The Tropic 3D Guide to 3D Printer File Types

You must have a 3D digital model of the part before you can print it on a 3D Printer. 3D models are available in various CAD file formats that can be edited with 3D modeling software (some free), such as SolidWorks, Fusion360, FreeCAD, Blender, and Rhino. Depending on the part, these models may require reverse engineering or 3D scanning. Once the model has been created, it can be used repeatedly for printing. A digital 3D model can be easily changed, which is a major advantage over injection molding and 3D printing.

We often discuss with our clients what type of 3D models we require for 3D printing and quoting. Although we prefer certain file types, we can work with many. The file formats we use are listed below, in order of preference. Upload any of these files on our website to begin your 3D print quote process. We can help you create a 3D design if you do not have one yet.

3D Model File Types for 3D Printing


The most common file format for 3D printers is .STL. This file type uses STL to create a triangle mesh to define surfaces. This standard industry file type allows users to create files of various sizes and shapes. These files are smaller and simpler, which makes them easier to edit and share. STL files can be found on many websites, including GRABCAD, Cults3d, CGTrader, Yeggi, Thingiverse, and Printables. They are free and make 3D printing accessible to everyone.

Our 3D modeling software is able to open and edit STL files easily. Our team has experience creating 3D printable STLs for different 3D printing materials and processes, including FDM /FFF, SLA / SLS, MJF / SLM, DMLS & Binder Jetting. If you send us an STL, we know that we are off to a great start.


The second most common file format is .OBJ. OBJ files are more complex than STLs because they include more information about the object, including its texture and color. These files are specifically designed for 3D printing and have higher resolutions. This additional data can make it easier to visualize the final product, but it is not always needed and may slow down the printing process. OBJ files may be required when printing a full-color part. They can also come with MTL files (Material Library), or VRML files, which contain additional data like color and texture.

If someone sends an OBJ, we can usually work with it. We will convert OBJ to STL for your convenience. We can manipulate OBJ files to ensure your parts are printed correctly.


It is not wrong to use .STEP files (Standards for the Exchange of Product Data), or .STP, for short. They are very useful for professionals that need to store a lot of information and data about their components in one file. They are often used by engineers, industrial designers, and product designers. These are ideal for projects involving iteration and design changes after download. They can be difficult to print because they contain so many details.

We almost always convert STEP files into STLs when we receive them for printing. This is to make the files more manageable. Although we have the software to open them, we do not prefer to use them for printing setup. Most software allows you to export 3D models as STL instead of STEP. We always appreciate it when customers choose this option. If we work with you to design 3D parts, STEP could be useful, especially in the early pre-printing stages.


.3MF is a newer file format that was developed in 2015. It is becoming increasingly popular. 3MF was developed as an open-source format to replace AMF. 3MF files can potentially eliminate a step from the 3D print setup process. Other file formats can be opened first in 3D modeling software, which allows them to be edited. They are then transferred to a slicer software to include additional printing information. 3MF files do not need to be opened with 3D modeling software. They can be directly imported into the slicer and converted into gcode for the printer.

It is easier for us to work with a 3MF print-ready file if a client provides it. It’s unlikely, however, that the file will be perfectly set up for our printers. We would likely still review the file with our modeling software, then convert it to gcode. However, it’s great to see people getting more familiar with 3MF files and slicers.

3D Design CAD File Formats

During the design stage, we can work with other CAD file formats, including JPEG, PNG, and DWG. We accept other file types for design work, such as JPEGs, JPGs, PNGs, DWGs, PLYs, DXFs, RVTs, and NWDs. We also accept sketches drawn by hand, even when you give them to us on a napkin.

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