surveying for applications such as building and infrastructure modeling, land surveying, and asset inspection. The data collected from long range scanning can be used to create high-resolution 3D models and maps, as well as to detect and analyze deformations or changes in the environment over time.

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A mesh is a collection of vertices, edges and faces that defines the shape of a polyhedral object in 3D computer graphics and solid modeling. Raw scan point clouds are usually converted to meshes using 3D scanning software. See Polygon Mesh for more information.


The first step to accurately capturing any environment in 3D is metrology, or measurement. This task can be accomplished in many different ways that vary in difficulty and accuracy, ranging from a simple laser tape to a highly advanced optical tracker. It could be argued that laser scanning itself is a process of taking millions of measurements one point at a time. One advantage of capturing an environment through laser scanning is that measurements of the space can be made after the fact by performing them on the collected data. At the other end of the spectrum, metrology involves precise measurement of highly precise dimensions such as that of a manufactured part where adherence to tolerances are in the thousandths of an inch.


Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing. These are often specified separately from architectural, structural and HVAC when defining the scope of a 3D scanning and modeling project.

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Noise is a result of poor scan quality and produces surface defects on the scan. We can use software tools to greatly reduce the effects of noise.


Non Uniform Rational Basis, or Bézier Spline. NURBS models can be converted to STP and IGES formats, so they tend to be more compatible with CAD software. Usually they are used for organic shapes that would be hard to model using feature-based models.

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OBJ File

A .OBJ file is a 3D model file format that stores the geometry, texture, and material information of a 3D object. It is a widely supported file format and is used for exchanging 3D models between different software programs and platforms. OBJ files can store the geometry of the 3D model as a polygon mesh, which consists of a series of connected triangles or other shapes that define the surface of the object. The file format also supports the embedding of texture maps and material information, such as color and reflectance, for enhanced visual realism. OBJ files can be used in a variety of 3D modeling and rendering software, including computer-aided design (CAD) programs, 3D animation software, and game engines.

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Parametric Model

Parametric models retain a feature tree, making them more easily editable. They also tend to be of higher quality and are desired for molding and manufacturing applications.


The process of obtaining 3D models from photographs. It is also used to increase the accuracy of certain types of scanning using photographs of coded targets. When combined with modern software and computer vision technologies, photogrammetry can under certain circumstances can be used as a 3D scanning technique to create 3D models. Photogrammetry is also widely used for in law enforcement for crime scene and accident scene analysis.

Point Cloud

A point cloud is a text file that contains the raw data output in the form of coordinates from a laser scanner. Point clouds are usually converted to a more usable format such as a CAD file or polygon model for 3D printing.

PolyGon mesh

A Polygon mesh is a digital 3D model that represents an object or surface using a collection of interconnected polygons. These polygons are usually triangles or quadrilaterals, and their vertices define the shape and surface of the object. Polygon meshes can be created using a variety of 3D modeling techniques and software, and they are widely used in industries such as video games, film, industrial design, environment scanning and surveying, and architecture. They are popular because they are lightweight and easy to manipulate, making them ideal for real-time rendering and animation.


The repeatability of performing a measurement.


A prototype is an early or preliminary version of a product or design that is created to test and evaluate its functionality, features, and design. It is typically created using a subset of the final materials, components, and manufacturing processes and may be used to gather feedback from stakeholders, investors, or potential customers. Prototyping can be used to refine and optimize a design, to identify and address potential issues, and to ensure that the final product meets the desired specifications. Prototypes can be physical or digital, and may range from a simple sketch or model to a fully functional product.

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Quality Control

Quality Control is the process of ensuring that a product or service meets the desired level of quality, accuracy, reliability, and performance. It involves monitoring and testing a product or service throughout its development and production to identify and address any defects or issues. The  quality control process is critical to ensure that a product or service meets the required specifications, regulations, and standards, and that it is safe, reliable, and performs as intended. It involves a range of activities, including testing, inspection, and analysis, and may be performed by a dedicated quality control team or integrated into the production process.

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Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping is a technique used to quickly create physical prototypes of a product or design using computer-aided design (CAD) software and additive manufacturing technology. It allows designers and engineers to quickly create and test prototypes using a range of materials and technologies, such as 3D printing, CNC machining, or injection molding. Rapid prototyping allows for rapid iteration and testing, reducing the time and cost involved in traditional prototyping methods. It is widely used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, and consumer electronics to speed up product development, improve design quality, and reduce manufacturing costs.

Real Estate Photography

A 3D virtual reality tour of a real estate properties using 3D scanning technology.

Reality Capture

This is another name for the process by which 3D laser scanners collect point cloud data of an environment or space and create a digital twin of the object.


The process of aligning multiple scans together to create the whole object or space. During registration, point clouds can be aligned to a coordinate system or reduced to a more optimal density.


A rendering is a realistic, high quality snapshot of an object or space that is used for visualization purposes. It is usually provided in an image for video format.

Reverse Engineering

Reverse engineering is the process of extracting CAD models from scan data. It is done in a way that ignores flaws in the part to try to arrive at the original designer’s intentions.

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To scan is to use electronic devices to measure a part and capture its shape in digital form.


Scan-to-BIM is the process of digitally capturing a physical space using a device such as a 3D laser scanner, the data from which is then used to create a BIM model such as in Autodesk Revit.


To shell a model or scan is to offset its surface in either direction to create thickness. It is useful for creating parts that are hollow inside, or creating a thick part from a one-sided scan.


Our flagship web-based 3D Visualization construction and management tool based on the concept of Aisles. It is really a whole suite of products, with SimAisle for Telecom being the first and most evolved. For more details check out What is SimAisle™.

Spatial Database

Database systems that have been enhanced to handle lines, points, polygons better with specific data types and functions that don’t exist in a ‘normal’ database. Examples of these are Oracle Spatial or PostGIS. Spatial databases provide the ability to perform queries and computations against spatial data in very powerful ways, making it possible to learn things about the data in milliseconds that would have otherwise been a very labor intensive to obtain. For example, with a precise 3D spatial database representing a playground, it would be possible to quickly calculate the amount of paint needed to paint everything based on surface area.


Standard for the Exchange of Product Model Data is a generic CAD format that has been around a long time and is compatible with most CAD software programs. See IGES.


Standard Tessellation Language. STL models are the most common format for working with raw scans. It is also the format that is used for 3D printing.

Structured-Light 3D Scanner

A Structured-Light 3D Scanner is a type of 3D scanning technology that uses a projected pattern of light to capture the shape and surface of an object. It works by projecting a series of light patterns onto the object, which are then captured by a camera and used to create a 3D model of the object’s surface. The patterns of light are usually projected in a grid or stripe pattern, and the distortion of the pattern on the object’s surface is used to calculate the shape and depth information.

Subtractive Manufacturing

The process of cutting away successive thin layers of material (plastics, metals, etc.) from a block of material in order to create a 3D object. Opposite of additive manufacturing.

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Targets are used for scan alignment during the registration process. They can also be used during scanning for self-positioning of the scanner. Commonly used targets are checkerboard posters, swivel targets or spheres.

Time of Flight

A time-of-flight scanner is a long range laser scanner that uses timed laser pulses to acquire point cloud information. They are slower than phase-based scanners but usually have longer range

Topography Map

Also called a Topo Map, it is a 2D drawing that uses elevation contour lines to show the shape of the earth or ground in a particular area.

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The process of extracting 3D models from video information.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Rather than just creating 3d models, VR is a living, interactive virtual world where things can resemble their real life counterparts in both appearance and behavior. When VR is used to replicate real life situations, is it called Mirrored Reality.


Virtualization as the act of creating a virtual counterpart of your physical facilities and equipment inventory. In doing so, your equipment enters the software realm where the virtual objects can be augmented, infused, and animated with live data from any available source. This makes it possible to finally be able to integrate physical inventory with management systems, processes, and documentation.

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Walkthrough (or Walk through) 

A 3D walkthrough uses a CAD or VR model to give a virtual tour for training, demonstration, or to see how something would look before it is built. It can be a high definition video 3D rendering, movie, or 3D animation that follows a predefined path, or it can be an interactive real-time system that allows the content to be viewed from any angle such as a 360 degree panorama, an overhead floor plan view, or at eye-level.


A watertight mesh is fully enclosed with no holes and is suitable for things like 3D printing.

White Light Scanning

White-light scanners project patters of ordinary light from the projector bulb (as opposed to lasers) onto the part, and then observe the how the patterns change as they are passed over the part. Special software can process the images and information into highly accurate 3D models.

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X3D is the next generation of VRML, and is the ISO Standard for web-based 3D. Because it is an open standard, it is not dependent on any one company for its survival. X3DOM is an open source project that will enable the use of X3D in a browser without a plug-in.

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