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Introduction to Meshlab

Meshlab is a powerful open source tool for processing and editing 3D meshes. It provides a set of tools for editing, cleaning, healing, inspecting, rendering, texturing, and converting these 3D models. This very short introduction covers downloading the tool, importing an .obj 3D file downloaded from SketchFab, and taking basic measurements.

Downloading Meshlab

As an open-source tool, Meshlab is easy to download and install in just a few simple steps!
  1. 1.
  2. 2.
    Choose your operating system (Win/Mac/Linux) and click to download.
  3. 3.
    Navigate to the download folder on your computer and double-click to start the installation.
The Meshlab download page should look something like this

Downloading a Model from Sketchfab

Sketchfab is a hosting platform for 3D models. Many of these models are free to download and are listed under a Creative Commons license. Here are a few simple steps to download a model from the site:
  1. 1.
    Go to sketchfab.com. You will need to make an account with an email address and password to download models.
  2. 2.
    While many models are free to download, others require you to pay. Boston College Digital Scholarship has its own collection of models from around BC that are free to download once you have an account.
  3. 3.
    For this tutorial, we will be using the model named "Skull A" from a biology class at BC, located within the Boston College Digital Scholarship Collection. To download the 3D files, simply open the page containing the model and click "Download 3D model" beneath the name of the model. All downloadable models will have this button.
  4. 4.
    A few choices of download types will appear: (a) the original format the file was uploaded in (in this case an "obj" file); (b) gITF, which is useful for web-viewing frameworks; and (c) UZDZ which is for alternate reality (AR) frameworks. For opening in Meshlab, the original format (.obj) is a good choice. Click "Download" and a zip file containing the .obj will download.
  5. 5.
    Once downloaded to your computer, unzip the file. Once unzipped, you will need to go into the unzipped folder (skull-a), open the folder called "source", and then unzip a second folder called "SkullA" which contains three files, including our .obj. Now you are ready to import the obj into Meshlab.
Click "Download 3D Model" to download the open model...
Download the obj version of the model to open it in Meshlab

Importing a Mesh into Meshlab

Once Meshlab is installed and you have downloaded and unzipped the model you want to open, start up the program. Your opening screen should look like this:
Meshlab Startup Screen
Once open, importing a model is easy. Go to File --> Import Mesh and navigate to the location where you unzipped your .obj file (in my case, the file location seen below). Select "SkullA_scaled.obj" and the file will open in Meshlab. It should look something like the screenshot below.
Be sure to unzip all the folders on Windows to import your file
Skull A opened in Meshlab

Meshlab Basics and Measuring

Meshlab is a powerful tool, but we are only going to be using the very basics for now. To start, you simply need to be able to rotate, zoom, and measure the object.
  • To look more closely at the skull, simply click and drag to rotate the model in various directions.
  • To zoom in and out, use two fingers on the trackpad or the scroll wheel on the mouse.
A close look at the eyes
  • Finally, to measure the object, click on the little measuring tape in the main toolbar, which will look something like this:
Measuring Tape Icon
Remember: units for this model are in meters.
Click on endpoints of the distance you want to measure. In the case below, I measured across the eyes of a different model, Skull B, with the result of approximately .095 meters, or 9.5 centimeters! Keep in mind that the units of measurement in Meshlab are in meters, so be sure to convert if need be.
Note you can open more than one 3D model at a time in Meshlab, though if they do not have associated spatial data, they might end up on top of one another. You can turn on and off meshes using the little "eye" icon next to the mesh name in the top right corner of the screen.