8 Top File Formats for sharing 3D and 2D CAD Designs

Published on in Category Basics

Each software has its own file formats, but the every one uses different software due to many reason, like cost, feature, etc. You may want to share your 3D/2D CAD designs with your customer or friend which can be further modified or with a fab house for prototyping/manufacturing. In this case both your software and the recipient’s software should understand the file format. This is where Neutral File Formats comes into play, here we will discuss about the best native file formats to use.

Neutral File Formats

CAD file formats generally fall into two categories either Native or Neutral(Standard) File format.

  • Native file formats are Proprietary of a particular CAD software maker, to be used with their software.
  • Neutral or Standards were specifically created to encourage interoperability, which helps exchange files between different software programs

Neutral or Standard File format make it easier to exchange files with someone who uses different CAD software, the most successful Native Formats are supported by a variety of software. Let’s have a look at some of the Neutral File Formats here:


STEP is the most widely used and most recommended of 3D file Formats. It is an ISO 10303-21 standard, so we know it is in the hands of a reputable standards-making body. Most of the software support STEP importing and exporting.


IGES stands for Initial Graphics Exchange Specification (pronounced eye-jess) is a vendor-neutral file format and is an older standard started by the US Air Force and taken over by ANSI.

Using IGES, a CAD user can exchange product data models in the form of circuit diagrams, wireframe, freeform surface or solid modelling representations. Applications supported by IGES include traditional engineering drawings, models for analysis, and other manufacturing functions

Since IGES was create at the beginning of Solid Model, there will be lots of feature missing in this file format, so we don’t recommend you to use the format for sharing your designs.


Parasolid is a geometric modeling kernel originally developed by ShapeData, now owned by Siemens PLM Software (formerly UGS Corp.), that can be licensed by other companies for use in their 3D computer graphics software products. Since the license is a big catch, not all software support it.

Parasolid combines the actual code kernel with a file format helps make sure everyone’s use is compatible, which is a good thing.


STL stands for STereoLithography (also has backronyms such as “Standard Triangle Language” and “Standard Tessellation Language”) is the universal format for pure 3D information created by 3D Systems. It is much-loved by 3D printers and somewhat loved by CAM. The biggest problem with STL is that it describes only the surface geometry of a three-dimensional object without any representation of color, texture or other common CAD model attributes. The STL format specifies both ASCII and binary representations. Binary files are more common, since they are more compact

STL is fine for 3D printing where a slicer doesn’t need to manipulate the CAD data much, but it is often not the best thing for CAD where you load a file that turns into a monolithic lump that is hard to edit much.


VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language, pronounced vermal is a standard file format for representing 3-dimensional (3D) interactive vector graphics. It carries somewhat more information than STL, but is read by fewer software packages. VRML has been superseded by X3D


X3D is a royalty-free ISO standard XML-based file format for representing 3D computer graphics. It is successor to the VRML. X3D features extensions to VRML (e.g. CAD, Geospatial, Humanoid animation, NURBS etc.), the ability to encode the scene using an XML syntax as well as the Open Inventor-like syntax of VRML97, or binary formatting, and enhanced application programming interfaces (APIs).


COLLADA (COLLAborative Design Activity) defines an open standard XML schema originally created at Sony Computer Entertainment managed by the nonprofit technology consortium, the Khronos Group, and has been adopted by ISO as a publicly available specification, ISO/PAS 17506.

COLLADA is one of the evolving file format and supported by popular software, it is used in gaming and 3d modelling.


DXF which stands for Drawing Interchange Format, or Drawing Exchange Format is a pure 2D format and technically should be viewed as a Native format. It is Autocad’s native 2D format. But Autocad is so ubiquitous and so many CAD programs support it that DXF has come to be a pretty universal interchange format for 2D information.

Did we missed any nice file formats, leave it in comment we will add them to the list.

TAGS: cad software

Share on: Email Facebook Twitter Google+

View/Write Comments