Total Station vs Laser Scanner

Surveying is the first step in your construction and facility management operations. The general industry practice is in the usual conflict of selecting the most appropriate out of the total station and laser scanner. If you are the person in the dilemma of the same query, this blog will detail both the prospects of surveying and site documentation.  3D laser scanning involves accurately recording the size and shape of a physical item as a 3-dimensional digital representation.

Scan to BIM Process

A 3D scanner uses a line of laser light in a non-contact and non-destructive manner to capture the geometry of tangible items. From an object’s surface, 3D laser scanners produce “point clouds” of data. 

3D Laser Scanners VS. Total Stations: What's the difference?

3D Laser Scanners vs Total Stations

➡️ Dedicated Laser Scanner

  • Ideal for general contractors and BIM organizations involved in regular scanning and point cloud data processing.  
  • Best for capturing large areas, especially for dome scans that allow quick comparison with as-designed models. 
  • Well-suited for projects involving complex areas, such as as-built documentation for renovations or retrofit projects. 
  • More expensive than total station scanning but can save time, reduce rework, and provide valuable data for maintenance and operations. 

A total station is an electronic device primarily for surveying construction projects. It incorporates electronic distance measuring (EDM) capabilities with an electronic transit theodolite. Then for data collection and triangulation computations, the device has an inbuilt computer. 

➡️ Scanning Total Station

  • Suitable for concrete contractors primarily involved in layout work and occasional slab flatness analysis. 
  • Although, it provides accurate data without requiring extensive scanning expertise. It could only be compatible with works about not-so-large areas and complexities.  
  • Prompt and more resourceful with data for slab flatness analysis compared to a manual total station. 
  • Relatively cheaper than laser scanners. However, it has limitations of its own, especially for BIM companies handling a wide range of scanning data.  

Deciding between using a scanning total station or a dedicated laser scanner depends on the specific needs and requirements of your construction project. Here are some considerations: 

To determine the best between these two for your needs, it is important to thoroughly analyze your business plan and operation requirements.  

Consider the types of projects you currently work on and whether a scanning total station or a dedicated 3D laser scanner would be more suitable.  

The answer is more about supplying your business demands than comparison in technology. Some surveying firms may specialize in harnessing total stations for scanning whereas laser scanner offers technological advantages.  

Also Read:-  3D Scanning: Understanding the Difference between in LIDAR VS LASER SCANNING. Do you need help choosing the right 3D scanning method for your project? Contact us today for a free consultation.

➡️ Case 1: One could use the total station for simple topographical surveys  

If your firm frequently performs boundary and topographic surveys, total station is an excellent instrument option to invest in. It could be 4X the high accuracy compared to the traditional methodology while utilizing the scanning capabilities for topographic projects.  

➡️ Case 2: For addressing large and complex projects, a laser scanner is a choice 

On the other hand, if you regularly need to scan large areas and want to offer 3D laser scanning as a standalone service, a dedicated laser scanner would likely be more suitable to maximize speed and data capture. High-speed laser scanners especially the Leica RTC360 can swiftly capture dense and high-quality scans, including High-Dynamic Range (HDR) imagery, in under two minutes.  


➡️ Case 3: A laser scanner is superior to a total station in terms of technological capabilities  

Workflow is another crucial consideration. The preference should of course be state-of-the-art equipment and skilled workforce for the point cloud data by a dedicated 3D laser scanner. However, a more viable option could be starting with a total station, which follows an easy survey integration, and gradually expanding your point cloud capabilities over time.

The point here for every BIM vendor is to make the most out of best-in-class laser scanners in the market. Most of the BIM scanning operations are being done in compatibility with point cloud data and mesh models, that is exactly what a laser scanner could offer. Also, web solutions like are already exploring the automation of point cloud data to intelligent BIM models.  


Read More:- Scan to BIM Process: What You Need to Know For Your Business

In conclusion, the right choice between a total station and laser scanning is dependent on the multiple project metrics. 

➡️ Project Requirements

Is it about simple topographical land surveying or facility management coupled with remodeling services?  

Analyze the facility condition 

Laser scanners are better in terms of portability and their capabilities in addressing complex projects.  

Operation budget limits to plan out the scanning equipment 

It would not be a financially wise decision to invest in laser scanners if you are typically a surveying firm not involved in the technicalities of design-build operations.  

On the other side, if you are catching up the industry trends such as digital twins and NFTs, the internet suggests Leica scanners should be considered.  

However, one thing to note here is the constant improvement in portability or compatibility with automation software for laser scanners makes it a better choice if you don’t have a budget constraint.