Design Engineering

Pre-flight STL files with free viewers

By Design Engineering Staff   

Additive Manufacturing CAD/CAM/CAE 3D printing Additive Manufacturing AXIS Prototyping rapid prototyping

STL viewing apps save frustration by double-checking for polygon anomalies before 3D printing.

No matter how good the file export function, STL files can still contain some funky problems that can jamb up a 3D print job. To save yourself the bother, previewing an STL file prior to printing and inspecting it for any flipped normals, hairline gaps or other mesh mutations can save a lot of head scratching.

Sometimes, correcting these problems takes a full-on mesh healing application but many times the problem is a matter of a small redesign or re-output of the file. Québec’s AM service bureau, Axis Prototype, points out a couple of free STL viewers that will help you see your file the way the 3D printer does.

Belgian software firm, Materialise, makes the industry’s leading AM workflow application Magics but also offers a light version called MiniMagics for STL visualization and problem spotting. The application opens STL as well as its own .magics or .mgx format and allows for part viewing, rotation and zoom.

Beyond that, it will automatically detect and highlight bad edges, flipped normals and other anomalies, allowing for users to go back and fix the problem in CAD. In addition, the application will also take measurements of volume, surface area and XYZ axes. It also allows inclusion of annotations if the file is kept in its native file format.


If the registration process required to download MiniMagics proves too bothersome, Engineering software firm, Marcam Engineering, offers the equally capable VisCAM View for free from its website.

The application automatically checks for mesh errors such as unconnected edges, flipped triangles and unjoined solids and highlights them red. Cross-section views are also available to inspect the model’s interior.

In addition, VisCAM allows users to measure model dimensions, surface area and volume or to add annotations. Also, files exported in its native VFX file format can be compressed by approximately 90 percent, the company says.

VisCAM incorporates an OpenGL-based rendering engine and imports STL, 3DS, VRML, DXF, PLY, ZPR and VFX files.


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