Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The STL File. One way to get there from here.

It's one thing to have a 3D printer; but, it's not very useful unless you can send your part or masterpiece to it reliably. With so many different 3D formats being used somebody had to come up with an open standard that could be used as the common language between 3D modeling applications and the 3D printer.

While the software that drives some of the 3D printers are able to interpret .OBJ files, all of them, to the best of our knowledge, understand the .STL file format.

We recently found an excellent article on the STL file format that covers the topic in very clear terms.

Optimizing STL Output - ProtoType Magazine

We were surprised to learn that the file format goes back to 1987. And, the company that released it was 3D systems, the makers of the V-Flash Desktop 3D Printer! STL stands for STereoLithography. It's generally written as a text file; but, there is also a binary version.

In case you are interested, here is a sample of part of an .STL file:

solid C:\My Model

facet normal -0.799982 0.259131 0.541183
outer loop
vertex 4.87315 -1.83065 -0.0228412
vertex 4.828 -1.5632 -0.218208
vertex 4.69977 -1.74187 -0.320398



.... Repeats for each facet .............

As you can guess, STL files for complex shapes can be quite large since the vertexes of each tessellation (facet or triangle) must be thoroughly defined.


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toner online said...

An STL file approximates the shape of a part or assembly using triangular facets. Smaller facets produce a higher quality surface.