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Title(s): Stererlithography File (STL).

Version ID: .

Date released: October, 1999.

Date: 1999.

Creator(s): 3D Systems

Contributor(s): 3D systems.

Relationships: The format was developed by 3D systems in 1999. It is intended for use with Stererlithography machines for the rapid manufacturing and rapid prototyping of physical 3D models. Because these models are meant to be manufactured by 3D printers, they have no color or textures attributed to them.

  • Previous Version(s):

The file format has not changed much since its inception due to its simplicity. However, the binary version of the file has two extra bytes at the end of every triangle. Some proprietary systems have used these bytes to store color data. One example of this is the VisCAM software.

  • Contains: none.
  • Syntax Format(s):

There are two formats for STL files, they can either be ASCII or binary.

    • ASCII: The ASCII format is simply a list of facets and their three vertices.
    • Binary: The binary format is similar to the ASCII format in that is is a list of triangular faces, however, each triangle has 16 bits of meta data that can be used for any information one might want to convey about the facet.
  • Family Format(s): none.

Description: The format is incredibly simplistic. The ASCII version is only a list of faces, their normals, and the vertices that they are comprised of. Each one of these faces must be a triangle. This simplicity is due to the intended use of the file. These files are not intended to represent complex and dynamic models with animations, skeletons and textures. These models are only meant to have one position, and no color. These are the only attributes that can be fabricated by modern Stererlithography machines.

History: The file format was developed by 3D Systems in 1999 as a way to model the objects that would be fabricated by their 3D printers. Because of the verbosity of the ASCII version of the format, a binary format was also developed. A file in the binary format is much smaller than its ASCII counterpart, and it has meta data bits for each triangle to enable the conveyance of unforeseen information about the model.

Example(s): STL Example


Documentation: 3ds Documentation

File Extensions: .3ds, .max

Applications: Autodesk 3ds Max, Mathematica, VTK, IVCON.

Magic numbers: 4D 4D (hex), MM (ASCII).

Format(s): application/x-3ds, image/x-3ds.

Rights: Proprietary license.

Sustainability Factors:

  • Standardization: none
  • Self-documentation: none
  • External dependencies: none
  • Technical protection considerations: none

Typical use: CAM, a model archiving file format.

File classification:

  • Type {Binary, Text}:binary
  • Raster data:
    • Raster data 2D:
      • Is Supported: false
      • Description: Contour data only.
    • Raster data 3D:
      • Is Supported: false
      • Description: Contour data only.
  • Geometric representation:
    • Implicit representation:
      • Implicit surfaces:
        • Is Supported: false
        • Description: Explicit surfaces supported.
      • Implicit curves:
        • Is Supported: false
        • Description: Explicit curves supported.
      • Point set:
        • Is Supported: true
        • Description: Triangle meshes supported.
    • Mesh:
      • Manifold surface meshes:
        • Is Supported: true
        • Description: Triangle meshes supported.
      • Manifold volume meshes:
        • Is Supported: false
        • Description: Surface meshes supported.
        • Non-manifold meshes:
        • Is Supported: false
        • Description: Non-manifold meshes change existing topology.
    • Parametric representation:
        • Is Supported: true
        • Description: Spline-to-patch surface.
      • Parametric curves:
        • Is Supported: true
        • Description: Splines and NURBS.
    • Contour sets:
      • Is Supported: false
      • Description: Surfaces are supported.
    • NURBS:
  • Multi-resolution models:
  • Dynamics:
  • Material transparency: