5 Main 3D Printer File Types: Everything You Need to Know

Embarking on the journey of starting a 3D printing business can be an exhilarating venture in 2024. This comprehensive guide aims to walk you through the steps necessary to launch a successful 3D printing startup, with a special focus on FormLabs 3D printers. These printers have gained recognition for their reliability and innovation in the 3D printing industry, making them a crucial keyword and component for anyone looking to enter this field. Whether you’re planning to start a 3D printing business from home or establish a larger operation, integrating FormLabs 3D printers into your business model can offer significant advantages. This guide will provide insights and strategies, ensuring clarity and focus as you navigate the path to a thriving 3D printing enterprise.

STL (Stereolithography)

The STL format stands as the cornerstone of 3D printing file types, garnering widespread recognition within the additive manufacturing community. Originally engineered for the pioneering technology of stereolithography—a process that constructs three-dimensional objects layer by layer under ultraviolet light—the STL format has ascended to become a de facto standard across the 3D printing industry. It is distinguished by its method of describing the surface geometry of a 3D object using a series of triangular facets, effectively omitting color, texture, or other supplementary attributes. This streamlined approach facilitates a high level of compatibility across a diverse array of 3D printing machinery, making STL files immensely popular for a broad spectrum of printing tasks. Despite its ubiquity, the format’s inherent simplicity also introduces limitations, particularly for projects that demand intricate detailing, such as the incorporation of color or texture. Consequently, while STL files are unparalleled for straightforward printing projects, their utility wanes for models that require a higher fidelity to complex aesthetic details or nuanced surface characteristics.

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OBJ (Object File)

In contrast, the OBJ file format emerges as a formidable alternative, especially esteemed for its enhanced capability to encapsulate more comprehensive data within 3D models. This format extends beyond the rudimentary geometrical representation, accommodating information pertaining to textures, colors, and even the specular highlights of surfaces, thus offering a richer, more detailed framework for 3D printing projects. Its versatility makes it particularly advantageous for executing prints that aspire to not only structural accuracy but also visual and tactile authenticity. For those navigating the vast terrain of 3D printing options and deliberating over the optimal file type for reproducing detailed, high-quality models, the OBJ format frequently surfaces as the preferred choice. Its ability to bridge the gap between simple structural models and those requiring intricate aesthetic details renders it invaluable for projects where the final product’s appearance is paramount. Therefore, when the objective is to achieve a higher degree of realism and complexity in 3D printed models, turning to the OBJ format is often the most prudent strategy.

AMF (Additive Manufacturing File Format)

The Additive Manufacturing File (AMF) format emerges as a sophisticated choice for enthusiasts and professionals seeking advanced 3D printing capabilities. Developed as an evolution beyond the limitations of the traditional STL format, AMF encompasses a broader spectrum of features, including support for color, multiple materials, and enhanced geometric complexity. This format enables a more nuanced and detailed representation of 3D objects, making it an ideal candidate for projects that demand precision and intricacy in both form and function. The AMF format’s ability to accurately convey the properties of various materials within a single print job revolutionizes the way multi-material objects are designed, facilitating a seamless transition from digital blueprint to physical reality. As the 3D printing industry continues to evolve, the AMF format stands at the forefront, offering solutions to complex printing challenges and expanding the possibilities of what can be achieved through additive manufacturing. For projects that require the integration of diverse materials and colors, or those that feature complex geometric details, the AMF format provides a comprehensive and capable file type, ensuring that the creative vision is faithfully rendered in the final printed object.

3MF (3D Manufacturing Format)

In response to the growing demand for more sophisticated and capable file formats in the 3D printing sector, the 3D Manufacturing Format (3MF) has been developed. It represents a significant leap forward, designed to address and overcome the shortcomings of previous file types. The 3MF format boasts an all-encompassing approach to 3D model representation, incorporating not just color and texture, but also providing detailed specifications on material properties, potential meta-information, and much more. This level of detail ensures that 3MF files can carry a complete and unambiguous description of the 3D model, reducing the risk of errors during the printing process and enhancing the quality of the final product. As a result, 3MF is positioned as a potential future standard for 3D printing, offering a robust and versatile solution that caters to a wide array of printing needs. Its adoption promises to streamline the manufacturing process, from design to production, by enabling a more direct and efficient translation of digital models into tangible objects. For those exploring the cutting edge of 3D printing technology, the 3MF format represents the pinnacle of file type sophistication, promising an era of enhanced precision, versatility, and reliability in additive manufacturing.


While not exactly a design file, G-Code plays a crucial role in the 3D printing ecosystem. It translates your 3D model into a set of instructions that the printer can execute. Specifically, G-Code is responsible for:

Translating 3D Models: It converts your digital design into a language that the 3D printer can understand, addressing the question of “what file format for 3D printing”.

Movement Instructions: G-Code tells the printer precisely where to move the print head, relevant to understanding “what files do 3D printers use”.

Speed Regulation: It dictates how fast the printer should move at different stages of the printing process.

Path Guidance: G-Code outlines the exact path the print head should follow for accurate printing, tying into “what file type do 3D printers use”.

Final Step in Printing: When considering the necessary file types for 3D printing, G-Code is the essential final step that brings your digital design to life.


Understanding the various 3D printer file types is crucial for anyone involved in 3D printing, from beginners to seasoned professionals. Each format has its strengths and applications, depending on the complexity and requirements of the print job. By familiarizing yourself with these formats, you can ensure that your 3D printing projects are not only successful but also meet your desired specifications and quality.

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