3D Sculptures: What is involved in building a sculpture after the photo?

This is an overview on what needs to happen to a raw 3D scan before it becomes a full color 3D printed figurine.

One of the most overlooked items is how much time and effort it takes to turn a raw 3D scan into a product their end customer is happy with.  Multiple hours of manual digital post-processing are required to turn the raw data produced by your full body 3D scanner into something that will turn out well when printed on a full color 3D printer. This is almost the complete opposite of regular photography where we are used to being able to instantly print beautiful looking photographs when only spending a few minutes in Adobe Photoshop to touch them up.

Here is the list of everything you need to do for making 3D figurines from raw 3D scans:

  1. Process raw 3D scan data at "print-level" quality (2 to 8 hours of computer time)
  2. Send raw 3D scan to 3D artist (1 to 6 hours of person time)
  3. Scale touched up 3D scan (5 minutes of person time)
  4. Load touched-up and scaled 3D scan into the 3D printer’s software and start the 3D print (5 minutes of person time)
  5. Run full color 3D printer (3 to 20 hours of printer time)
  6. Remove the 3D print(s) from the 3D printer (15 minutes of person time)
  7. Post process the 3D prints that were deemed acceptable quality (20 minutes of person time)
  8. Spray "Fix All" onto the sculpture to minimize sun bleaching
  9. 2 step waterproofing process
  10. Pack and ship the 3D prints (5 minutes of person time)


1. Process raw 3D scan data at "print-level" quality

While not all 3D figurine companies do this, it is becoming more and more common. Instead of just sending a 3D scan off to a 3D artist right away, some companies will reprocess the 3D scans with more robust algorithms. The reprocessing can sometimes automatically remove problems from the 3D scan such as texture misalignment, inaccurate geometry, etc. 

2. Send raw 3D scan to 3D artist


Once you have reprocessed your raw 3D scan, you would send it off to a 3D artist. A 3D artist will use 3D software programs (such as Zbrush, Maya, 3DS Max, etc) to fix any remaining issues with the file. Because of the variance in 3D scan data quality, 3D artists will normally spend an average of 1-6 hours fixing a single 3D scan.

3. Scale touched-up 3D scan

When all of the 3D digital edits have been made to the 3D scan, the file needs to be scaled appropriately. Most 3D printers take their measurements in millimeters so we will want to make sure we set the units correctly and then scale the model to the appropriate height. For example, if the customer wanted a 9 inch full color 3D print, we would scale to 229 mm. 

4. Load touched-up and scaled 3D scan into the 3D printer’s software and start the 3D print

Loading the file into the 3D print software is pretty straightforward. You will want to make sure everything is oriented in the print bed properly and take note of the estimated finish time.

5. Run full color 3D printer


Once you start the full color 3D printer, you must wait until your files are done printing. Depending on how many full color 3D prints you put in the printer at once, this can take anywhere from 3 to 20 hours. Every couple of hours it is a good idea to check on the full color 3D printer to make sure it is still running successfully, as the printer may error out during the process.

6. Remove the 3D print(s) from the 3D printer

When the printer finishes, the parts dry in the 3D print bed for 2-3 hours. After drying, the prints are carefully removed and inspected for breakage, color shift, build lines etc (all print quality issues).  Normally 1 in 3 prints will need to be reprinted because of a defect.

7. Post process the 3D prints that were deemed acceptable quality

After removing the 3D prints from the 3D printer and inspecting quality, it is time to dip the prints in super glue to lock in the colors and give them strength. Once dipped in the super glue, the prints need to dry for 2 to 3 hours before they're ready to be packed and shipped to customers.  Then a UV inhibitor is sprayed on (exactly what is used on paintings), then a spray to reduce water damage).

8. Pack and ship the 3D prints

When the prints are dry from the super glue, the 3D printed figurines are off to customers. The sculptures need to packed carefully to minizmize breakage that can happen in shipping.



By now, you've probably realized that doing 3D printed figurines is pretty time consuming which is why most companies outsource it. On average there is about 4 hours of manual work that needs to be done on each 3D scan before it can be delivered to a customer as a 3D printed figurine.