Overview of 3D File Formats and 3D Printing

There are lots of 3D file types, but STL is the most common format used in 3D printing.

STL, short for Stereo Lithography, is the de facto standard for 3D prototyping. It describes an object by the vertices of triangles in Cartesian space. A STL file can be encoded in either ASCII or in Binary.

Some other common types of 3D file formats are:

  • AMF - AMF was designed to be an improvement over STL. It is used in experimental 3D printing processes, which uses multiple forms of material (such as different colors) simultaneously. AMF also supports advanced geometric attributes, such as curved triangles.
  • 3DF - 3DF is a proprietary 3D model format created by Microsoft. 3DF is similar to AMF, but it does not have some of the features of AMF.
  • STEP - STEP (or STP) files originated as a manufacturing standard. It is usually formatted in ASCII and it typically contains data about a physical product in addition to the 3D model.
  • IGES - IGES (or IGS) files came about as a U.S. Air Force research project. The format was adopted by other aerospace related agencies and now the format is common in aerospace applications.
  • OBJ - OBJ is a general all-purpose file format created by a company called Wavefront Technologies. It has some features not present in STL files, such as textures for surfaces of models.
  • DXF - The DXF file format found its birth in architecture related applications. DXF is an older format that was introduced by the company Autodesk. Among the features of this file type is a preview image of the model stored within the file data.
  • 3DS - 3DS is a modeling format that is common in animation applications, such as CGI effects for movies and video games. One of the unique features of 3DS files is the way that the data is structured in chunks of varying length./li>

If you want to print a 3D model, you usually need to convert it to a format that is accepted by your 3D printer. You may also need to repair or process the file to optimize it for 3D printing.

One option to prepare a 3D model for printing is 3DTransform.com. 3DTransform is a free online software program for 3D printing. You can click here to convert a file to STL.

If you want to integrate the conversion of different 3D files into your own application or software, then an option to consider is the 3DTransform web API for 3D printing.