Even though there are a variety of 3D file formats available, every industry loves using a specific file type. The reasons may vary from one industry to another. However, there are certain file formats commonly employed in a majority of the sectors. This article is all about knowing them.

In this article, we will start by giving you a brief introduction to the 3D file format and its features. It will help you gain a basic understanding of the concept. Along with that, we will discuss the popular 3D file formats used in different industries.

What is a 3D file format?

3D file formats store comprehensive details about 3D models including their attributes. Some of the formats that are popularly used include Collada, Obj, Stl, Fbx, etc.

These formats have wide applications in diverse fields like video gaming, films, 3D printing, academic projects, engineering visualizations, architectural projections, and various scientific applications.

Based on historical facts as well as ease of usage, different industries have embraced the most common 3D file formats.

Features of 3D File Format

Below are the important features of a 3D file format.

  • A 3D file format encodes the geometric information of a model and makes it readable on computers.
  • It allows the texture and material information of a model to be stored either separately or within it.
  • It can help in storing and saving scene data, i.e., the location in which the 3D object appears.
  • Unlike other file formats, a 3D file format offers support for animation rigging or encoding.

Popular 3D file formats

  • STL format

    STereoLithography or STL is a universal 3D file extension that is widely used in the segments of 3D printers, computer-aided manufacturing, and rapid prototyping. The .STL file extension had been popularized by 3D Systems which originally was in the business of developing stereolithography CAD software. This STL format was developed for facilitating the transfer of information related to 3D CAD modelling to 3D printers.

    With the help of an approximated triangular mesh, the 3D model’s surface geometry is encoded by STL. STL is also known by the synonyms ‘Standard Triangle Language’ or ‘Standard Tessellation Language'. This is because STL enjoys the reputation of being one of the initial 3D formats that exploited tessellations for surface geometry encoding. The scene, animated sequences, and appearance of 3D models are ignored by STL. ASCII as well as binary representations, both are specified by STL format. Due to the compact nature of binary files, they are commonly used.

    In Which Industries It Is Used More?

    Rapid prototyping, 3D printing, and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing).

  • Obj Format

    .Obj file format is primarily used for 3D printing. Approximate as well as accurate surface geometry encoding is supported by this extension. The surface mesh is not restricted to triangular facets when approximate encoding is used. Polygons can be used as quadrilaterals if the artist desires. Smooth curves along with surfaces like NURBS are used during precise encoding. Both texture and color information can be encoded by this. Material Template Library or .MTL extension is used for storing this information in a different file. Animation of any kind is not supported by Obj. Binary, as well as ASCII encoding, are specified by the format. ASCII encoded files are open source in nature.

    In Which Industries It Is Used More?

    3D Printing and 3D graphics.

  • FBX Format

    Primarily used in the movie industry and video gaming sector, the proprietary 3D model file format has been acquired by AutoDesk Inc. After its acquisition, it has been used as an interchange format by AutoDesk for its wide array of software like 3DS Max, Maya, Autocad, Fusion 360 along with different packages.

    The model geometry as well as color, texture, and other appearance-related attributes are supported by FBX. Morphs along with skeletal animations are also supported. ASCII as well binary files are extended support.

    In Which Industries It Is Used More?

    Movies and Video Games.

  • Collada Format

    This neutral file format is used optimally in the film making and video gaming industries and its extension are .Dae.

    Geometry, animation, textures, materials, colors, and other appearance-related attributes are supported by the Collada file type. Due to its support for physics and kinematics, it has become a rare 3D file format that stores information with the help of XML (Extended Markup Language).

    In Which Industries It Is Used More?

    Video gaming and Film making industries.

  • 3DS Format

    This file type is pronounced as eye-jess. Used for many years, this format is prominently used in engineering and defense industries. The US Air Force had conceptualized this format way back in the mid-70s. During the seventies, a significant amount of time used to be wasted by the Air Force for engaging in the long-drawn process of data sharing and conversion for compatibility with supplier-provided proprietary software. The problem used to worsen when projects of larger size such as missile delivery systems or aircraft carriers were worked upon. This is because many suppliers with their proprietary systems were dealt with.

    The US Air Force then collaborated with Boeing and other companies for developing the IGES format. This facilitated the interchanging of information related to 3D CAD models across all proprietary systems. The use of the IGES file format as the de facto standard for all weapons and defense-related contracts was made mandatory by the US Department of Defense in the 1980s. Both IGES and IGS 3D file extensions can be used for this format.

    In Which Industries It Is Used More?

    Academic, Production, Engineering and Architectural segments.

  • IGES format

    This file type is pronounced as eye-jess. Used since many years, this format is prominently used in engineering and defense industries. The US Air Force had conceptualized this format way back in the mid 70s. During the seventies, significant amount of time used to be wasted by the Air Force for engaging in the long drawn process of data sharing and conversion for compatibility with supplier provided proprietary software. The problem used to worsen when projects of larger size such as missile delivery systems or aircraft carriers were worked upon. This is because many suppliers with their proprietary systems were dealt with.

    The US Air Force then collaborated with Boeing and other companies for developing the IGES format. This facilitated interchanging of information related to 3D CAD models across all proprietary systems. The use of IGES file format as the de facto standard for all weapons and defense related contracts was made mandatory by the US Department of Defense in 1980s. Both IGES and IGS 3D file extensions can be used for this format.

    Surface geometry is represented with ease by this heavily flexible IGES format which uses ASCII encoding. Geometry related information is stored with the help of wireframes, accurate freeform surface architectures, CSG and circuit diagrams. Colors can also be stored by this format. However, support for material attributes such as texture and type is missing. Animation is also not supported.

    In Which Industries It Is Used More?

    Engineering and Defense industries.

  • STEP format

    STEP stands for The Standard for the Exchange for Product Data. The ISO 10303 conforming format came into existence for succeeding the IGES file format. Automobile, aeronautics, construction, and other engineering-related industries heavily use this file type. Both STEP and STP formats are acceptable.

    STEP was officially developed with the sole purpose of building a machine that can efficiently describe product data all through its life cycle without relying on any other proprietary system. The standard format initially developed suffered from size and complexity-related constraints. Consequently, the format was later disintegrated into the separate specification of modular nature in 4 important releases.

    All features which find support in the IGES file are also supported by STEP file format. Along with this, topology, texture, material type, geometrical tolerance, and other material or product-related sophisticated information are encoded by STEP.

    In Which Industries It Is Used More?

    Engineering domains like aeronautics, automobile, construction etc.

  • VRML and X3D formats

    VRML is pronounced as vermeil. It has the file extension of .WRL. It is an abbreviation of Virtual Reality Modeling Language. This was initially developed to support the World Wide Web. Later, VRML was substituted by the X3D file format. The format has not been widely adopted by major software makers. This may be due to the fact that the VRML extension failed to keep pace with the rapid advances of 3D graphics in real-time. Finally, the name of the VRML consortium had been changed to the Web3D Consortium. In 2001, the next-generation file format of VRML was launched with the X3D extension.

    X3D stands for XML-based 3D file type. The entire array of features supported by VRML file format finds support in X3D format. Also, certain additional features are supported by X3D. A polygonal mesh is used by the VRML format for encoding surface geometry. Information related to appearance like color, transparency, texture, etc. can be stored. With X3D, information related to the scene is stored. Animation is supported. Surface geometry can also encode NURBS.

    In Which Industry It Is Used More?

    Internet or World Wide Web industry.

  • AMF

    The AMF file format was introduced as a replacement for the STL format. It was launched in 2011 and was formerly called STL 2.0. One of the shortcomings of STL which it addressed were its incapability of storing texture, material, and color information. It also overcame its bloated and error-prone issues.

    The XML-based format also provides support for orientation, scales, geometry, duplicates, lattices, etc. however, the 3D printing industry has been quite slow in adapting to this format despite having a technical advantage.

    In Which Industry It Is Used More?

    3D modeling

  • 3MF

    3MF is a 3D printer file also developed to overcome the notable problems of STL file format. It was developed with a combined effort by various big companies like Microsoft, 3D Systems, Ultimaker, EOS, Autodesk, Stratasys, etc. The geometric representation of 3MF is similar to that of STL. However, it is more compact as compared to the AMF file format.

    If you are a 3D designer who is looking for a file format that can avoid bad geometry and print failures, then this is the one. Besides, it is even considered the ideal format for future 3D printing projects.

    In Which Industry It Is Used More?

    3D design, 3D modeling, and 3D printing

By now, you must have gained significant insights into the various open-source 3D file formats widely used. Knowledge of these formats is important to work in an agile manner in 3D modeling, video gaming, movie production, architectural visualization, 3D printing, and more. If you want to know more about them, you may get in touch with our 3D experts for more clarification regarding this.

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