3D Laser Surveying – How it Works – Better. Faster. Cheaper.

3D laser surveying, or high-definition scanning, is quickly becoming the new industry standard when it comes to making precise measurements in complex environments.

Construction companies use laser scans to gather precise data on site terrain, renovations and additions. Architects use them to check proposed design models against existing conditions to fine-tune their designs, and engineers use 3D scans to work with real-world conditions in complex industrial as-built and plant environments.

The scans are quick, accurate and highly detailed and the result is big savings of both time and money by eliminating costly return visits to the project site and reducing the need for expensive reworks.

So, what exactly is this technology and how does it work?

How 3D Laser Scanning works. 3D laser scanning uses high speed lasers that fire at incredibly high rates of speed. The image is created from a “point cloud,” which contains millions of points that can be measured precisely including the distances and elevations between points.

AutoCAD drawings and 3D computer models are produced from the scanned data, enabling engineers, architects and designers access to 360° interactive high resolution images from any desktop computer.

Better. 3D laser scans are incredibly precise. The scans can be used to produce point clouds, digital color photos, survey-quality files, or computer models of objects, roads, bridges and buildings. You can also produce videos from the scans of multiples views; insert animation or virtual buildings, roads and people to show proposed areas; or insert design drawings from BIM to check for clash or interference.

Faster. 3D laser scans are fast. Depending on the scanner needed, it typically takes between five minutes to 30 minutes for a high resolution scan.

Cheaper. The cost of a high-resolution scan ultimately depends on the size and overall complexity of the project. On very simple projects, a traditional survey is typically less expensive. But for complex projects – such as a major intersection crossing in a high commercial area – a 3D scan is cheaper in the long run.

Because you can revisit the original scan multiple times from your computer desktop, costly return visits to the project site are eliminated. The precision of the scan also eliminates the need for construction reworks and expensive retrofitting. Sometimes the cost savings resulting from a 3D scan exceeds the cost of the scan itself by 300%.


Tate Jones has over 40 years of experience in land and aerial surveying and was one of the country’s earliest adopters of 3D laser scanning technology. A nationally recognized expert in the field of 3D data capture, he has worked with hundreds of clients in the engineering, architectural and construction industries. Contact him at or visit