Microsoft has concluded that none of the existing 3D output formats meet the goals for its 3D printing support in Windows and is now proposing instead to develop a new XML based format, the 3D Manufacturing Format (3MF) for Windows 8.1. 3MF will be designed to make 3D output a much more straightforward and manageable process. The format is intended to deal with issues such as the loss of detail and metadata during export, the need for intermediate stages en route to printing and the use of multiple apps in the workflow. In addition, the format is intended to provide a standardised framework to encourage the growth of a hardware and software ecosystem for 3D printing.
STL, the most common 3D printing file format, is missing features such as colour and material support and is not rich enough as the primary data format for passing data from apps to devices. In addition, many of the existing 3D formats are unsuitable for the Windows spooler and print pipeline. Thus, the decision was made to develop the new format.
3MF is an XML-based data format, which includes definitions for data related to 3D manufacturing including 3rd party extensibility for custom data. The 3MF format will provide a solid foundation for 3D printing support in Windows 8.1. With this data format defined, it becomes possible to integrate 3D printing support into the OS, using familiar Windows technology.