Home » How to Use ScanTo3D in SolidWorks?

ScanTo3D is used to convert mesh or point cloud data that is commonly present in obj or stl files to solids or surfaces that you can manipulate within SolidWorks. You can scan any object and then use ScanTo3D to convert the graphics body into solid/surface bodies and then edit it into Solidworks. ScanTo3D significantly reduces the time required to build complex 3D models from non-digital data. However, this add-in is only available in SolidWorks Premium and SolidWorks Professional.

ScanTo3D is different when compared to the standard mesh file importer of SolidWorks as they are imported as either a graphics body or as a solid or surface body which is actually a meshed solid/surface body instead of the standard Solid/Surface body and is not made up of analytical surfaces. Also, the standard importer is not optimized for a mesh file that has a large number of triangles.

1. Before you can use this tool you need to make sure that the ScanTo3D add-in is enabled. To do so go to Options -> Add-Ins or go to Tools -> Add-Ins and then select ScanTo3D from the Add-Ins dialog box and click Ok.

2. Click the Open icon or go to File -> Open and then select one of the following types of scan data files in Files of type:

  • ScanTo3D Mesh Files (*.3ds; *.obj; *.stl; *.wrl; *.ply; *.ply2)
  • ScanTo3D PointCloud Files (*.xyz; *.txt; *.asc; *.vda; *.igs; *.ibl)

3. ScanTo3D automatically imports textures from 3D Studio .3ds, .obj, and .wrl files. If no texture is imported automatically you can specify the location of texture files in the Import Options dialog box. Click Open to load the file.

Mesh Prep Wizard


1. The first thing you should do after importing a ScanTo3D file is to perform the Mesh Prep Wizard. Go to Tools > ScanTo3D > Mesh Prep Wizard. You can also right-click an existing mesh or point cloud in the FeatureManager design tree and select Mesh Prep Wizard from the shortcut menu.

2. If your mesh or point cloud body is misaligned, you may want to align the body to the global origin and planes. This will help you apply further tools and commands downstream. Or if your mesh or point cloud body contains points or triangles or patches that are separate and you don’t need them, then you can also use this tool to remove them.

Surface Wizard

The Surface Wizard is used to convert the mesh body into surfaces or solid bodies which you can then edit using the standard SolidWorks tools.

1. Go to Tools ScanTo3D Surface Wizard or right-click on the Mesh feature in the FeatureManager design tree and select Surface Wizard from the menu.

2. Next select the mesh body and the total number of faces would be displayed in the PropertyManager. Click the Next icon.

3. In the Solid/Surface Creation PropertyManager, specify what type of method you want:

  • Automatic Creation: This method is recommended for organic or anatomical shapes.
  • Guided Creation: This method is recommended for objects that contain analytical shapes, such as planes, cylinders, cones, etc.

Automatic Creation

The Automatic Creation method creates small patches that are usually 4-sided from the mesh body and then these patches are merged together to create the solid body. This method automatically creates solids whenever possible but if the creation of a solid body is not possible then the result will be surface bodies.

4. Drag the Surface Detail slider to your preferences. Dragging the slider to the left creates surfaces with fewer details (i.e. makes bigger patches and hence takes less time to generate the surface) while moving the slider right creates surfaces with greater detail and accuracy but takes more time as it makes smaller patches to generate the surface. Click the Update Preview button to get a preview. ScanTo3D will now attempt to create surfaces from the mesh. You can see the total number of surfaces in the PropertyManager along with the number of surfaces that has errors.

6. If you want to increase or decrease the number of details, re-position the Surface Detail slider, then click Update Preview. Repeat as necessary to achieve the desired details and accuracy.

7. Once you are satisfied with the accuracy of the surface, check the Edit Feature Lines option which will display feature lines and enables you to edit them. Feature lines are shown in orange color while patch boundaries are black in color. The endpoints of feature lines are shown by red points. By editing feature lines you can remove surfaces with errors.

  • Add Feature Lines  Tool_Add_Feature_Lines_ScanTo3D.gif: Use this tool to add feature lines if necessary. This tool can be used to avoid surfaces with errors. Note that a new feature line cannot intersect an existing feature line. Red points and a green circle with the cursor indicate valid start and end points for new feature lines.
  • Delete Feature Lines Tool_Delete_Feature_Lines_ScanTo3D.gif: Use this tool to delete existing feature lines.
  • Move Feature Lines By Ends Tool_Move_Feature_Lines_By_Ends_ScanTo3D.gif: Use this tool to move the pointer over a red point, then drag to re-position the vertex and feature lines. You can use this tool to help you remove surfaces with errors.
  • Relax Feature Lines Tool_Relax_Feature_Lines_ScanTo3D.gif: Use this tool to create a smoother feature line between regions. The tool only relaxes the feature line by a small amount which sometimes is not noticeable. So use this tool multiple times on the same line to produce visible changes.

8. Select the Show patch boundaries option to display patch boundaries. Deselecting it will hide the boundaries (useful when you need to check the smoothness of the surface while editing feature lines).

9. If you were not able to fix all the surface errors by editing the feature lines then it is not a problem, just click Next. A dialog box will open asking if you want to delete the surfaces with errors. Click OK and you will be presented with either solid or surface bodies. You can then use the SolidWorks surfacing tools to fill the surface areas that were deleted and convert them into a solid body.

Guided Creation

4. If your mesh body is symmetrical, create a reference plane along which the body is symmetrical before you start this wizard. In the Mesh Split PropertyManager, you can select a reference plane to split the mesh in half, which will not only reduce the time required by the tool to extract surfaces but also increases accuracy and symmetry. Also, you then need to extract surfaces for only half of the model as you can always mirror them to create the other half.

5. In the Face Identification PropertyManager, select the mesh body that you want to proceed with. Typically the mesh is automatically selected but if you used the split command in the previous step, then you will have to specify which side of the mesh you want to proceed with. Selecting the mesh will automatically paint your mesh body with different colors. The intent here is that you need to paint each individual face such as planes, cylinders, cones, etc with a different color so that ScanTo3D can differentiate between them. Adjust the sensitivity slider to make sure that most if not each faces are painted with a different color.

6. Click on the Apply Button to create the sub-meshes. You can then use manual painting tools to manually paint the faces if the automatic painting was not very accurate. Select a color from either the color palette or pick a color from the mesh. Then you can either use the Paint Brush available under the Paint Tools menu to paint the selected color over triangles of the sub-meshes or use the Paint Can to paint the entire sub-mesh with the selected color.

Before proceeding make sure that every face is now painted with a different color. Once done click Next.

7. In the Surface Extraction PropertyManager, select an individual region in the graphics area to extract that surface from the mesh. Or you can also click on the Extract All/Remaining Faces button to extract surfaces from all the regions that you painted in the previous step. Make sure not to extract surfaces of fillets as they are not going to be accurate and will result in a lot of surface bodies that will only decrease the performance. Also, you can skip details that are patterned as you can pattern them later with the standard SolidWorks tools.

Regions unspecified shows the number of sub-meshes that have not been extracted while Faces extracted shows the number of sub-meshes that have been extracted as surfaces.

8. If you notice that the surface is not accurate, click on that surface in the graphics area and you can then edit that surface under the Face settings menu. For example, you can set a value of radius for cylindrical surfaces or an offset value for planar surfaces.

As you work on extracting surfaces, you can right-click the extracted surfaces and select Hide to hide them and free up the graphics area. These surfaces will be listed under the Hidden Surfaces menu.

9. Once you are satisfied with all the extracted surfaces, click Ok to end the wizard and your surfaces will be extracted. You can now use surfacing tools, such as TrimKnit, and Thicken to turn the extracted surfaces into a solid model. Apply fillets/chamfers as necessary while using the original mesh for reference.

And that’s it. ScanTo3D offers more tools such as Curve Wizard, Deviation Analysis, etc which we will discuss in another article. We hope that this article helped you learn how to use the ScanTo3d add-in of SolidWorks to convert your mesh or scan data into a solid or surface body. If you have any questions or suggestions feel free to leave a comment down below.