Augmented Reality File Types – Formats for AR Experiences

Choosing the appropriate file format for augmented reality (AR) applications is vital to ensure a smooth and interactive user experience. Various file formats come with unique features and limitations, impacting how AR assets are integrated and displayed. For instance, some formats might lack animation support or be compatible only with specific software packages.

Unity, a popular game engine used for building AR applications, supports several file formats including FBX, DAE, 3DS, DXF, and OBJ. However, it presents challenges like limited runtime importation of 3D models, prompting developers to seek formats that offer both flexibility and performance.

Among these, glTF stands out. Endorsed by the Khronos Group, glTF is gaining traction due to its royalty-free nature, smaller file sizes, and compatibility with tools like Unity, Sketchfab, and Microsoft Paint 3D. Moreover, its support for Physically-Based Rendering (PBR) ensures consistent rendering across platforms. The GLB variant, which merges all necessary files into a single package, simplifies asset management, making it ideal for creating immersive technology experiences in AR.

Common 3D File Formats for AR

Choosing the right 3D file format is crucial for creating dynamic and engaging augmented reality (AR) experiences. Below, we’ll explore some of the most common 3D file formats used in AR applications, their benefits, and limitations.


FBX, developed by Autodesk, is notable for its wide software compatibility and robust support for animation. These features make it a preferred choice for dynamic AR experiences. FBX ensures seamless 3D file interoperability, facilitating easier asset exchange between various creation tools. This format’s rich capabilities in animation support are essential for developers looking to incorporate intricate motion into their AR assets.


OBJ is a widely supported, open-source format that excels in static 3D representations. However, it lacks animation support, which limits its utility in AR applications that require movement. Despite this limitation, the format is valuable for simpler AR assets that do not need dynamic features. Due to its broad acceptance, OBJ remains a go-to choice for static 3D file interoperability across different platforms.


STL is commonly associated with 3D printing and is preferred for its robust geometric data representation. However, it falls short in offering color and texture support, essential for visually detailed AR applications. Due to these constraints, STL is less favored for AR assets that prioritize visual detail. For better compatibility within AR environments, converting STL files into more versatile formats, like glTF, is often necessary to achieve efficient AR assets conversion.

By understanding the distinct advantages and limitations of each file format, developers can better navigate the complexities of 3D file interoperability, animation support, and AR assets conversion for more effective AR experiences.

The Rise of glTF as a Standard

The GL Transmission Format, commonly known as glTF, has rapidly ascended as a pivotal asset in the realm of 3D modeling and augmented reality. Spearheaded by the Khronos Group, this royalty-free 3D format is lauded for its efficiency and adaptability, making it an ideal choice for modern AR applications.

What is glTF?

glTF stands for GL Transmission Format, a format designed by the Khronos Group to streamline the process of delivering and loading 3D assets. Often termed the “JPEG of 3D,” glTF minimizes file sizes and drastically reduces the processing load during runtime importation. This contributes significantly to enhancing content interoperability across various platforms.

Advantages of glTF

One of the standout features of glTF is its support for Physically-Based Rendering (PBR), ensuring that 3D models maintain visual consistency across different environments. Additionally, its ability to encapsulate complex animations while maintaining a compact file size makes it highly efficient for WebGL and other interactive technologies. The format’s robust ecosystem and support for runtime importation make it indispensable for developers aiming to deliver seamless AR experiences.

GLB: A glTF Variant

The GLB variant of glTF simplifies 3D asset management by consolidating all the necessary resources into a single binary file. This alleviation of complexity facilitates easier integration of 3D models into various applications, promoting a smoother workflow. The unified structure of GLB supports efficient runtime importation, aiding developers in creating highly interactive and engaging AR content with improved content interoperability.

Augmented Reality File Types

In the realm of augmented reality, selecting the right file types for AR integration is crucial to delivering compelling and interactive AR experiences. The choice of file format directly impacts the visual quality, performance, and ease of 3D asset management within AR environments. Utilizing formats like glTF and its variant GLB can significantly optimize runtime efficiency and streamline the development process, given their robust support for animation and Physically-Based Rendering (PBR).

Developers must prioritize file types that not only enhance the visual fidelity of AR applications but also facilitate seamless integration across various software ecosystems. This approach becomes vital as the proliferation of AR platforms and devices continues to rise. By leveraging universally supported and optimized formats, creators can ensure their applications provide consistent and engaging user experiences.

Moreover, managing 3D assets efficiently during runtime is essential for maintaining the interactivity and performance of AR experiences. Formats that blend flexibility with comprehensive feature support, such as glTF, prove invaluable in this regard. As developers strive to push the boundaries of what is possible within augmented reality, careful selection and implementation of file types will define the success of next-generation AR applications.

Keith Madden