Understanding point clouds: a key element in 3D modeling

Written by
Ray Gillinder
September 21, 2023

In the realm of 3D modeling, there's a hidden gem that plays a pivotal role in transforming physical reality into digital magic – the point cloud. In this blog post, we'll explore what point clouds are and how they're used to create 3D models.

What Is a point cloud?

A 3D model point cloud visualized in Birdi

A point cloud is a collection of data points in three-dimensional space, precisely representing the surface of objects or environments. These points are typically generated through a variety of methods, including laser scanning, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), photogrammetry, and 3D scanning technologies. Each point in a point cloud has coordinates (X, Y, Z) that define its position in space, and often includes additional attributes like color and intensity.

The anatomy of a point cloud

A point cloud is, essentially, a digital snapshot of reality, consisting of numerous individual points densely clustered together. These points collectively create a highly detailed and accurate representation of the physical world. The density of points can vary depending on the method of data acquisition, with more points providing a finer level of detail.

How are point clouds used in 3D modeling?

Point clouds are the building blocks of 3D modeling, serving as the foundation upon which virtual worlds and objects are constructed. Here's how they’re used in this creative and technical process:

1. Reality capture:

Surveying and Mapping: 

Point clouds are used for geospatial mapping, providing accurate representations of terrain and structures.

Architectural Documentation: 

Architects and urban planners rely on point clouds to survey and document existing buildings and landscapes.

2. Engineering and design:

Product Design: 

Engineers use point clouds to reverse engineer physical objects, creating digital models for analysis and modification.

Industrial Plant Design: 

Point clouds facilitate the design and optimization of complex industrial facilities.

3. Construction and BIM (Building Information Modeling):

Construction Verification: 

Point clouds are compared to architectural plans to ensure that construction aligns with design intent.

As-Built Documentation: 

Building owners use point clouds to document the as-built conditions of structures for future renovations.

4. Heritage preservation:


Point clouds are employed in the restoration of historical sites and artefacts, allowing for precise reconstruction.

Museum Exhibits: 

Museums use point clouds to create immersive digital exhibits of priceless artefacts.

5. Urban planning and transportation:

Traffic Analysis: 

Point clouds aid in traffic analysis, optimizing road design and safety.

City Planning: 

Urban planners use point clouds to simulate and plan city developments.

6. Environmental and geological studies:

Terrain Modeling: 

Point clouds provide detailed representations of landscapes for environmental assessments and geological studies.

Natural Disaster Prediction: 

Scientists use point clouds to monitor terrain changes that may indicate potential natural disasters.

Now that you’ve gained a better understanding of what point clouds are and the role they play in 3D modeling, ready to create your own? Follow the steps in our article on best practices for 3D modeling with drones

You can easily create point clouds with Birdi. Once you’ve captured your data, upload it into Birdi, request processing and make sure you select point cloud as one of your chosen outputs. From there you can either visualize the point cloud in our 3D viewer on a paid plan, or download the point cloud file on Free.

Ray Gillinder
Ray is an Operations Manager at Birdi, and also our Head Drone Pilot and resident expert on all things drone-related. When Ray isn't supporting the runnings of Birdi, he's out flying drones and capturing data at any number of sites.