STL vs 3MF: Unmasking the Gladiators of 3D Printing Formats


If you’re into 3D printing, you’ve probably come across a maze of file formats. Who hasn’t been tangled up in a heated debate about STL vs. 3MF? So today, we will be Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, digging deep into the world of 3D printing file formats. Strap in for a wild ride!

Bullet Points:

  • The 3D printing world is full of crazy file formats. We’re breaking down two of the big ones: STL and 3MF.
  • Both file formats have pros and cons, like a cheeseburger and a salad.
  • Are you more of an STL person, or does 3MF tickle your fancy? Let’s find out!
  • What’s the future of these formats? We’re pulling out the crystal ball.
  • Regardless of your 3D printing needs, we’ve got you covered with solid advice.

II. What is STL?

So, let’s kick things off with STL. This bad boy is like the OG of 3D printing formats. It’s been around since the 80s (cue the synthesizer music) when 3D Systems developed it. Think of it as the beloved grandparent in the 3D printing family — reliable, well-known, but maybe lacking some of the flashier skills of the youngsters.

STL: The Pros

  • Simple and straightforward, just like your favorite grilled cheese sandwich. STL deals with raw geometric data, making it universally compatible with all 3D printers.
  • A vast range of software widely supports it. The STL format is like the Swiss Army knife in your 3D printing toolbox.

STL: The Cons

  • STL only carries surface geometry data. It’s like trying to understand the plot of a movie by only watching the trailer. You get the gist, but you’re missing many details.
  • In terms of colors and materials, STL has all the versatility of a black-and-white TV. It doesn’t support multiple materials or dyes, which can be a downer if you’re going for something more complex.

III. What is 3MF?

On the flip side, we’ve got 3MF. This is the new kid on the block, conceived by tech giants like Microsoft, HP, and others under the 3MF Consortium. It’s the flashy sports car to STL’s reliable old pickup.

3MF: The Advantages

  • 3MF includes detailed information about the object’s material and color and supports multiple structures. It’s like having a movie director walk you through every scene, explaining all the subtle nuances.
  • This format is future-oriented. If STL is a classic rotary phone, 3MF is the latest smartphone, with all the latest apps and features.

3MF: The Limitations

  • Being new, it’s not as widely supported as STL. Think of it as a hip indie band that hasn’t hit the mainstream yet. Not everyone is going to have their music in their playlist.

IV. Comparing 3MF and STL

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. If STL and 3MF were boxers, who’d come out on top?

Data Storage

  • STL files are more significant because they describe geometry in a roundabout way. It’s like giving directions using only landmarks. It works, but it’s not as efficient.
  • 3MF files are lean and mean, storing data much more efficiently. It’s like using GPS coordinates — straight to the point.


  • STL is limited in functionality; it’s like trying to paint a masterpiece with just one color.
  • 3MF, on the other hand, gives you a full palette to work with, offering more advanced options.


  • STL can lose precision because it uses approximations. It’s like trying to recreate your grandma’s secret recipe — it might be close, but it’s not exactly right.
  • 3MF retains more precision, offering a ‘what you see is what you get’ experience.


  • STL wins hands down regarding compatibility, given its age and widespread use. It’s like the Beatles — everyone knows and loves them.
  • 3MF is still finding its feet in terms of compatibility. It’s more like a promising new artist — not everyone knows them yet, but the ones who do, love them.

V. The Future of 3D Printing Formats

Looking into the crystal ball, we see some trends emerging. As 3D printing gets more complex, the demand for formats like 3MF that can handle this complexity will grow. It’s like moving from black and white TV to color and then to HD. Once you’ve experienced the best, there’s no going back.

That said, we can’t count STL out of the game. The old warhorse may adapt and evolve, surprising us all. After all, who doesn’t love a good comeback story?

VI. Conclusion

So there you have it, folks, the throwdown between 3MF and STL. Like chocolate and vanilla, both have their place in the 3D printing world. STL might be your go-to for more straightforward projects, while 3MF could be the ace up your sleeve for something more complex. Ultimately, the choice between 3MF and STL is all about what you need. You’re the master of your 3D printing destiny, so go forth and create!

And that’s a wrap! We’ve gone deep into the world of 3D printing formats, and hopefully, you’re walking away with some clarity. So, are you team STL or team 3MF? Or maybe you’re a bit of both? Either way, the future of 3D printing is looking pretty exciting!

Rush Chapman
( Founder )

Hello, my name’s Rush Chapman. I’m a 3D printing enthusiast. I started this site to help people choose 3D printing projects and select the best 3D printer for your needs, whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro!


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