This invention relates to electro-optical sensing of form type and other defects on surfaces such as sheet metal or plastic panels. Method and apparatus are disclosed for detection and quantification of defects such as dents, creases, low spots, flat spots, etc. which are a result of the manufacturing, material handling and assembly process. Surfaces of interest are generally those of automobile body panels, (e.g. hoods, fenders), refrigerator panels, furniture panels, and aircraft panels. Similar applications exist to dies and other formed metallic or plastic parts. Both automatic and human visual methods and apparatus are disclosed. The disclosed invention is also effective on paint defects such as orange peel encountered in automotive and other applications. Assemblies of panels, such as car bodies may also be inspected using the invention, and both fixed and moving (e.g. robotic) sensor versions are disclosed.