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Working with 3D: Designing and Saving for 3D Printing

You have your digital 3D model; get it in shape for printing on a desktop 3D printer.

Keep in Mind

Designing a model for 3D printing is different from designing for rendering and animation. Keep in mind that your model should:

  1. Be watertight. If you filled your object with water, would it leak out? Sometimes your form might include intentional holes, but be careful to avoid accidental issues in your geometry.
  2. Have no non-manifold geometry. This means that the geometry cannot have holes or overlapping faces.
  3. Have thickness. This isn't always necessary if you'd like your object printed solid, but is crucial if you are creating an object with some hollow areas, such as a vase.
  4. Be one solid object. A model intended for 3D printing cannot consist of lots of little models shoved together to create what looks like one big object. Specifically, a model must be one piece with no geometry clipping through other geometry. 
  5. Meet the size requirements of the 3D printer bed. Models should be designed with the idea in mind that they will be no larger that 6in X 6in X 6in if they are to be printed at the Auraria Library Innovation Garage (see Submitting a Print Order to the Innovation Garage). Sometimes, the size of a model does not translate exactly from a modeling program, such as Blender, to the Cura Ultimaker Edition or Cura Lulzbot Edition that the Innovation Garage uses to slice 3D prints. If a specific size is needed for a print, it is recommended to know the size that is needed in inches or in millimeters. 

Converting filetype in MeshLab

The preferred filetypes for printing a 3D model using an FDM (fused deposition modeling) printer are .obj and .stl. Some 3D modeling programs can directly save or export to these filetypes. If not, you can use a third-party software like MeshLab to convert your file.

MeshLab is available for download to Windows, Mac, and Linux computers from its website. It accepts the following filetypes and can convert them to .stl​: 

  • PLY
  • STL / OBJ
  • OFF
  • 3DS
  • ​PTX
  • V3D
  • PTS
  • APTS
  • ​XYZ
  • GTS
  • TRI
  • ASC
  • X3D and X3DV
  • VRML
  • ALN


If you've printing a file from a 3D scan, or have created your own texture for your object, your virtual model may have different colors or patterns on its surface.

Just because you've saved your model with the surface texture doesn't mean it's going to print out this way. Only very specific 3D printing workflows let you print the textures of a model. 

The .obj file format provides options to save the texture/material as well as the physical form of the object, all within a single file. The .stl format does not include texture; it only saves the physical form of the object.

Professional printing services may provide various options for printing objects in full color. Many will request a .vrml or .x3d file instead of a .obj. Consult with the printing company for exact specifications.

The 3D printers at the Innovation Garage do not have this capability. at the Innovation Garage, 3D models can be printed with one color of PLA filament only.