All About the VRML File Format for 3D Printing
Learn more about the VRML file format and how to open, create, and convert it.
The VRML file format (originally Virtual Reality Markup Language, later the Virtual Reality Modeling Language) originated in 1995 as a standardized file format. It was developed for designing and communicating 3D vector graphics, with the ability to encode information about an object's color, texture, transparency, and reflectivity.
VRML files use the extension .wrl, meaning WORLD, and the files are often referred to as “worlds.” The VRML file type remained the standard until it was superseded by (and became a subset of) the even more powerful X3D format in 2001. The VRML file format is still widely employed, and X3D is backward compatible, allowing existing .wrl files to continue to be used and modified. A wide range of 3D tools is compatible with the VRML format. VRML files can be accessed by most software systems, making full use of the virtual environment features to generate high-quality on-screen renderings. Most browsers have plug-ins that allow VRML files to be opened directly. Many VRML viewers are also available for Windows, iOS, and Android operating systems. Whether using a plug-in or a viewer, opening VRML files is simply a matter of double-clicking in Internet Explorer (for example) and the associated tool does the rest.
This article will further discuss the definition, history, applications, and process of creating, opening, and converting a VRML file.
VRML is a graphical/virtual modeling format used for the 3D visualization of objects, figures, and environments and the animating of their movement in web environments and gaming platforms. It integrates enhanced static environments/world-building, interactive graphic elements, animation, scripting, prototyping, etc. The VRML code can be generated from a wide range of design packages - CAD, character/environment design, web, and art tools. Additionally, it is possible to generate animation VRML code that travels as part of the file.
Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) created the VRML file format. VRML 1.0 arose as a byproduct of the Open Inventor format, an earlier SGI tool. The VRML 1.0 specification from May 1995 was quickly followed by an updated version, VRML 2.0 ("Moving Worlds"), released in August 1996. This version was a joint development project between SGI, Mitra, and Sony Research which incorporated enhanced interactive capabilities. An ISO standard for VRML 2.0, renamed VRML 97, was released in December 1997.
Converting a VRML file can be done using a wide range of tools, so the process may vary. Below are some general steps on how to convert a VRML file:
- Select the output format by going to the appropriate page.
- Choose “Convert to VRML.”
- Upload or drag and drop your file to convert it.
- Save or Download the newly created VRML file.
A VRML file can be opened using a web browser plug-in, as well as a wide range of 3D design and viewer tools. Google Chrome, for example, offers the 3DView plug-in which will make Chrome your default viewer for VRML files. To open these files, simply double-click in Chrome. Similar plug-ins are available for all major browsers, on all operating systems, as VRML is a key file type for 3D objects in web applications.
A VRML file can only be created by converting the design (or an existing file) using an appropriate 3D model design package, an installed conversion tool, or an online file conversion service. VRML is no longer a native design format, so these files are all the result of conversions from other 3D file formats or saving files in VRML format from a software package with its own native format. The advantage of VRML as a format is its universal acceptance and the number of optical and physical properties it can encode into an adaptable and widely accepted 3D format.
The importance of a VRML file is that it is one of the most common formats for handling 3D objects in web environments. The fact that VRML is well-handled by a wide range of viewers maintains its primacy as a format. A large proportion of users access these files through web browser plug-ins and other free and well-liked tools. For 3D printing companies, VRML files are an important source of character and figure designs. For that reason, it is quite common to want to convert VRML to STL — for which there are specialized online converters.
The primary VRML file type is WORLD files, with the extension .wrl. These files can be compressed and they then carry the file extension .wrz. This is all defined under the ISO/IEC 14772-1:1997 standard which specifies their structure as text files. VRML files are fully compatible with the X3D file standard, which superseded it but never quite displaced it from widespread use. X3D supports XML, VRML, CBE (Compressed Binary Encoding), and a version of JSON encoding. X3D is defined under the ISO/IEC 19775/19776/19777 standard.
There are many VRML file converters, including both VRML-compatible software that facilitates conversions, and online tools. Some examples of VRML file converters are:
- Windows - Microsoft 3D Builder, Free WRL
- LINUX® - FreeWRL
- macOS® - FreeWRL
- iOS - Parallel Graphics Cortona3D Viewer
VRML files are commonly used in virtual reality design to communicate 3D data for web applications - environments, objects, and characters/figures. It is a widely accepted design communication tool, to allow incompatible software with its own native formats to transfer rich shape, color, texture, and material data. VRML files are widely shared and published as free, downloadable reference designs. These can provide source material for designers, developers, and hobbyists.
No, a VRML file is not a CAD data format. While VRML shares many characteristics with CAD files, these files cannot be used directly in any CAD packages.
An STL file contains ONLY the shape information for an object to be printed. It is a basic file type that presents a low-resolution version of a 3D file, solely for 3D printing. VRML files define a 3D world, object, or figure. VRML files are freestanding and directly usable 3D data. They are generally used as integrated components of a website. The files contain complete color information, texture, illumination, and shape data that can be used to create a virtual reality scene, object, or figure.
Both STL and VRML file types can be directly processed in Stratasys’s Objet Studio and printed on Polyjet machines — whether in a single color or (2 color mixing, Connex) machines.
This article presented the VRML file format, explained what it is, and discussed how open, create, and convert it. To learn more about VRML files, contact a Xometry representative.
Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities, including 3D printing and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.
- macOS® is a trademark of Apple Inc.
- PolyJet, Connex, and Objet Studio are registered trademarks of Stratasys Ltd.
- LINUX® is a registered trademark of the Linux Foundation.
The content appearing on this webpage is for informational purposes only. Xometry makes no representation or warranty of any kind, be it expressed or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness, or validity of the information. Any performance parameters, geometric tolerances, specific design features, quality and types of materials, or processes should not be inferred to represent what will be delivered by third-party suppliers or manufacturers through Xometry’s network. Buyers seeking quotes for parts are responsible for defining the specific requirements for those parts. Please refer to our terms and conditions for more information.