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MakerBot Digitizer: Bringing 3-D scanning to the masses

Just like you can rip a song or a movie onto your hard drive, now anyone (who has an extra $1,400 to spend) will be able to take a physical 3-D object, scan it, and create a digital copy. MakerBot's new Digitizer scanner will be available beginning next month.

"It's a machine that you put on your desk and you put things on it...and lasers shoot at it and it turns around and a camera takes a picture of it at every interval, and in less than 12 minutes it turns this physical object into a digital design," said MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis. "It jump starts the whole digital design process and really allows you to make really beautiful physical models very quickly."

If you're also one of the 23,000 consumers, who own the MakerBot Replicator—the company's 3-D desktop printeryou can print copies of your scanned model.

CNBC visited MakerBot's headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. to speak with Pettis, and to get a sneak peek at the Digitizer before it ships.

MakerBot’s Digitizer, a desktop 3-D scanner.
Source: Spencer Higgins
MakerBot’s Digitizer, a desktop 3-D scanner.

While the scanning technology is not new, the Digitizer makes the process of 3-D scanning fast and easy for anyone (no 3-D design experience necessary). "It's personal, it's on your desktop, and it empowers people who might not have been empowered before," Pettis explained.

The scanner starts at $1,400, with a $150 option for a service and support program. The Replicator 3-D printer starts at $2,200.

MakerBot's scanner is not for professionals who need precise replicas or engineers who want to digitize moving parts. You're also limited to objects less than eight inches in diameter and height.

For the best scan, MakerBot recommends objects that are lighter in color and have no reflective properties. As an example, MakerBot scanned a conch shell and printed the model on the Replicator printer.

(Read more: The 'gold rush' for 3-D printing patents)

MakerBot also recommends no living objects. So keep your pet hamster in his cage and off the scanner's rotating turntable.

And while there are limitations, CEO Pettis said the Digitizer sets the standard for affordable, desktop 3-D scanning.

"3-D scanning has been the 'missing link' for making 3-D robotic printers appealing to everyone," said Richard Doherty, research director for the Envisioneering Group, a technology consulting firm. "When a scanner can 'copy' and digitize, a favorite photo frame, a family heirloom, a personal object, then 3-D takes on a whole new dimension of personal importance," he said.

But competition isn't far behind. "Intel is working on a 3-D scanner for PCs, so you could 'rotate' an object in front of the camera and it would appear on eBay as a 3-D image," Doherty said.

Autodesk also has an online app, 123D 123D Catch, that uses cloud-based computing to create 3-D models from user submitted photos. There's no restrictions on size as long as you can submit photos from all angles. Plus, it's free and has an Apple iPhone app.

"This is a whole new frontier that we are embarking on…this is going to make the whole digital design process faster and easier for people and make the industry more accessible," MakerBot's Pettis said. "This is a whole new way of thinking about manufacturing."

Stratasys in June announced it had acquired MakerBot, founded in 2009.

(Read more: 10 ways 3-D printing will blow your mind)

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