3D printers are becoming more and more accessible, but there's still one big hurdle to using them: unless you know how to create digital objects, there's not much to print. But Matterform is aiming to change that with its stylish, simple, and fairly inexpensive 3D scanner. After a successful Indiegogo campaign last spring, Matterform is finally preparing to launch the device next month, and it's unveiling the final model at CES this week.
You can watch the scan materialize on your computer
The scanner is surprisingly small: when closed, it's a bit larger than a shoebox, but it opens up as though it were putting an object on display, with a spinning platter on the bottom and its scanning mechanism — a camera and two lasers — mounted inside the lid.
Matterform's goal is to get your object from that platter to a 3D printer as easily as possible. Whether you've sculpted an object out of clay or just want to duplicate a small household object, it'll scan it in, clean it up in an app on your computer, and then output a file that you can send over to any 3D printer. You can edit the model too if you want, but the goal is to make the whole process simple enough that many of Matterform's users won't need or want to.
Even on the CES show floor with visitors jiggling the machine throughout its scan, Matterform's scanner was able to create a good-looking replica of a cute model monster that it was given. Scans take anywhere from about 5 to 45 minutes, depending on how detailed you want the model to turn out, though Matterform says its medium-resolution scan tends to take just 15 minutes. While you wait, you can watch your digital creation slowly rise into existence on your computer, as the scanner sends it over piece by piece.
The scans certainly aren't perfect — and they definitely won't work for anyone who's worried about tolerances — but they should serve just fine for hobbyists. That's an impressive point to reach for the scanner's price, $579, but Matterform says making it so inexpensive was simply a matter of having its small team create the device on its own. Other companies have started putting together comparably priced scanners recently, finally taking them down from upward of several thousand dollars, but few are quite so inexpensive or simple. Even MakerBot's Digitizer regularly sells for $1,400.
Once the scanner is shipping, Matterform plans to make a website for users to share their scans, and then start development on a larger version of the device that could potentially allow it to create higher-resolution models. Such a scanner might appeal to a more professional crowd, but for now, Matterform is aiming straight at consumers interested in design — not the people who already know their way around a CAD program.