The Creaform Scanner: A Tool for 3D-Design Exploration

by Madalyn Miles

In the Visualization Lab in Jacobs Hall’s lowest level, Design Specialist Chris Parsell sets up his laptop, a chair, and a table before a white-wall backdrop — as if staging a photo booth — to show me one of Jacob’s newest design technologies. He places the subject (a water bottle) in the center of a round, low-lying table. I am seated, observing him. Next, he takes what looks like a small projector in his left hand that shines a bright, strobe-like beam of light on his water bottle. He hovers the device around the water bottle in scanning motions.

He does one round of this. Then another. After just two rounds of scans and some typing on his laptop, Chris pivots the screen towards me to reveal a precise, digital model of the water bottle. The slender shape, the brown woodgrain streaks of the boddle’s body, its cap, even the bottle’s logo, though faint, are all there, displayed on his computer screen.

“It’s almost like digital tracing,” Chris says of the process. The projector-like scanning device in his hand is the Creaform Go! 3D scanner.

Chris Parsell rotates the table beneath his water bottle for a full scan with the Creaform Go! 3D scanner in his left hand.
Chris Parsell pulls up a model of his water bottle onto his laptop, loaded from a just two series of scans by the Creaform, inside the Visualization Lab on the lowest floor of Jacobs Hall.

Jacobs acquired the Creaform scanner in 2018. It’s a 20k-valued device that takes 3D scanning to the next level, and any student can learn how to use it and apply its unique toolset to his or her design projects.

The scanning step Chris demonstrated for me in Jacob’s Visualization Lab is only half of the process of creating a 3D model with the Creaform, but it is this step that sets the Creaform apart as a 3D-design tool. Instead of spending hours designing a model for printing in a given software, the Creaform’s scan does the work for you so that you can move on to modeling your target design. “You could take this scan and then now start to model over it, as you would when you’re tracing on paper,” Chris says.

Students at Cal have already used the Creaform’s “tracing” functionality, which Chris calls “reverse engineering,” within the design field of parametric joinery.

Parametric joinery: A Creative Application of The Creaform

Parametric joinery is an application of parametric design that can help students join existing objects together to design for entirely new applications. It’s creative patchwork, in essence, built upon the discipline of parametric design. Dylan Arceneaux, a graduate student of architecture at Cal who used the Creaform with his project partner, Elnaz Taz, as part of a Fall 2018 Jacobs course PARAMETRIC JOINERY — UNEXPECTED CONNECTIONS explains parametric design like this:

“What ‘parametric design’ really means is you’re able to control one parameter, and every adjustment off of that parameter takes place within that design,” he says.“The old way of doing it is if you change one drawing, you have to go back and change all the drawings. Rhino [a modeling software often used in architecture] is parametric, so if you change one drawing, all the variables change in response to the one.”

Dylan claims the Creaform carried his and Elnaz’s parametric-joinery project to the finish line. He and Elnaz met with me at Jacobs Hall to show me why.

“This project could not have existed without the Creaform, ” Dylan says, as he pulls out a series of black and white plastic objects of various shapes and sizes — pieces of the project — from his backpack and lays them out on the table between us.

Elnaz and Dylan chose to center their project around the development of lampshades for ceiling fans, and the Creaform gave them the precision they needed to keep a ceiling fan from crashing down.

Elnaz is enthusiastic about the device’s capabilities compared to other 3D scanners. “One of the biggest issues with every other scanner and other cheaper strategies was that it was not giving us the amount of detail and precision we were looking for,” she says. “That’s why we started using the Creaform.”

Black and white prototypes of lamp shades for ceiling fans from Dylan Arceneaux and Elnaz Taz’s parametric joinery project are laid out on a table before me in Jacobs Hall.

Power in Precision

Elnaz and Dylan’s experience with the Creaform exemplifies the device’s most powerful asset: precision. It is what sets the Creaform apart from cheaper models, whose capacities are limited to crude-quality scans.

“It’s fun to 3D scan your friends…It’s fun!” Chris says with a laugh. “But the under-$1000 scanners are for if you want to have a weird, wonky model-version of something that’s not very accurate,” he explains. “With this,” he says, shining the Creaform on the water bottle like a projector, “you can scan the water bottle and get a very precise model of it that I could then reverse-engineer into a CAD [Computer Aided Design] model.”

“What you pay for is a lot of data in order to get a really fine resolution,” Chris Parsell says.

Elnaz expresses similar excitement for the Creaform’s applicability to reverse-engineering: “One of the things I like about it is, compared to the structure scanner that you can use on an iPad…you cannot manipulate that scan you created. You scan and it’s there, and that’s it…” she says. “But with Creaform, you can edit, change things, code things.”

High return often requires higher effort, and a Creaform scan isn’t a one-shot magic wand. To get the high-quality model you want, your scans will require some adjustments, Dylan shares as he describes his lampshades to me.

“For the ring:” Dylan says, “We scanned it, printed, to see what the Creaform would produce — and it was too tight,” he says. “We did a …probably…I don’t know…340th scan? We spent a lot of time on the Creaform.”

Yet optimal precision is possible, and as Dylan attests to, the resulting model is well worth the effort.

“By adjusting the data parameters on the program itself, we were able to come up with this fit right here,” Dylan says, holding up a rather unassuming black plastic ring in his left hand (pictured below) “and this one fit perfectly,” he emphasizes, looking me straight in the eye. “This little, tiny, half-inch ring, was able to grab the glass lampshade, and we were able to hold it up, and suspend it with just this ring.” He holds the small black ring between his thumb and index finger: “This little flexible ring!” he exclaims with a smile.

“That’s the accuracy that we got it to.”

These rings, designed in parametric modeling software Rhino and using scans from the Creaform, have the strength to hold up a ceiling fan.

The Creaform and You

Any student can and is encouraged to use the Creaform at Jacobs — all that is required is to sign up! An online certification course on bCourses grants students use-access to the device within the Visualization Lab on Jacob’s lowest floor. Those enrolled in the Makerspace General Workshop Safety training course (access the summer 2019 Maker Pass registration form here) can access the Creaform course.

“You have to learn how to use it, but once you know, there’s a lot of power there,” says Elnaz.

The Creaform’s proprietary editing software is a commercial grade tool, and users share that, while there is a bit of a learning curve, it’s very doable. Dylan says the editing software is “intuitive”, and according to Chris, anyone should be able to be fairly competent using it within only a few hours.

Exciting New Applications

Once a student has become familiar with Creaform, the 3D scanner can accelerate his/her projects within a variety of new and exciting design disciplines!

Dylan, for example, is jazzed on applying the Creaform to the up-and-coming field of “conformal 3D printing”, which uses five axes instead of the typical three. “Now we’re beginning to scan in more objects,” he says, “and we’re beginning to use 3D printers to both a) scan and b) use conformal 3D printing,” he says. “One can use scanning technology like the Creaform to pull in very precise surface cloud-point data from an object, that can then be put into software that generates G-code.” (G-code is a coding language people can use to tell a computerized machine tool — such as a 3D printer — how to make something). Specifically, the G code software tells the 3D printer where to move and how fast, according to Dylan, to give you your final product.

“And all that information can be taken out of a scan,” he says.

3D scanning may have applications at the intersection with virtual reality. (Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/vr-virtual-virtual-reality-3460451/)

Other potential applications of the Creaform include scanning images for virtual reality, given the scan’s high-color resolution. Chris also foresees applications within “anything that involves 3D modeling”, from metrology to more “creative design work” like animation and architecture.

Regardless of how one chooses to apply it, the Creaform awaits the next person who will open its black cabinet in the Jacobs Visualization Lab.

UC Berkeley’s hub at the intersections of design and technology.