Shapeways Launches SVX, a Voxel Based File Format for 3D Printing

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.

You can view the new format specification at: SVX Format. We’ve added support for voxel uploads at Shapeways so you can start sending full resolution voxel files now!

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  1. Leandro Arndt

    Is there any software (besides ShapeJS) with which we can use SVX? Maybe a Blender plugin would be fine…

    By the way, nice vase! 😉

    1. Alan Hudson

      There is no other software that supports it yet. We’ll be working with others to foster adoption.

  2. Stony Smith

    Above it says that voxels are translated back to triangles.. is this format then still subject to the million triangle limit?

    1. Alan Hudson

      Currently it will be subject to the triangle limit. We hope in the future to have a direct voxel path to the printer that will avoid this.

  3. Brian

    “A voxel is a 3D dimensional pixel”. A three dimensional dimensional pixel.

  4. Tom Rust

    Excellent idea. We are using a similar format internally. It would be nice to have a preferred fabrication axis parameter also – with the onset of fiber composites this will be necessary to generate the correct strength ratios relative to axis.
    Perhaps custom fields could also be used for machine specific instructions.
    Do any of Shapeways machines use the variable density voxels to reduce stepping now?
    And why go backwards converting voxel data to triangles when voxels are closer to what the machine needs anyway?

  5. Ed

    So that is supposed to be great……no I don’t work with Shapeways in any form or kind since I don’t like the “prullaria printer” from Eindhoven that much but this is even for (extremely low) Dutch standards a novum. As I see it, uploading a Voxel file means nothing more and nothing less, as to transfer the resposibility for slicing to the customer and if the format is not free and proprietary let you pay for the privilege as well,

    Now of course you can claim that as a revolution to make it more tastefull for the customer who has been tought by the media to let go of all his or hers free thinking and to embrase every kind of commercial stupid invention from “clickets” up to the smartphone for the obligatory selfie, but don’t try to fool the critically minded.

    Greets, Ed.

  6. Andrew

    3D-Coat will probably support it. It is very close to it’s voxel nature.

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