3MF ensures that the files are 100 % manifold with no cracks or overlapping triangles avoiding problems common in other formats standardized for animation and VR rather than 3D printing. The Holy Grail in 3D printing is having a ready-to-print file which requires no adjustment or fixing – and 3MF seems capable of doing just this.
Just like AMF, it can encode information about the model’s color, material, and textures.
The 3MF 3D printer file format also introduces the concept of a “single archive” or “3D payload”. The file defines all standard, optional, and mandatory parts, with complete model information contained in a single archive. The payload consists of a 3D model(s), core document properties, digital signatures, 3D print settings known as “PrintTicket”, thumbnail images of all models, and 3D texture information.
The goal is to make 3D printing as simple as document printing – select a printer from the list, choose options, and print.
The application converts the model to .3MF and encapsulates it in an OpenXPS package. It’s then extracted by the print driver, converted into a readable format, and sent to the 3D printer. The .3MF file not only solves Microsoft’s print pipeline but also provides the same advantages for everyone across the board.
Shortcomings of the 3MF 3D printer file format
The 3MF 3D printer file format is still in its infancy and therefore does not enjoy widespread adoption. But since all the companies that need to adopt the format are already in the 3MF Consortium, adoption seems to be just a matter of time. You can check the level of adoption anytime.
The biggest concern with the 3MF 3D printer file format is how free and open-source it will be. Many people are skeptical because the format came from Microsoft. As we all know, Microsoft is notorious for its dubious and unfair business practices.
Concerns were raised over whether 3MF will become a proprietary Trojan horse for larger companies to monopolize and grind out the competition, or would it be released as open-source? Would this open the door to DRM issues, resulting in 3MF derivatives that would be subject to lawsuits?
Fortunately, one of the design goals of the 3MF format says explicitly, “Access to and implementation of the 3MF specification is and will always be free of royalties, patents and licensing.” Furthermore, Microsoft has made part of the codebase available on GitHub. Anyone can contribute code to this repository.
You can also get free access to the 3D Printing SDK and 3MF 3D printer file format specifications anytime by contacting [email protected]
While 3MF has done many things right till now, doubts remain over patent details and source code rights backed by a consortium of conglomerates
Where to download 3MF readers, writers, and validators
You can access the code that reads STL/OBJ/3MF files and writes 3MF files on GitHub. In addition, a web service to validate and repair 3MF files is available here. You can find much more on this 3D printer file format on the official 3MF website.
Other file formats used in 3D printing
So far, we have talked about the STL, OBJ, AMF, and 3MF formats. These are the most important 3D printer file formats.
But as we mentioned earlier, you can theoretically use any 3D file format for 3D printing. And people do use all kinds of formats. VRML, X3D, FBX, IGES, STEP, you name it. They have all been used for 3D printing at some point or another.
But these file formats are not really made for 3D printing. So while a fringe continues to use them, they will most likely never see any critical adoption.
Formats like VRML, X3D, and FBX are not designed for manufacturing: they have a lot of information on rendering effects such as lighting and fog but are missing true material properties, and their implementations are often inconsistent.
CAD formats like IGES and STEP are far too complicated. They include higher-order representations like NURBS, which is not really necessary for 3D printing applications. As the AMF and 3MF formats have shown, all you need is triangles. IGES and STEP are also convoluted specifications and writing consistent parsers for import and export support is not so easy.
This is why even though you will hear about people using these formats for 3D printing, all you really need to know is the big four: STL, OBJ, AMF, and 3MF. At least until another 3D printer file format comes out.
Which 3D printer file format should you use?
We have discussed four major 3D printer file formats with different capabilities and adoption. So which one should you choose?
It depends. Every 3D printing manufacturer and consumer has different needs. But here is a general guideline: