The Ultimate Guide to 3D File Formats

As digital technology has advanced, 3D printing has become easier to access. Both individuals and professionals can now own printing equipment and create various models. The key is understanding the essential concepts, especially when using the correct file formats. Different industries and practical considerations may lead to a preference for specific file formats for 3D printing. This article will discuss the most commonly used 3D model formats and their main features.

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STL, short for “Stereolithography,” is one of the earliest 3D model file formats. Despite being developed in the late 1980s, it remains popular. Unlike other formats, STL only includes the surface geometry of a 3D object and doesn’t include color, texture, or other attributes. The file extension for STL is “.STL,” and these files are typically created using computer-aided design (CAD) programs. If you need to edit or fix your STL files, various software options are available, such as 3DSlash, FreeCAD, SketchUp, MeshLab, SculptGL, MeshMixer, and Blender.

The STL file condenses with a 3D surface into a collection of small triangles, increasing their quantity to depict and replicate curved surfaces accurately. However, this inevitably results in a significant increase in the file size of a 3D model in STL format when many triangles are required.


The .OBJ file format finds extensive utilization in the realm of 3D printing. It carries the file extension “.OBJ” and boasts the advantage of preserving color and texture information stored in a separate file with corresponding extensions. “MTL”. The files in the OBJ format allow for the utilization of non-triangular faces and their adjacency to one another. Software like Autodesk Maya 2013, Blender, and MeshLab can be used to open these files.


Developed in the 1990s, the 3DS file format stores basic information about geometry, appearance, scenes, and animations. It can hold properties like color, material, texture, and transmissivity. One advantage of this file format is that it can be read by many software programs on the market, including 3dsMax, ABViewer, Blender, MeshLab, messiahStudio, Rain Swift 3D, SketchUp, TurboCAD, and more. The file extension for this format is “.3DS”.


The SLDPRT file is compressed for 3D printing images in SolidWorks CAD software. It comprises a 3D object, which can be combined with other elements of a . extensorsSLDASM assembly file. At the same time, SolidWorks software is typically used to open SLDPRT files. It can also be viewed using software such as Autodesk Fusion 360, SolidWorks eDrawings Viewer, Acrobat Pro 9 or later, or Adobe Acrobat 3D.


The .SCAD file format is created by OpenSCAD software, which is a free modeling program used for creating 2D and 3D designs. This file format allows users to design 3D objects by specifying their positioning information and geometry. It can only be accessed and viewed using OpenSCAD software.


The file format .BLEND is commonly used for 3D animations and projects created with the 3D modeling tool Blender. This format can contain numerous scenes and all project elements,  textures, 3D meshes, objects, real-time interaction data, audio assets, lighting information, animation keyframes, mapping layouts, and interface configurations. So,  as you know, only Blender software is compatible with this specific 3D file format.


Various design programs utilize the 3MF file (.3MF extension) to store 3D model file formats specifically for printing purposes. This format comprises compressed ZIP files containing the model itself alongside material and property data. Additionally, 3MF files offer room for a print ticket, a thumbnail image, and one or multiple digital signatures. 


A file that has the extension .GCODE holds the instructions for a 3D printer on how to print. It includes details like print speed, temperature settings, and the path that the printer should follow. Programs like Simplify3D and Slic3r are used to create this type of file. To read it, you can use Simplify3D as well as Blaze3D, GCode Viewer, and NC Viewer


3D model file types made with SketchUp software are the.SKP file. This file includes wireframes, textures, shades, and edge effects. It is not only used to store components for your document. However, it can also be opened by other programs such as IMSI TurboCAD Pro or Deluxe, Okino Computer Graphics PolyTrans, ACCA Edificius, and Trimble 3D Warehouse.


FBX is a file format used extensively in the film and video game sectors for 3D printing. Created by Kaydara and later acquired by AutoDesk, it enables the representation of commonly employed widely. These broad geometric elements are widely used within this as visual aspects like color and texture. Additionally, FBX supports skeletal animations and morphs. AutoDesk has chosen the FBX file format with the extension “.FBX” as the standard for exchanging files among its software suite, including AutoCAD, Fusion 360, Maya, 3DS Max, and others.

Other file types for 3D printing are not only limited to 3D but are commonly employed within this industry.


A RAR file is a compressed archive that holds one or more files. This format has a higher compression ratio compared to the traditional ZIP compression. It is utilized to shrink file sizes for convenient transportation and storage purposes. Compression programs like RARLAB WinRAR, Corel WinZip, or B1 Free Archiver can extract files from a RAR archive.

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