The STL File: 3D Printing's Universal Format

stl fileThe STL file is the standard file format needed for 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping purposes.   Very much like the TXT file format used in desktop publishing,  the STL file allows users  to print and make copies of their designs (via 3D printing) using a wide variety of 3D CAD software.  The STL file is opened by the 3D printers unique software interface.  This software will “slice” the model in precise layers, and translate that information into the tool paths that will physically create the design layer by layer.  The picture to the right, is an example of how the software slices the STL file. Note that this picture is being used to show the software’s processing of the STL file. The actual orientation and build plane would be chosen differently for efficiently 3d printing this Design.

Almost all professional 3D CAD platforms have the ability to “export-as” or “save-as” an STL format.  It is very important to check your export options and ensure that the STL file will be created at high resolution with low tolerance of surface deviation.  This ensures geometric accuracy.  The 3D CAD software is translating a unique code and making it interchangeable for 3D printing and rapid prototyping purposes, the proper resolution settings and units of measure are critical to a quality result.

As the popularity of 3d printing has grown in industry and manufacturing, many 3D CAD platforms can now “import” an STL file that can be then converted to a base solid. This allows the base solid to be modified mainly for streamlining the rapid prototyping and 3d printing process.  This is a very nice feature to have when you work with 3d printing technology that requires the STL format and leads to much higher productivity.

stle 3d fileGenerally, creating an STL file is a simple process provided that the user is familiar with 3D CAD and the concepts of rapid prototyping.  However, sometimes issues do arise in the translation process even for the professional user.  Faces and features can be literally “lost in translation.” 

We are happy to assist clients in getting the proper STL needed to 3D print their designs, simply Contact Us with any questions.


STL (STereoLithography) is a file format native to the stereolithography CAD software created by 3D Systems.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STL_%28file_format%29