What is the Difference Between a Point Cloud and a 3D Model?

When gathering as-built data from the existing structures, the output is often a 3D point cloud. A point cloud consists of huge amounts of data points in three dimensions (with X, Y and Z coordinates). The point cloud gathering can be done with a laser or sonar scanner, for example.

Usually point clouds are processed to solid 3D elements or surface models to enable their further use in planning and construction. But how can you use point clouds without modelling? In this article, we explain the difference between point clouds and 3D models in asset management.


Use point clouds as reference data for modelling

Some 3D data use cases, for example 3D printing, require surface models. A 3D point cloud is converted into a 3D mesh in a modeling software, and the resulting model can be used in CAD (Computer Aided Design) or BIM (Building Information Modeling) software.

A point cloud is often converted as 3D elements because of the size of a point cloud file. Modelling simplifies the data, shrinking the data file size. For software as well as hardware, the smaller datasets are easier to handle.

Use point clouds as BIM

Some details and information are lost in modelling the point cloud, as a surface model approximates the information. Point clouds can also be grouped and layered to form point cloud entities, as we have described in the previous blog “New approach to BIM – Point Cloud as 3D Model”. These 3D point cloud entities can then be used as solids, so that attribute information can be input straight to the point clouds.

One step of the workflow, the modelling, can be skipped in many occasions by using point clouds as BIM. In the online platform GISGRO, even larger point clouds can be utilized easily via a web browser, which allows their utilization in asset management. You can also combine point cloud data with 3D models, using the different data types however it is most convenient for you.

Discuss more about using point cloud as BIM and what it can do to your business by scheduling an online GISGRO demo with our specialist.

Ville Mäkeläinen


+358 44 513 2222


Schedule online demo


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