For anyone wanting to 3D print an object, you will need to convert your 3D model to a .STL file format.
STL stands for Stereolithography file and is a file format specifically designed for the layering process used by 3D printers. But 3D models, or ‘meshes', are used for many different purposes and so 3D files can be found in a number of different formats, but will need to be converted to .STL in oder for them to be printed.
It's a little like the layers of a Photoshop file or the embedded alphas of TIFF files being processed before printing out on to paper.
Popular 3D file formats.
Many different 3D file formats exist with extra features surplus to the needs of 3D printing. Embedded animation keyframes, lighting, shading and texture mapping information are just some of the ‘extras' held in these formats. For the purpose of 3D printing, these extras are dumped by the .STL file format and the basic mesh is converted into slices for the layering process. Below is a list of popular file formats that can be converted to .STL.
To convert 3D files to STL you must first have some 3D software to open the file you wish to convert. We would recommend downloading and using Blender for this purpose. It's a highly supported and completely free fully featured piece of software that's capable of some very high quality 3D work. Don't let Blender's complexity intimidate you, there are lots of getting started videos, or if you like, you can skip learning all of Blender's 3D modeling tools and simply import a file and export as STL!
Check out the video below for a look at some of the ways that Blender is used in 3D printing.