What is an STL file?

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An STL file is a 3D model file format used in computer-aided design (CAD). STL stands for stereolithography and is commonly used for 3D printing. 3D printers use STL files to print three-dimensional objects. The file format is supported by numerous software packages and is widely used in the 3D printing community. STL files represent a three-dimensional object as a mesh of triangles. The mesh can be generated by scanning a physical object or by creating it from scratch using a computer-aided design (CAD) program. Each triangle in the mesh is associated with a set of coordinates that define its position in space. When an STL file is sent to a 3D printer, the printer creates the object by building up the surface of the object one layer at a time, using the information in the STL file.

History of STL file

STL was created in 1987 by 3D Systems as a means of commercial 3D printing. A computer-controlled laser beam and pre-programmed CAD software were utilized in the process to create 3D models for rapid prototyping. The STL file format is the standard for 3D printing and hasn’t experienced many changes since its creation. It still relies on triangular tessellation to generate the geometric exterior of an object, storing data about each triangle.

When to use STL file

STL files are a common file format in 3D printing. The format is supported by many CAD software programs and is often used for prototyping and design rendering. STL files can also be used for CNC machining and rapid prototyping. The file format is also supported by many 3D scanners, allowing users to create digital models of objects. STL files are an essential part of the 3D printing process and are often used in conjunction with other file formats such as OBJ and PLY.

When to avoid using an STL file

STL files are a common 3D printing file format, but there are some cases where you might want to avoid using them.

  • Avoid STL files if the model is too complex. STL files are made up of triangles, so if a model has too many small details, it can end up looking jagged and low-quality when printed.

  • Avoid STL files if accuracy is critical. If you need your model to be exact, it’s better to use a file format that can provide more precise results

  • In general, STL files are quicker to process than other 3D printing formats because they don’t have color or texture information. So, if you’re printing a multi-colored or textured object, STL is not your best option.

Overall, STL files have their advantages and disadvantages. In some cases, they’re the best option for 3D printing, but in other cases, it’s better to use a different file format.


The STL file format is nearly universally recognized by 3D printers, making it a dependable choice for your design and printing needs.

Binary STL

ASCII STL files are often large, so a binary version of the file format exists. A binary STL file contains an 80-character header. Binary STL files are just like ASCII STL files, but they’re encoded using a binary format. This makes them significantly smaller in size, and thus easy to transfer and store. However, binary STL files can only be read by computers that use the same endianness as the machine that created them. In other words, ASCII STL files are often more useful. Although binary STL files used to be unpopular, they have several advantages that have caused their use to grow in popularity. One significant advantage of binary STL files is that they can be read much more rapidly than ASCII STL files. The reason for this is that when data is encoded in a binary format, computer programs can interpret it much faster. Consequently, binary STL files are often utilized in 3D printing applications where speed is critical.

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Leon Olagh

Leon Olagh is an experienced photo retoucher and editor. He shares insights and expertise in the field of photography through his blog posts. His work reflects a meticulous approach to the art of creating and refining visual content.

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