.VRML (“vermal”, .WRL file extension), or Virtual Reality Modelling Language, is a newer file type than .STL. .VRML files can hold a single UV colour map so they are ideal for 3D printers with two extruders and for models that consist of more than one colour. This format is not as widely used as .STL, however the fact that it contains colour data means it definitely has its place.
The VRML format is used for interactive 3D objects and vector graphics. Slicing software like Cura can use VRML files but not all programs support it.
.3MF is a file format created by Microsoft. It is an XML-based data format. It was launched in 2015 to make 3D printing easier with a Windows 10 operating system. With .3MF, all model information is contained in a single archive and it is extensible. Unlike .STL, .3MF carries complete model information including mesh, textures, materials and colours.
Because it’s open-source and powerful, 3MF gets a lot of love in the 3D printing world. It’s most widely used in the commercial and industrial sectors.
.X3G is a proprietary file format used by Makerbot. It is a binary file that goes beyond an STL file because it also contains printer settings. So for example, an .X3G file contains all the information about when the 3D printer motor should move and at what speed. The file itself simply contains code that the Makerbot 3D printer can read and interpret.
Because X3G is a proprietary file format, it’s only used in certain ecosystems. If you’re not in one of those ecosystems, you can ignore it.
.AMF (Additive Manufacturing File Format) is an XML-based open-standard 3D printing file format with support for colour. These files can also be compressed to half the size of an STL file. These files contain an object, material, texture, constellation, and metadata information. This file format is not widely used at the moment, despite it offering more than an STL file.
Because it’s an XML-based, open-source framework for data exchange, AMF files have the potential to be the golden standard for 3D printing.
.FBX is a proprietary file format owned by Autodesk. Developed by Kaydara, this file format is used to exchange data between Autodesk programs. In other words, it provides interoperability between content creation programs such as Autodesk and Maya. This file format is widely used in film production and game development because it offers workflow improvements.
What does this have to do with 3D printing? You can convert an FBX file to STL, so it’s possible to save a design in the FBX format and convert it for 3D printing.
PLY (Polygon File Format) files are generated by 3D scanners. PLY files include a description of one object as a collection of vertices, faces and other elements. The information can include colour, transparency, surface and texture details and much more. When 3D printing, you convert a PLY file into the format accepted by the 3D printer.
PLY was first developed for 3D surface scanners and it is still used by some scanners today. It allows surface detail and RGB colour instructions.