The Ultimate Guide to 3D Laser Scanning and Mapping

The Ultimate Guide to 3D Laser Scanning and Mapping


Welcome to SiteSurv USA, where our mission is to set the standards in land surveying supplies by offering top-quality, affordable products and unparalleled customer service. For over 15 years, we have been dedicated to helping professionals achieve precision and efficiency in their surveying projects. Today, we delve into the fascinating world of 3D laser scanning and mapping, a technology that is transforming the landscape of land surveying.

3D laser scanning has revolutionized the way we capture, analyze, and utilize spatial data. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the intricacies of 3D laser scanning, its applications, and how it integrates with Geographic Information Systems (GIS). We will also compare 3D mapping with traditional land surveying methods, discuss the advantages of 3D mapping over 2D technology, highlight who benefits from 3D mapping, and provide insights into finding the best 3D laser scanners available at SiteSurv USA.


Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What is 3D Laser Scanning?
  3. How 3D Laser Scanning Works?
  4. What is 3D Mapping?
  5. Differences Between 3D Laser Scanners and Handheld Scanners
  6. 3D Mapping vs. Traditional Land Surveying
  7. 3D Scanning and GIS
  8. Who Needs 3D Mapping?
  9. Top 3D Scanning and Mapping Softwares
  10. The Best 3D Scanners
  11. The Future of 3D Mapping
  12. Conclusion


What is 3D Laser Scanning?

Definition and Explanation

3D laser scanning is a technology that uses laser beams to capture the precise shape and dimensions of objects, structures, and landscapes. By emitting laser pulses and measuring the time it takes for them to bounce back from surfaces, 3D scanners create highly accurate digital representations, known as point clouds, of the scanned environment.


3D laser scanning has a wide range of applications across various industries:

  • Construction and Architecture: Creating detailed 3D models of buildings and construction sites.
  • Heritage Preservation: Documenting and preserving historical sites and artifacts.
  • Manufacturing: Quality control and reverse engineering of parts and assemblies.
  • Forestry and Agriculture: Mapping terrain and vegetation for better land management.


The advantages of using 3D laser scanning in land surveying are numerous:

  • Speed: Rapid data acquisition compared to traditional methods.
  • Accuracy: High precision measurements with minimal human error.
  • Detail: Comprehensive data capture, including hard-to-reach areas.
  • Versatility: Applicable in various environments and conditions.
Stonex X300 Laser Scanner Being Used Out on the Field.

Stonex X300 Laser Scanner Being Used Out on the Field.


How 3D Laser Scanning Works

Technical Details

3D laser scanning involves several steps and components:

  • Laser Emitter: Projects laser beams onto the target surface.
  • Receiver: Captures the reflected beams and measures the time of flight.
  • Processor: Converts the raw data into a digital point cloud.

The process begins with positioning the scanner in the survey area. The scanner emits laser pulses in a systematic pattern, sweeping across the target surfaces. As the beams hit objects and return, the scanner records the time taken for each pulse to return. This data is then processed to generate a detailed 3D model.

Data Processing

Once the scanning is complete, the raw data undergoes several processing steps:

  • Point Cloud Generation: The raw measurements are compiled into a point cloud, representing the scanned area in three dimensions.
  • Noise Filtering: Unwanted data points, such as those from moving objects, are removed.
  • Alignment and Registration: Multiple scans from different positions are aligned and merged to create a complete model.
  • Surface Modeling: The point cloud is converted into a surface model, which can be used for analysis and visualization.

Accuracy and Precision

3D laser scanning provides unparalleled accuracy and precision. The technology can capture minute details, ensuring that the digital models are highly accurate representations of the real-world environment. This level of detail is crucial for applications where precision is paramount, such as construction and heritage preservation.

A step-by-step infographic illustrating the scanning and data processing steps.

What is 3D Mapping?

Detailed Explanation

3D mapping is the process of creating three-dimensional representations of objects, spaces, and environments. Unlike traditional 2D maps, which provide only a flat, top-down view, 3D maps offer a comprehensive view that includes height, depth, and spatial relationships. This added dimension allows for a more detailed and accurate representation of the real world.

Creation of 3D Maps

Creating a 3D map typically involves the following steps:

  • Data Collection: Using tools such as 3D laser scanners, drones, and photogrammetry software to capture spatial data.
  • Point Cloud Generation: Compiling the collected data into a point cloud, which consists of millions of points that represent the surface of the scanned area.
  • Data Processing: Filtering, aligning, and merging multiple point clouds to create a cohesive model.
  • Modeling: Converting the point cloud into a 3D model that can be used for analysis, visualization, and planning.


3D mapping is used in various fields, including:

  • Urban Planning: Designing and managing urban spaces with a detailed understanding of spatial relationships.
  • Construction: Planning and monitoring construction projects with precise 3D models.
  • Environmental Monitoring: Studying natural environments and assessing changes over time.
  • Heritage Preservation: Documenting historical sites and artifacts in 3D for preservation and restoration efforts.

Advantages Over 2D Technology

3D mapping offers several advantages over traditional 2D technology:

  • Enhanced Visualization: Provides a more realistic and comprehensive view of the surveyed area.
  • Greater Accuracy: Captures precise dimensions and shapes, reducing the margin of error.
  • Improved Analysis: Enables more detailed and thorough analysis of spatial data.
  • Versatility: Can be used in a wide range of applications, from urban planning to environmental monitoring.

Differences Between 3D Laser Scanners and Handheld 3D Laser Scanners

3D Laser Scanners

3D laser scanners are typically larger, tripod-mounted devices designed for scanning extensive areas or large objects. They offer high accuracy, long-range capabilities, and the ability to capture detailed data quickly.

Handheld 3D Laser Scanners

Handheld 3D laser scanners are portable, lightweight devices that can be easily carried and operated by a single person. They are ideal for scanning smaller objects or areas with complex geometries. Handheld scanners offer flexibility and ease of use but may have limitations in range and accuracy compared to their larger counterparts.

Choosing the Right Scanner

When deciding between a 3D laser scanner and a handheld 3D laser scanner, consider the following factors:

  • Project Size: For large-scale projects, a tripod-mounted 3D laser scanner may be more suitable. For smaller projects or objects, a handheld scanner could be more convenient.
  • Accuracy Requirements: If high precision is critical, a tripod-mounted scanner may provide better results. Handheld scanners are useful for detailed scans in hard-to-reach areas but may have lower accuracy.
  • Portability: Handheld scanners offer greater portability and ease of use in the field.
  • Budget: Handheld scanners are generally more affordable than tripod-mounted scanners, making them a cost-effective choice for smaller projects.


3D Mapping vs. Traditional Land Surveying


While traditional land surveying relies on manual measurements and tools like theodolites and total stations, 3D mapping leverages advanced technology to capture data more efficiently. Traditional methods involve taking discrete measurements at specific points, whereas 3D scanning captures a continuous dataset over the entire survey area.

Pros and Cons

Aspect 3D Mapping Traditional Land Surveying
Speed Faster Slower
Accuracy High Moderate
Detail High High (Limited by Surveyor)
Cost Initially higher, but cost-effective in the long run Lower initial cost, but time-consuming and labor-intensive


An Example To Think About...

Consider a construction project where the site needs to be surveyed for planning purposes. Using traditional methods, surveyors might spend days or weeks capturing the necessary measurements. In contrast, a 3D laser scanner can complete the survey in a fraction of the time, providing a comprehensive model that includes every nook and cranny.

SLAM with the Stonex X120GO Handheld Scanner

SLAM with the Stonex X120GO Handheld Scanner


3D Scanning and GIS

Integration with GIS

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are powerful tools for managing and analyzing spatial data. When combined with 3D scanning, GIS can offer enhanced capabilities for visualization, analysis, and decision-making.

Enhanced Capabilities

Integrating 3D scanning with GIS allows for:

  • Detailed Terrain Models: Creating accurate digital terrain models (DTMs) and digital elevation models (DEMs).
  • Improved Data Analysis: Analyzing spatial relationships and patterns with greater accuracy.
  • Enhanced Visualization: Visualizing complex datasets in three dimensions for better interpretation and communication.

For example, urban planners can use 3D scanned data within GIS to assess building heights, shadow impacts, and urban heat islands more effectively.

Who Needs 3D Mapping?

3D mapping is essential for various professionals and industries:

  • Construction and Architecture: For creating precise building models and planning construction projects.
  • Urban Planning: To analyze city layouts, infrastructure, and environmental impacts.
  • Heritage Preservation: Documenting and preserving historical sites in detail.
  • Mining and Oil & Gas: For mapping excavation sites and monitoring structural integrity.
  • Environmental Science: Studying natural landscapes and monitoring environmental changes.

Top 3D Mapping Software

ArcGIS Pro ArcGIS Pro is a powerful GIS software that supports 3D visualization and analysis. It allows users to create detailed 3D maps and perform complex spatial analyses, making it ideal for urban planning, environmental science, and more.

Autodesk Revit Autodesk Revit is a Building Information Modeling (BIM) software that enables architects and engineers to create detailed 3D models of buildings. It supports collaboration and coordination across different disciplines, enhancing the design and construction process.

Petrel Petrel is a geoscience software platform used in the oil and gas industry for reservoir characterization, simulation, and management. It provides powerful 3D visualization tools to analyze subsurface data and make informed decisions.

Stonex Cube-3d Software Cube-3d is a comprehensive software for 3D data management, featuring modules for photogrammetry and scanner data. It processes images and point clouds to generate accurate digital maps and 3D models. Key features include automatic classification, orthophoto generation, cross-sections, volume calculation, and more. Cube-3d is compatible with a wide range of 3D models and traditional survey data, making it highly versatile.


Stonex PointCab Software PointCab is designed for easy point cloud processing. It works with all laser scanners and is compatible with all CAD and BIM systems. Features include automatic ortho photo creation, floor plan and section generation, and integration with Revit and Archicad through dedicated plugins. PointCab Origins is ideal for professionals who need efficient and precise point cloud data processing.

Finding the Right 3D Laser Scanners

Top Brands

At SiteSurv USA, we offer a range of 3D laser scanners from top brands, ensuring that our customers have access to the best tools available. Some of the leading brands we carry include:

  • Leica Geosystems: Renowned for their precision and reliability.
  • Trimble: Known for their innovative technology and user-friendly designs.
  • FARO Technologies: Specializing in high-accuracy portable 3D measurement systems.
  • Stonex Positioning: Stonex products, coming from Italy, are known for their high quality and affordability.

Product Recommendations

Here are some recommended models:

  • Leica BLK360: Compact and lightweight, Leica BLK360 Laser Scannerideal for quick and easy scanning.
  • Trimble X7: Features automatic calibration and self-leveling for consistent accuracy.
  • FARO FocusS 350: Offers long-range scanning capabilities, perfect for large projects.
    Stonex X150 3D Laser Scanner Up Close Image
  • Stonex X150 Laser Scanner: High-quality, affordable option for accurate 3D scanning.





Why Buy from SiteSurv USA

At SiteSurv USA, we pride ourselves on:

  • Quality: Offering only the best products from reputable brands.
  • Affordability: Competitive pricing to fit your budget.
  • Customer Service: Expert advice and support to help you choose the right equipment.

Future of 3D Laser Scanning in Land Surveying

Technological Advancements

The field of 3D laser scanning is constantly evolving, with new technologies enhancing its capabilities. Advances such as mobile scanning units, drones equipped with 3D scanners, and improved data processing algorithms are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.

Industry Trends

Future trends in land surveying with 3D laser scanning include:

  • Increased Automation: Reducing manual intervention and speeding up the survey process.
  • Enhanced Integration: Seamless integration with other technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
  • Expanded Applications: Broader use in fields such as environmental monitoring, disaster management, and smart city planning.



In conclusion, 3D laser scanning is revolutionizing the field of land surveying, offering unparalleled accuracy, efficiency, and detail. By integrating this technology with GIS, professionals can gain deeper insights and make more informed decisions. At SiteSurv USA, we are committed to providing the highest quality 3D laser scanners at affordable prices, backed by exceptional customer service.

Explore our range of 3D laser scanners on our website and discover how we can help you achieve excellence in your surveying projects. Contact us today for more information or to place an order.

Explore 3D laser scanners on the SiteSurv USA website and contact us for more information or purchases.