Brief Introduction: 4 Common Different File Formats for 3D Printing

3D printer file format acts as the information carrier which encodes the appearance, geometry, scene, and animation of 3D models, enabling the 3D printer to read the printable 3D models. However, not all 3D printer file formats can carry a variety of data.

There are mainly 4 common different file formats for 3aD printing, STL、OBJ、AMF、3MF. In this article, we will briefly and clearly introduce them to provide comprehensive information.

1. STL
The STL file format (abbreviation for stereolithography) is a three-dimensional graphics file format developed by 3D SYSTEMS in 1988 for rapid prototyping technology.

STL files are different from some other feature-based solid models. STL uses triangular meshes to represent 3D CAD models. It can only describe the geometric information of 3D objects. It does not support information such as color materials. STL is a simplified version of the 3D model.

Thanks to the simplified data and simple format, STL soon became widespread. With the rapid rise of 3D SYSTEMS, STL has become the de facto data standard for rapid prototype systems. There are two types of STL files: text files (ASCII format) and binary files (BINARY). In contrast, the ASCII format is more general.

2. OBJ
OBJ file is a standard 3D printer file format developed by Alias | Wavefront for its set of workstation-based 3D modeling and animation software "AdvancedVisualizer", which is very suitable for data exchange between 3D software models. If you want to transfer your 3D models from 3dsMax or LightWave to Maya for rendering or animation, the OBJ file is a good choice.

OBJ mainly supports polygon models, but not support animation, material properties, mapping paths, dynamics, particles, and other formats.

Due to the convenience of OBJ format in data exchange, most 3D CAD software currently supports OBJ format, and most 3D printers also support printing OBJ 3D printer file formats.

3. AMF
As more and more giants enter the 3D printing industry, the battle for data standards becomes more important. Whoever sets new standards will have the right to speak in the industry. "AMF" (AdditiveManufacturing File Format) is a new data format promoted by ASTM. As it is based on XML (Extensible Markup Language), there are two advantages: the one is can that it can be processed by computers, but also understandable by humans, and the other is that it can be easily expanded by adding tags in the future. 

AMF can record a single material, but also designate different materials for different parts, and can change the proportion of the two materials for modeling. The internal structure of the model is recorded with a digital formula. It is capable of specifying the image to be printed on the surface of the shape, and also to specify the most efficient orientation for 3D printing. In addition, raw data such as the author's name and model name can be recorded as well.

4. 3MF
3MF is a new 3D printing format introduced by Microsoft in 2015. Compared with the STL format, the 3MF file format can describe the 3D model more completely. In addition to geometric information, it can also maintain internal information, colors, materials, textures, and other features. 3MF is also an XML-based data format that is extensible. For consumer end-users, most well-known 3D printer brands such as Microsoft, Autodesk, Dassault Systemes, Netfabb, SLM, HP, and Shapeways can support this file format thus being convenient to get as much support as they can.

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