a list of terms frequently used in the world of 3d laser scanning


  • 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 – An instrument that either line laser beams or pulses to capture the shape of objects and environments.
  • 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 Scanner – There are many types of 3D scanners, but they all capture the real-world shapes or spaces and store the information digitally in the form of a point cloud.
  • 3D Scanning – 3D scanning is the process of using a 3D scanner to accomplish a goal such as measuring the shape of a part or building.
  • 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. 


  • Accuracy – 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. 
  • Alignment – 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.
  • As-Built – 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.


  • 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.


  • CAD – Computer Aided Design. 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.
  • 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.
  • CMM – 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. 


  • Datum – 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 – 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 – 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. 
  • “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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • IGES 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 – 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.


  • Mesh – 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.
  • Metrology – 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.


  • 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.


  • MEP – 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.


  • Noise – 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.
  • NURBS – 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.


  • 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.
  • Photogrammetry – 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.
  • Precision – The repeat-ability of performing a measurement.
  • 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.
  • Poly-mesh – see Mesh.


  • Real Estate Photography – a 3D virtual reality tour of a real estate properties using 3D scanning technology. 
  • Reality Capture –  3This 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. 
  • Registration – 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.
  • Rendering – 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.


  • Scan – To scan is to use electronic devices to measure a part and capture its shape in digital form.
  • Scan-to-BIM – 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. 
  • Shell – 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.
  • SIMAISLE™ – 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.
  • STEP – 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.
  • STL – 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.
  • 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.  


  • Targets  – 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.


  • Videogrammetry – 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 – 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 .


  • 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.
  • Watertight – 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.


  • X3D 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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