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Looking for universal 3D graphics file format

I'm looking to find a single file format into which I can export 3D graphics primitives (lines, polygons etc.) and I want to maximize the number of people and applications who can import that format, or convert it to their own preferred format.

I'm in the academic/scientific domain (so I'm not really interested in games apps) and I'm cross-platform (so no Windows-only formats).

DJ Clayworth
Friday, May 23, 2008
There is no universal file format. Find out what your target audience is using.

Friday, May 23, 2008
I'm not an expert by any means but I've seen a lot of modelling apps supporting .3DS format.

A good test would be get some 3d modelling apps on trial version and see what common formats they support for file import.
Dravidian Send private email
Friday, May 23, 2008
Some formats you may want to look at.


IGES, STL, DXF were all developed specifically for exchanging 3d CAD information between different software.
TrippinOnIT Send private email
Friday, May 23, 2008
Discrete, which owns 3dsMax and Maya, two of the biggest 3d modelling applications, pushes it's own ASE (Ascii Scene Export) format.

I know you said no games, but most game editors rely on importing objects from 3dsMax/Maya in this format.
Friday, May 23, 2008
The format you're looking for is Collada
Mike Send private email
Friday, May 23, 2008
I work for a company that produces software that makes use of architectural CAD drawings, and our software supports 3D drawings in DXF [ ], DWG [ ], DWF [ ], and PDF [ ].

If you want people to be likely to be able to open your files in 3D tools, DXF is a good bet - it's been around since 1982, is text based, and is easy to support. If you want to have a chance of random people being able to open your files without installing more software, PDF is probably a good bet. Mac OS X and most Linux distributions ship with PDF readers. On Windows, many people have already installed Adobe Acrobat.
Gareth Send private email
Friday, May 23, 2008
DXF is fairly primitive though, it supports 3d points, lines and flat surface facets. It is difficult to understand and also extremely verbose.
Not what you need if you need to describe complex surfaces or raw data with millions of points.
It can't easily handle CAD objects/assemblies or raytrace and texture information.
Martin Send private email
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Would VRML be of any use to you?
IanH. Send private email
Saturday, May 24, 2008
A second for collada what you are describing is the whole point of its existence.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Collada is the VRML of today (or perhaps the Esperanto of 3D graphics formats).  Great concept and all the soundbites are excellent.  But the reality is that arbitrarily close to zero people are actually using it for anything real.

If you want to support a large number of packages well, you probably need to support a large number of packages.  There is no shortcut today.
system of a Don Send private email
Monday, May 26, 2008
You need to refine your idea of "3D graphics".  If you're leaning toward the CAD world, a .dxf format seems to be the most universal.

If you're looking at modeling, .3ds is among the most common, but it is far less clear cut.

What you may need to do is save to a format that can be opened by a program that can then export to multiple formats.
Lance Hampton Send private email
Tuesday, May 27, 2008

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