Tutorial - Scanning a metal key with the right amount of scanning/chalk spray

As soon as you get into photogrammetry, you will encounter certain surface types and materials that are not as easy to scan as others. Very often, people blame their photogrammetry software, but I have found that most programs are able to deliver similar outputs (as soon as the input is fine).


A metal key is a prime example of a difficult-to-scan object as it is both glossy and unicolor.

Anyway it is possible to get quite decent results with photogrammetry, when you follow some basic rules...

Inspect this one on SketchFab

This one is an allegedly 3d-printing-proof security key and as shown in some recent postings on Instagram and YouTube, it is easily possible to print a working copy on sub 200€ 3d printer. Unfortunately this possibility is widely ignored by manufacturers and so far I only encountered one key, that I haven't been able to copy.


 


Scanning Metal and Plastic (unicolor + glossiness)


Metal and plastic are two very prominent examples of hard to scan materials, as the surface has two challenging properties:

  • unicolor - Most plastic and metal parts have very unicolor surfaces/areas. Even if the object seems to have surface texture like for instance the layers of a 3d printed part, truth is that it is all just one color. The perseived texture comes from varying reflections, which will confuse any photogrammetry software!

  • glossiness - glossy/reflective surfaces create highlights that change position when the camera/object/light is moved. These highlights will be recognized by any photogrammetry software and will make the reconstruction quite difficult.

Generally speaking, the software tries to find tiny recognizable dots in each image, which are usually not present on plastic and metal.


Note, that even if a plastic object consists of several different colored areas, those areas themself are still unicolor and thus will not be picked up be the software.


 


The Solutions - Chalk Spray + Cross-polarization


So we need some kind of artificial features/dots. I have seen many people and even several tutorials using a pen to create such distinct features. The principal idea is okay, but consider the following:


photogrammetry software needs 10.000+ distinct features in each photo


The best way of creating such number of random features is the use of chalk or dedicated scanning spray. Try to spray the object from all sides. Most importantly try to avoid covering areas 100% as this would be a new unicolor surface with the same problem, we try to solve. Just to make one thing clear:


It takes quite some time and practice to get the surface of the object right. Take your time as this step is crucial for the outcome of the reconstruction.


Here you can see one of the photos from the above mentioned photo set. See how I evenly coated the surface. Therefore I hold the spray can 50-70cm away from the object which I hold in my other hand and apply the coating in short bursts.