Blender 3D is the single software solution built and maintained by the Blender foundation. This brings into question whether Blender is capable of using files created in other applications and if it is able to export files as well.
Blender can both import and export a wide variety of file formats for many different use cases. It can use FBX and OBJ files for 3D objects, JPG and PNG files for images, and MOV and MP4 files for videos. It is also compatible with many additional file formats for 3D models, images, and video clips.
It is important for any application to be compatible with a wide range of file formats so that it can be used for larger projects where other applications may be required. This is commonplace in the video games and animation industries which are commonly associated with 3D software.
The Different File Formats
To make things simple, we have constructed a table that lists all of the file formats that are currently associated with or are compatible with Blender 3D.
|Motion Capture (.bvh)||Y||Y||Y|
|Vector Graphic (.svg)||Y||Y||Y|
|X3D Extensible (.x3d)||Y||Y||Y|
|Universal Scene Description (.usd)||Y|
|Portable Network Graphics (.png)||Y||Y||Y|
|High Dynamic Range Image (.hdri)||Y||Y||Y|
|Python Script (.py)||Y||Y||Y|
|Portable Document Format (.pdf)||Y||Y|
|AutoCad DXF (.dxf)||Y||Y||Y|
|Nuke Animation Format (.chan)||Y||Y||Y|
|JPEG 2000 (.jp2)||Y||Y|
|Open EXR (.exr)||Y||Y|
Object Bases Formats
These format types relate to the 3D objects and scenes used by Blender. While it is primarily used as a tool for creating 3D models you can also import 3D models from other applications and edit them using Blenders’ toolset. The blend extension is the default Blender format for all projects edited in Blender itself. It can be stored in an asset library, appended into a new project, or even saved into the asset folder of a game engine like Unity.
This isn’t strictly importing or exporting but follows similar principles. Blender is highly able to bring in numerous other object file types. The traditional obj format is commonly used to transmit 3D objects across applications, while the FBX format is suited to prepping assets for use in Game engines in particular.
Some extensions will allow you to export more information than others. For example, the OBJ wavefront format can import data on object geometry, textures, materials, and animations will the STL format only exports geometry-based information.
The different formats will fall into one of two subcategories. They will either be universal formats that are designed to be used across many different applications or be specialized formats designed to work in a specific application or workflow. The Stanford extension for example is a good format to use for 3D printing, while Alembic can be used to bring models over from Houdini.
Image Based Formats
These format types are generally used for one of four purposes. The first is to be used as reference material for potential assets that you want to create. These can be references gained from the internet or a photo taken on your phone. It could also be concept art of a character that you want to model.
If you are new to 3D modeling then you may not be entirely sure what the term render means. For a 3D application like Blender, this is the process of analyzing data from a specific viewpoint (aka the active camera) and creating an image of that viewpoint using pre-determined parameters like the resolution (found in the properties panel). This image then needs to be saved in a traditional image format like a jpeg.
There are a wide variety of image files to choose from, if you want images that have a small digital footprint (the memory requirement) then you can choose something like a jpeg. If you want a reliable file format that even others a transparency channel then you may go png.
Video Based Formats
These file formats are generally one of a few types, but each type can be used with a different encoder. A common combination for exporting an animation or edited footage from Blender is to use the FFmpeg video format and the MPEG-4 container to export your file, but you also have AVI Jpeg and AVI Raw as options as well.
You don’t even need to use a movie file when importing or exporting though. When importing you can bring in an image sequence, which is a selection of numbered images starting at 001, 002, 003, etc. Each image represents one frame and you select the whole list and bring it in as an image sequence. You can then edit that sequence using the video editor or the compositor or render it out as a full movie file.
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These file formats do not fall into any other categories and are used for very specific tasks. For example .py is the file extension for Python script. We use files of this extension name when we want to load in a custom script to use in Blender. We categorized these all as alternative file formats as they all do different things that are unique to each other.
Another cool example is the ability to export a grease pencil layer from the viewport as a PDF of all things.