3D Manufacturing Format or 3MF is an open source file format standard developed and published by the 3MF Consortium to replace the legacy STL format. It is an XML-based data format designed specifically for additive manufacturing. It includes information about materials, colors, and other information that cannot be represented in the STL format. 3MF is not intended to compete in the traditional CAD space which is represented by neutral formats.
When using any color-capable 3D printer, 3MF lets users bring texture information over with the print, the file format is also “human-readable,” so that it can be opened in a text editor to quickly understand what’s going on from lines of code that state coordinate information to data that shows when the machine needs to pause. In addition, to address the growing need of security, 3MF files are destructible, which means designers can limit the number of part copies before production.
Today, CAD software-related companies such as Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, PTC, and Siemens Digital Industries are part of the 3MF Consortium. Other firms in the 3MF Consortium are Microsoft (for the operating system and 3D modeling support), SLM, and HP, 3D Systems and Stratasys. Leading bureaus such as Shapeways and Materialise are also included to give insight from a 3D printing service background. Other key players in the 3D printing and additive manufacturing business joined the consortium to facilitate the adoption.
To date, several organizations have adopted the 3MF specification and dozens of products have now incorporated the 3MF file format, including all the leading CAD and simulation software publishers, with significant benefits in terms of file size and resolution. Here is a look at some of the best 3D modeling tools that support 3MF imports, exports and conversions.
- Maker: Microsoft
- Cost: Free
The 3D Builder app has modeling and editing tools and the ability to print to a Windows-compatible printer driver-equipped 3D printer. The app can be used as a reference and a test tool for 3D editing and for validating the 3MF files you create. You can download many kinds of 3D files, including 3MF, STL, OBJ, PLY, and VRML file types, and it can save models in 3MF, PLY, and STL file types.
CAD Exchanger (Rhinoceros Plugin)
- Maker: CAD Exchanger
- Cost: Free 2 week trial | Perpetual license – $750 (one-time fee)
Rhinoceros 7 offers native 3MF support however CAD Exchanger also collaborated with the Rhino development team to create a plug-in that allows for the direct import of 30+ (see the complete list of formats available here) CAD formats into Rhino. Its scope includes, but is not limited to, several neutral (JT, Collada, IFC), kernel (ACIS, Parasolid), and native (Siemens NX, CATIA, SOLIDWORKS) formats not supported by the package itself. Access the complete list of supported formats and their versions here: https://cadexchanger.com/formats/.
- Maker: Autodesk Inc.
- Cost: Free for non-commercial use
Fusion 360 is a cloud-based CAD/CAM/CAE tool for collaborative product development. It combines fast and easy organic modeling with precise solid modeling to help you create manufacturable designs. The Mesh tab contains mesh modeling tools within the Design workspace in Fusion 360 and supports parametric and direct modeling modes. Fusion 360 users can utilize the Mesh commands to insert, repair, and modify mesh bodies to prepare them for manufacturing. They can also export the repaired mesh bodies as a 3MF file.
Creo and Onshape
- Maker: PTC
- Cost: Creo Design Package starts at $2,780
Creo is a 3D CAD solution that ranges from the earliest phases of product design to manufacturing and beyond. It is marketed by PTC, a member of the 3MF Consortium. Users can export 3MF files from Part or Assembly mode or from the tray assembly. From there they can directly send models to the 3D printing preparation software on the 3D printer. Nesting, printability checks and support structures can be worked directly in the tray assembly. As of 2022, the export of assemblies or parts as a 3MF format is now supported by Onshape. Onshape also stores face color information with 3MF.
SOLIDWORKS and CATIA
- Maker: Dassault Systèmes
- Cost: The SOLIDWORKS student version starts at $99/per year; a CATIA license starts at $11,200 with yearly maintenance of $2,000
Conversion from CATIA V5 to 3MF is not supported yet. 3DS is working on it: the company always introduces new formats and users can upvote for this format. The new CATIA Lattice Designer role in 3DEXPERIENCE, however, enables a direct output to the formats readable by AM machines, including 3MF as well as STL and AMF, ensuring them to be watertight for printability. The Lattice Deisgner role was introduced to the 3DEXPERIENCE suite to enable the conception and design of previously unattainable lattice structures for lightweight parts that are produced using additive manufacturing.
With the SOLIDWORKS 2021 version, Dassault Systèmes introduced extended graphical support for 3MF files. Graphical items that can be exported from SOLIDWORKS to the 3MF format include the color of procedural appearances, textures of all mapping types such as UV mapping, projection mapping, cylindrical mapping, box mapping, and spherical mapping, and transparency.
- Maker: nTopology
- Cost: $7,500 per user per year
The nTop Platform is used for some of the most complex geometries. When it comes time to manufacture those parts, the export files can become extremely large. The 3MF file format helps to reduce that file size while maintaining the complexity, fidelity, and integrity of the engineered design. It does by exporting meshes that are often ⅓ the size of the STL file but also by exporting some lattice structures as a beam element which are much more efficient than a mesh representation. For instance, a full build volume of a diamond lattice structure, with variable thickness, can be exported as a 3,400 kb 3MF file and easily imported into software such as Materialise Magics. An STL mesh of the same geometry would be over 3 Gigabytes with a loss of resolution.
Magics, mimics and 3-matic
- Maker: Materialise
- Cost: varies
Materialise supports customers interested in expanding their operations to include the benefits of 3MF beyond the traditional STL and OBJ formats. Many 3D printing use cases are emerging and growing, particularly in medical and clinical applications, and the evolving scope and adaptability of 3MF are attractive as user needs become more refined. Materialise’s goal is to make 3D printing as streamlined as printing 2-dimensionally on paper so users can devote more time to complex designs. The company supports 3MF exports via its entire suite of software for the additive manufacturing workflow, including Magics, mimics and 3-matic.
- Siemens Digital Industries
Since 2019 Siemens NX added the ability to export the 3MF AM format as well as expanded coverage of 3MF format capabilities. Features include support for body color and body color assembly override, support for face color but not assembly face color overrides and support body texture on the component. This extends our additive manufacturing capabilities, adding power to the customer design process.
- Maker: Machineworks
- Cost: NA
Due to Polygonica’s wide usage in leading Additive Manufacturing software, there have been many requests for direct support of the 3MF format. Accordingly, the Consulting Engineering team has developed a bridge between 3MF and Polygonica, which is available to customers and evaluees in unsupported source code. The bridge covers most of the core 3MF specifications and the Beam Lattice extension.
Spin 3D File Converter Software
- Maker: NCH
- Cost: Free for non-commercial use
Spin 3D is a user-friendly and efficient 3D model converter that can convert between STL, 3DS, 3DP, 3MF, OBJ, and PLY mesh file formats. You can convert any 3D model or 3D design you create with any program to the format you want. Spin 3D also features multi-threaded batch processing making it easy to convert one file or many.
- Maker: Automapki
- Cost: $75 for a yearly subscription
Autoconverter gives you the power to import, export, and convert between the most common 3D mesh and solid file formats as a native Windows executable. Autoconverter includes tons of 3D file extensions, including 3MF, STL, OFF, OBJ, 3DS, IV, SAT, PLY, VRML, 3DM, SKP, DAE, STEP, IGES, COB, XYZ, IFC, FBX, X3D, U3D, DXF, X, GLTF, BLEND, LWO, AMF, TER, ASE, and RAW.
- Maker: 3D-Convert.com
- Cost: Free
3D-Convert.com is a free website that allows you to quickly and easily convert files. 3D-Convert.com offers 627 different file conversion options, including 3MF. You can upload your file from the site, and within seconds you’ll get your converted file. One thing to note about this site (and other free converter sites) is that many advertisements will be displayed since the website’s operation consumes money, which is how the producers ensure it remains free for you.
- Maker: SwiftConverter
- Cost: Free
SwiftConverter is another free website that allows you to convert your files online. You can use the 3D file converter on the SwiftConverter platform to convert between STL, 3DS, 3DP, 3MF, OBJ, and PLY 3D files. The program’s interface and functionality are straightforward, allowing you to drag and drop a 3D file up to 100 MB in size.
3D Printing SDK
- Maker: Microsoft
- Cost: Free
Microsoft’s 3D Printing SDK offers a collection of tools for Windows to facilitate the development of 3D printers and apps. This collection includes the 3D Manufacturing File format (3MF) specification and sample 3MF files and the full source code shows 3D printing from the Microsoft Store and a desktop application.
Sample 3D printer drivers. Most notable — and first on the bullet list above — to the 3MF Consortium are the developer docs available to generate a 3MF package. You can learn more here: Generate a 3MF Package.