3D tools on Linux

viewers & converters


with a menu
of links to pages
on 3D viewers,
and test/demo files

glc_player screenshot

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Introduction :

This page is meant to provide a menu of links to pages of notes on 3D tools for Linux --- mostly 3D file viewers and 3D file converters. The emphasis is on software that is available at no cost or low cost.

Editing 3D files with tools such as Blender and Wings3D is a much more difficult and extensive topic than 3D viewers and converters. There will be a few notes in these pages on 3D modellers being used as 3D file viewers. But, if I collect notes on creating and editing 3D files with 3D file editors (modellers), I will collect those notes on separate web pages, and (if I remember to) I will put links on this page.

This page is meant to provide a menu of links to pages of notes on

  • 3D file viewers
  • 3D file converters
  • 3D test/demo files
  • and a few special topics on 3D files and their viewers and converters --- such as 'VRML1/VRML2/X3D' and 'Terrain modellers/viewers'.

The pages on viewers and converters include

  • source code

  • Linux binary executables packages, installable on Ubuntu 9.10 = 2009 Oct or thereafter (or on other Linux distros, especially Debian-based distros)

for many of the 3D viewer and converter programs. The ultimate purpose is to collect 3D code from all over the Internet to make it easily available for further 3D software development for Linux systems.

paraview screenshot

A quick overview of some 3D file types :

Some of the 3D file types we will be dealing with are :

  • 3ds (3D Studio files)

  • dwg (Autodesk DWG files)

  • dxf (Autodesk DXF files)

  • igs (IGES files)

  • iv (SGI Inventor files)

  • obj (Alias/Wavefront Object files)

  • off (Object File Format files)

  • ply (Ply format files - ref. Stanford, UNC, GaTech)

  • pov (POV ray tracer files)

  • stl (Stereolithography files) (suffix '.stlb' is sometimes used for binary STL files)

  • stp (STEP files)

  • vrml (VRML1 files) (a subset of the SGI Inventor file format)

  • vtk (Visual Tool Kit files)

  • wrl (VRML2 = VRM97 files) (common file suffixes: '.wrl', '.wrl.gz', '.wrz')

Some 3D viewers, for Linux :

Some of the 3D viewers that have proved to be easily installable on Linux (Ubuntu 9.10 or thereafter) are (roughly in alphabetic order) :

  • GLC_Player
    'glc_player' is said to read 3ds, obj, stl, off, 3dxml, and Collada (dae) formats --- and I have verified that it does a good job on reading and showing several of these formats. A screenshot of 'glc_player' is at the top of this page.

  • g3Dviewer
    'g3dviewer' is said to read the many 3D file formats supported by the LibG3D library. This includes most of the formats read by 'glc_player' --- and more. However, the user interface of 'glc_player' allows for more viewing options that 'g3dviewer', which has a rather minimal user interface.

    The formats handled by LibG3D include '.3ds', '.lwo', '.obj', '.dxf', '.md2', '.md3', '.wrl', '.vrml', '.dae' (COLLADA), '.ase' (ASCII Scene Exporter), '.ac' (AC3D) --- but I have not tried 'g3dviewer' on all of these formats yet.

  • geomview
    will read and display the OFF file format. (Note: geomview does not read the usual 3D file formats. It is more a viewer for Mathematica and Maple output. Reportedly, some people have used translators to get 3ds and dxf file data into a format, like OFF, that is readable by geomview.)

  • ivview
    reads SGI Inventor files [and VRML1 files] --- suffix typically '.iv' [or '.vrml' or '.wrl'], but the suffix can be anything. 'ivview' apparently reads header records to determine if it is reading the right type of file. The 'ivview' user interface is quite simple, but very effective.

  • Paraview
    'paraview' reads '.stl' and '.ply' files and various VTK format files --- '.vtk', '.vtu', etc. It has a rather sophisticated viewing interface, probably due to the fact that the program has been developed to run on parallel processing machines --- hence the 'para' prefix.

  • Varicad-view
    is a free viewer offered by the company that makes the non-free VariCAD drafting software for Linux.

    It is difficult to find programs on Linux that read Autodesk 2D and 3D files, like DWG and DXF files. So this is one of the few options on Linux for viewing AutoCad files.

    I have had great success in reading 2D DWG and DXF files with 'varicad-view', but I have not been able to display 3D AutoCAD files with that viewer.

      I ran across another CAD software group, gCAD3D (German), that makes a 3D CAD program by that name. 'gCAD3D' will read and display 3D DXF files. The gCAD3D.org group makes a Linux executable available for free. But the package is not really tailored to run on various Linux and 32-bit or 64-bit platforms --- and the graphics are a little 'quirky' --- probably because the program is a 'one-architecture-fits-all-Linuxes' approach.

      Hence I hesitate to lift that program to the status of the other viewers in this list. Besides, it is a modeller, rather than simply a viewer, so it has a rather complex user interface.

  • Whitedune
    'whitedune' reads newer VRML files ('VRML2' and, supposedly, some very specific 'X3D' files, which are basically VRML2 wrapped in XML) --- suffix typically '.wrl' or '.x3d'.

    'whitdune' is actually a Vrml editor, which makes its interface much more complicated than pure viewers like 'glc_player', 'g3dviewer', 'ivview' and 'paraview'. But I include it in this list of viewers because it is the only easily installable VMRL2 viewer that I could find for Linux systems.

      (I found later the the 'g3dviewer' package for Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid will install on Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic. g3dviewer is said to read '.wrl' files.)

Additionally, some 3D modellers (creators and editors of 3D files) can be used as viewers, but they are ordinarily slower to load than 'lighter-weight' 3D viewers. And they have much more complicated user interfaces.

There are several 3D modellers that are easily installable on Linux (esp. Ubuntu), and they are (in numero-alphabetic order by name) :

  • The Blender modeller will read '.obj' and '.3ds' files via scripts developed by the Blender community.

  • The K3D modeller will read '.obj' and '.off' files.

  • The mm3d modeller loads quickly and is said to read '.obj' and '.dxf' (3D) files as well as about 7 others including '.md2', '.md3', and '.lwo'.

  • The wings3D modeller will read '.obj' and '.3ds' files.

Blender, Wings3D, and K-3D are easily installable on Ubuntu Linux via the left of the toolbar panel across the top of the screen --- 'Applications > Ubuntu Software Center'.

And 'mm3d' is easily installable via the 'sudo apt-get install mm3d' command.

There are a few other 3D viewers that I should mention --- but I list them separately, because they may not be as easily installable on Linux (esp. Debian or Ubuntu) as the packages above.

  • MeshLab
    There are some screenshots at sourceforge.net. 'meshlab' is said to read ply, stl, off, obj, 3ds, collada (dae), vrml, dxf, x3d, and several others --- a lot of the same formats handled by 'glc_player' or 'g3dviewer'.

  • OctagaPlayer
    Commercial only? Forum threads indicate that they offered a free version around 2007. There seems to be a free download now (2011 Jan), but commercial outfits tend to have a history of suddenly withdrawing free viewers. 'octagaPlayer' is said to handle x3d and vrml2 formats.

  • freeWRL
    'freeWRL' source is available via Sourceforge, and also available via tar file for Arch Linux --- freeWRL version 1.22.10.

    However, there do not seem to be any Debian packages available --- nor any kind of binary packages (such as a PPA) from Ubuntu. In fact, it appears that 'freewrl', a Java-based system, was dropped by Debian packagers circa 2005.

  • mview
    'mview' (mesh viewer) has source available at Sourceforge. It is said to read ascii ply, vrml1, vrml2, vtk (ascii POLYDATA), and wavefront obj (ascii polygons). If a package becomes available for Debian or Ubuntu, I may promote it to the 3D viewers list along with 'glc_player', 'g3dviewer', 'ivview', and others.

  • view3dscene
    'view3dscene' has a home page at Freshmeat with installation instructions at vrmlengine.sourceforge.net. It is said to read vrml1, vrml2, x3d, 3ds, md3, wavefront obj, and Collada (dae). If packages become available for Debian or Ubuntu, then I may promote it to the 3D viewers list along with 'glc_player', 'g3dviewer', 'ivview', and others.

  • povray
    The Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is available as Ubuntu packages for dapper, hardy, karmic, lucid, maverick, and natty. So it has received much attention by the Ubuntu developers.

    POV-Ray by itself is a command-line utility (not a GUI) that makes high-quality 2D image files. 'povray' takes scene descriptions, written in a special language, to produce ray-traced images (or even a sequence of images, for animations). Since there may be quite a learning curve on this --- and since it actually 'renders' 3D models as static 2D images, I have not included 'povray' in the 3D viewers list above.

  • viewstl
    'viewstl' source code is at Sourceforge. I have found no Ubuntu or Debian packages for this STL file viewer.

I generally stay away from Java-based code --- especially for 3D, not only for performance reasons, but because it is so hard to find Debian or Ubuntu packages of Java-based 3D viewers. But I provide links to such Java-based 3D viewers here --- if only as a reminder that they exist. Besides 'freeWRL' (mentioned above as being 'dropped' by Debian), here are a few more.

  • dxfviewer at escape.de/~quincunx/

  • geometria at geocentral.net/geometria/

  • Xj3D a project of the Web3D Consortium --- which, judging by Web3D performance over the past 10 years, means we can't expect much. They have essentially pissed away the good foundation that SGI laid for them. See notes on a web posting titled 'How VRML 2 Destroyed Internet VR [Virtual Reality] For A Decade' in my web page on VRML1 and VRML2 and X3D.

The Java 'write-once, run anywhere' IDEA is a great one. One of the problems, however, is getting Java-engines [byte-code interpreters] that run with no problems on your particular machine --- with its windowing system and its 3D video card. Java 3D is basically taking a very, very complex area --- 3D graphics programming --- and adding another layer of complexity --- another layer of things that can go wrong --- to that complex situation.

However, since

  • Google does lots of code development in Java, and
  • Google bases some of its operating systems, like Chrome and Android, on Linux, and
  • Google houses some 3D code on its code sites,

maybe we can expect some stable, Java-based 3D-file-viewers on Linux, in coming years.

Some 3D file CONVERTERS for Linux :

Most 3D multi-converter programs (programs that convert between many pairs of 3D file formats) require lots of development and testing. As a consequence most such programs are non-free and rather costly.

On Linux, I have found only a few 3D 'multi-converter' programs, namely :

  • ivcon and ivread by John Burkhardt at FSU (Florida State University) and previously at Iowa State.

  • ADMesh, which is mainly an STL (Stereolithography) file 'fixer' --- for both ASCII and binary STL files --- but it also will write Wavefront OBJ files and VRML1 files from STL files.

On Linux, there are quite a few 3D 'one-to-one' converter programs, that is programs that convert one 3D format to one other 3D format. Not surprisingly, the quality of these programs varies considerably. Most are available as source rather than compiled binaries. You hardly ever find these, or the 'multi-converters' above, in Linux binary packages such as Debian or Red Hat packages.

Here is a list that gives an idea of the kinds of 3D 'one-to-one' converters that might be available and buildable on Linux :

  • 3ds-to-iv
  • dxf-to-iv
  • dxf-to-3ds
  • iv-to-pov
  • obj-to-wrl
  • obj-to-iv
  • stl-to-pov
  • vrml1-to-vrml2
  • vrml-to-pov

These indicated 'one-to-one' converters are actually some combinations that I have found to be implemented in one language or another, but it is not clear to me yet whether they are all capable of being fairly easily implemented --- in particular, on Linux (especially Ubuntu or some other Debian-based distro).

However, if the source is available and compilable, for some of these, I intend to make the source and compiled program available via a 3D converters web page.

Some 3D test/demo files :

In addition to web pages for 3D viewers and 3D converters, I also have a web page that is meant to serve as a source of various 3D sample files for various 3D file formats, with suffixes such as

    '.3ds', '.blend', '.dwg', '.dxf', '.igs', '.iv', '.obj', '.ply', '.pov', '.stl', '.stp', '.vtk', '.wrl', '.x3d' --- the ones in bold being the types that are most commonly used (and found).

    A few of these formats, like '.igs' (IGES) and '.dwg', are actually mainly used as 2D drafting formats. But they are included here because they often contain geometry that is used to make 3D models --- and some viewers of 3D files are also capable of viewing these 2D file formats.

My background on 3D viewers and converters :

I spent about 10 years (about 1995 to 2004) working on SGI (Silicon Graphics) Unix workstations, installing and supporting software for engineering purposes --- especially Finite Element Analysis and for Large Scale Visualization.

About 1993 to 1998 were the 'boom years' for SGI. During that time, their talented people had come out with the Inventor file format for 3D models --- with lighting and some built-in animation capabilities included in the format specification. VRML 1 was a subset of the Inventor specification.

The potential capabilities were demonstrated by some example files which included interactivity capabilities. An example VRML(2) model is a sphere that could be slid back and forth along a rod (constrained thereto), by using a mouse to drag the sphere.

I was in a position to try out the SGI 'ivview' and 'Cosmoplayer' programs on various demo Inventor and VRML files. It seemed like there was a lot of potential there --- in the advertising and presentations world if not in the engineering world.

In any case, thus was born my interest in 3D file viewers, 3D file converters, and 3D file formats.

On the MENU - of 3D resources pages, below :

There is a Table of Contents, just below, that contains links to several web pages that I have constructed having to do with 3D viewers, 3D converters, and 3D test/demo files --- as well as 'special subject' areas in 3D graphics.

You can use the Find-Text option of your web browser to look for keywords on this page (and in those pages) --- keywords such as 'view', 'play', 'convert', 'vrml', 'inventor', '3ds', 'dxf', 'iv', 'obj', 'stl', 'ply', etc.

There is also a link to a page of 'external' web links --- on 3D viewers, 3D converters, 3D file formats, and other 3D topics --- near the bottom of this page. I try to provide links that will not go dead in a year or two, but the internet is littered with 'Links' pages on which 90% of the links are dead. No doubt, in about 10 years, at least 50% of the links on my 3D links page will be dead.


(a menu of links to 'local' web pages)

  • 3D viewers
    install notes and an archive of installation/reference files (source code and some binary packages) - for Linux

  • 3D converters
    install notes and an archive of installation/reference files (source code and some binary packages) - for Linux

  • 3D test/demo files
    an archive of files suitable for testing 3D viewers and 3D converters --- including notes on how to make 3D files viewable from web pages --- that is, how to setup 3D viewers as 'helper applications' in web browsers.

  • VRML1 and VRML2 and X3D
    notes on the formats that were meant to bring 3D data and viewing to the web

  • 3D terrain software
    notes on software such as GIS (Geographic Information System) software, for terrain viewing and modeling
    [PAGE TO BE CONSTRUCTED - not available]

  • unusual 3D software
    some interesting 3D software projects by some individuals who think 'outside the conventional 3D box'
    [PAGE TO BE CONSTRUCTED - not available]

    To give an idea of the intended content of this last page, here are a couple of links to sites of unusual 3D projects :

    in particular, his flowing forms, still and animated.
    See the following two images, still and animated.

    Also see antiprism.com
    in particular, the complex geometric forms, still and animated.
    See the following two images, still and animated.

Links :

  • Here is a page of 'external' 3D links to web info on

    • 3D viewers
    • 3D converters
    • 3D modellers
    • 3D file formats
    • sources of sample 3D files
    • and other types of 3D info


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Page was created 2011 Jan 28.

Page was changed 2011 Apr 25.

Page was changed 2018 Dec 18.
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