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What is a Point Cloud?

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What is a Point Cloud? 04:52
A 3D scanner generates a point cloud. Each point in the point cloud is a measurement point that the 3D scanner has detected on the object’s surface. Each point has an XYZ value that determines its position in the coordinate system. In addition to the XYZ coordinates, certain point clouds can also store the color and light intensity of the measurement point. A direction vector can also be assigned to each point—this indicates the direction in which the point is oriented.
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How Can You Look at a Point Cloud?

You can view a point cloud with a free 3D viewer. Depending on the file format you want to look at,
you’ll need an appropriate viewer. These are our free favorites:

Point cloud of a house called Fleetschloesschen
Swann Rack / Holocreators This is what a point cloud looks like in CloudCompare

Hardware Requirements for Visualization

Point clouds can consist of millions of points. Therefore, a powerful computer is needed to visualize
large point clouds. Point clouds have a very raw character since they are only a collection of points in
the coordinate system. With a 3D viewer, the 3D object appears half-transparent because you can
look through the captured points.

Point cloud medium-zoom
Swann Rack / Holocreators When zooming into the point cloud…
Point cloud with more zoom
Swann Rack / Holocreators …you can see that the point cloud…
Point cloud maximum-zoom
Swann Rack / Holocreators …is made from thousands of points.

How Are Point Clouds Processed Further?

Depending on the application, point clouds are filtered, for example, to extract points with specific
parameters. In most cases, however, point clouds are converted into a polygon mesh. There are
many names for this conversion, such as “meshing” or “polygonization”.
The conversion of a point cloud into a polygon mesh can be done by running software that connects
all the points to form a mesh of triangles (polygons). The converted file is then exported in the STL
file format. If colors are present in the point cloud, they can be output as a color map (file format for
color: OBJ + JPEG).

Connecting the point cloud points for polygonization
Swann Rack / Holocreators Polygonization: Points are connected to form polygons

What Are Some Point Cloud File Formats?

The simplest file format for a point cloud is XYZ. It stores all points as (XYZ) values in a huge text file
(ASCII text format). This file format is advantageous because it can always be read and is, therefore,
future proof.
A big disadvantage of the XYZ format is that colors, intensity and vectors are not stored. Due to this
limitation of parameters, much information is lost.
Therefore, many 3D scanners and software companies have created their own point cloud format to
store the data more efficiently.

Here are some relevant open point cloud file formats:

  • *.xyz
  • *.ply
  • *.las
  • *.e57
  • *.pts
Swann Rack explaining a point cloud
Swann Rack / Holocreators Swann Rack answers the question: What is a point cloud?


Point clouds are the first elementary step in digitizing an object. The point cloud represents the
measured values of the 3D scanner in a raw form. Based on this information, further steps can be
taken depending on the application.

Do you need help with the processing of a point cloud?

Holocreators offers professional 3D-scanning and reverse engineering services. We specialize in the
creation and processing of point clouds. We’d love to help you with your project. Please call us at +49 40 481133 or send an email

Swann has been enthusiastic about everything 3D for many years. His roots lie in analog holography, which brought him to digital 3D-modeling in 2011.

The rapid progress of various 3D-scanning techniques fascinated himso much thathe founded Holocreators together with his brother Miro Rack in 2015.

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