Overview of the most common 3D printing file formats

Overview of the most common 3D printing file formats

3D printing file format

The abundance of different file formats that you encounter in the world of 3D printing leads time and again to uncertainties or confusions. The file formats used depend on which design software was used, which 3D scanner was used and which 3D printer was to be used. 

The following article presents the most popular file formats and is intended to serve as an orientation, in format confusion. Since we cannot handle all formats at this point, we limited ourselves to the following 9 file formats (STP, IGES, STL, X3D, COLLADA, WRL, OBJ, PLY, AMF), but there are dozens more.

CAD formats


The file format .STP is the filename extension of a product data transfer standard (STEP) and was developed to replace IGES. In addition, STP can store everything that IGES can do, but also stores tolerances, material properties, textures, material types, and topologies. While IGES is still widely used for amateur applications, the STP format is preferred in the professional field.


The file format ‘ I nitial G raphics E xchange S pecification’ was developed in the 70s by the US Air Force in cooperation with Boeing. It should facilitate the exchange of data between the Air Force systems and their suppliers. The format can also represent colors, but no textures. It is already a bit old and is not developed any more, but still enjoys a considerable popularity among amateur users.

Mesh formats


Stands for ‘ S tandard T esselation L anguage or St ereo l ithografie‘ (the first 3D printing process). Can be used as standard “language” in the ” C omputer– A ided-systems” means. Nearly all CAx systems can work with this file format. 

The object data are stored in the form of a grid (based on triangles). STL is the 3D printing format par excellence, practically all 3D printers, from the hobby 3D printer to the industrial machine, work with this format. More information about CREO and formats visit CREO training center in Coimbatore.


The ‘E X tensible 3D ‘ format is based on XML and has the great advantage that the files can also be displayed in the browser using a plug-in. The X3D format can also work with NURBS . According to the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), X3D will replace the WRL format and form a new standard in this area. Currently, it plays in 3D printing but still a minor role, as many programs for printer control with this format cannot or insufficiently.


Like X3D, ‘ COLLA borative D esign A ctivity’ XML is based. The associated file extension is .DAE. It is an open exchange format between 3D programs. A big advantage of the format is the possibility to display animations. There are efforts to establish this format nationwide, but currently it plays a very subordinate role.

Color formats


The file format is popular when it comes to working with 3D color models that you want to print later. The ‘ V irtual R eality M odeling L anguage’ is a description language for 3-D scenes and is indicated by the file extension .WRL. For the representation of the geometries a grid is used. The format is to be replaced by the will of the W3C by X3D. Currently, WRL is by far the most popular color 3D printing format besides OBJ.


OBJ is an open file format for displaying 3D geometries. It can use both polygons and curves and surfaces (NURBS), as well as storing the vertex positions. The textures and the UV positions are usually saved in a separate file in the format .jpg (“texture”). The file format is widely used because many design programs can export their data to the .OBJ format. Most 3D printers are capable of printing objects using an .OBJ file. OBJ is the standard format for color 3D printing alongside WRL .


‘ P o LY gon’ file format files are mostly generated by 3D scanners and need to be converted by the 3D design software so that the data can be used for 3D printing. In addition to the geometry of the object, data about z. As edges, color values ​​and materials stored.


The ‘ A dditive M anufacturing F ile format’ is an open, XML-based standard for describing 3D objects. The format includes information about the shape and composition of the object (color, material, and gridlines). Conversion to STL is feasible without data loss. The big advantage of AMF is that it is highly compressible. The format should replace STL in the future, but has not yet prevailed.


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