Pettis said that the idea for the Digitizer came about when he wanted a 3D scanner but found no affordable or usable tools on the market, so they decided to make one themselves. The most important attributes they were looking for were for the 3D scanner to be fast and also for it to be accessible to anyone even if they didn’t have a deep knowledge of AutoCAD (a 3D modeling software often used by architects and engineers). Although MakerBot also has a catalogue of 3D digital objects people can 3D print on Thingiverse, only those experienced with 3D modeling can contribute. Wanting to save everyone’s time and make creating objects simple for all, MakerBot felt that the Digitzer was the clear answer.
The Digitizer is equipped with a pair of lasers that paint the original object in spectral light while a camera takes pictures. Acting as a sort of photocopier for objects rather than paper, this is one of the more futuristic ideas to come out of 3D printing. As complex as that might sound, MakerBot says it’s figured out everything on the software end so that you won’t have to design a model yourself. Instead, in two simple clicks, you can set the scanner to capture and create a watertight 3D design that’s ready to 3D print. Pettis says they’ve reduced the whole process to take approximately 12 minutes.
But if you still want to fuss around with your design before sending it off the print, you can do that too. The MeshMixer software lets you incorporate just about any object you can find on Thingiverse or manually manipulate the model with a brush as though you were working with virtual clay. What’s more, you can also add your scanned objects to Thingiverse and send them directly to a Replicator to fabricate an object.
Beyond the MakerBot ecosystem, the Digitizer outputs a STL file as an object with other 3D printers, even those not made by MakerBot. Pettis explained that they wanted to make the Digitzer an agnostic, standalone device for anyone to use, even those who are not into 3D printing. He imagines other occupations such as animators and sculptors could also use the 3D scanner.
There are, however, a few limitations with the 3D scanner – namely it does not do so well with capturing objects that are either shiny or black because of the way those finishes affect light. The scanner itself can also reproduce an object of the same exact size within a +/- two millimeters margin of error and resolve features that are at least half a millimeter large.
Pettis expects an “explosion of creativity” once the Digitizer starts shipping in October and people start uploading more objects. If you missed the first round of Digitzers, you can preorder yours today for $1,400 (plus $150 for the MakerCare support program that’s a bit like Apple Care).
Check out more photos on our Flickr set.