3MF is a new 3D printing format that will allow design applications to send full-fidelity 3D models to a mix of other applications, platforms, services and printers. The 3MF specification allows companies to focus on innovation, rather than on basic interoperability issues, and it is engineered to avoid the problems associated with other 3D file formats.
3D printers have evolved and innovated beyond the capabilities of today’s 3D file formats. For example, one of the most common formats, STL, has significant limitations and issues, which the 3MF specification is specifically designed to avoid or overcome.
3MF is an XML-based data format – human-readable compressed XML — that includes definitions for data related to 3D manufacturing, including third-party extensibility for custom data.
The 3MF file format is
- Rich enough to fully describe a model, retaining internal information, color, and other characteristics
- Extensible so that it supports new innovations in 3D printing
- Able to be broadly adopted
- Free of the issues besetting other widely used file formats
The code to read or write 3MF is available as open source: Microsoft’s donated code reads STL/OBJ/3MF, writes 3MF, and can use Web Services for model repair. The source code will be on Github and cross-platform code is in development.
The 3MF Consortium manages the changes to the official 3MF spec, including the acceptance process for changes coming from consortium members and from open source changes. Eventually, conformance will also be addressed by the 3MF Consortium.
Benefits of 3MF for Additive Manufacturing
The 3MF format is designed to be an additive manufacturing format, with the complete model information contained within a single archive: mesh, textures, materials, colors and print ticket. 3MF provides a clear definition of manifoldness — open source code available for rapid validation and there is no ambiguity for models with self-intersections.
Transforms and object references are supported, with multiple objects contained within the single archive. Single objects can be referenced or moved without changing the mesh, and multiple identical objects can be placed referencing the same mesh.
When Microsoft sought to implement 3D printing support that would solve customers’ existing problems and address future needs, an important consideration was how applications should pass model data to 3D printers. After conferring with others in the industry, Microsoft and its partners concluded that no currently released file formats could meet the stated goals for 3D printing support. Although STL – the most commonly used file format – would continue to be important, much more functionality was needed.
The partners determined that the best approach would be to create a new 3D file format — the 3D Manufacturing Format (3MF) — through a group effort with broad industry involvement, serving the entire 3D printing community. Accordingly, Microsoft donated its 3D file format work-in-progress as the starting point for the 3MF Consortium’s collaborative further development of the specification.