Shapeways has created a new SVX format for transmitting voxel data for 3D printing. After much research we found no existing format that satisfied our requirements. Our primary design priorities are simple definition, ease of implementation, and extensibility. There are plenty of things you could dislike about the STL format, but it’s brevity and simple implementation are not one of them.
A voxel is a 3D dimensional pixel. Most 3D printers work internally with voxel like representations. Your 3D model is sliced into 2D image slices, each pixel represents a dot of material that the printer builds your object with. Voxel formats allow direct control over those dots. One promise of 3D printing is that complexity is free. Sadly with STL files we’ve had the disconnect that more complexity equals more triangles equals larger files. Above a certain limit you just can’t use triangles to specify the details you want in a 3D printed model. Whether that information be material allocation, density, RGB color both internal and external or a custom id that could be used for another variable, not yet available in the 3D printers on the market.
Another area that is interesting for voxel usage is in making printable objects. A mesh for 3D printing needs to meet certain mathematical properties. It is easier to write voxel software that meets these demands. This makes the barrier to entry much lower for writing creators and its especially easy to include 2D imagery into your designs. See ShapeJS for some examples. One area that is typically tricky is turning voxels into triangles. We’ve worked hard to provide some nice routines for much high quality conversion to triangles when necessary. When you upload a voxel model to Shapeways you’ll be leveraging that work, just concentrate on making the voxels right and we’ll handle the triangles if needed.