Information on how to prepare 3D print files from CIFs


The CIF structure files provided by the databases on this site will need to be converted into alternate file formats for 3D printing. Thankfully a high quality free program for conversion into both VRML and STL files has already been created by Professor Werner Kaminsky (University of Washington). The VRML format works well for viewing 3D print files, since it retains the color data. Different elements in the structure are distinct and easy to differentiate due to the color retention. The STL format files contain all the necessary information for 3D printing an object in one color, and can be sent directly to cheap 3D printer once converted. CIF2VRML is available as an exe for Windows.

Werner's page is here: Cif2VRML

Cortona 3D Viewer

This program is a web browser plugin for Windows that allows users to view VRML files (.wrl extension). The files open in a web browser window, which has controls to pan, rotate, and zoom the object around to get a good feel for the shape and structure of the object. This program is free for personal, non-commercial, and academic use. Cortona 3D viewer works with these browsers: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera. This software creates a free way to preview files for display, or 3D printing.

Cortona 3D Viewer is available here: Cortona 3D Viewer

3D Builder

There is now software built in to Windows 10 for 3D printing called 3D Builder. This app can also be downloaded for Windows 7 and 8. The software can be used to view STL files (.stl extension). Much like the Cortona 3D viewer software, the program window has controls to manipulate the object to get a sense of the fine details of the prospective print out. STL files contain no color data, so the objects displayed are monochromatic. This program also has the ability to print 3D objects using some 3D printers.

3D Builder App: 3D Builder


This program can be added to webpages to display renderings of a model on a website. The required file format to use with this program is OBJ (*.obj file extension). This program executes some javascript code to create a window on the webpage where users can see and manipulate a rendered 3D object or crystal structure model. Anyone can use the open source code to add model viewing capabilities to their website. The software also supports touch-screen capabilities. Some clickable examples are located in the columns below.

JSC3D Git Hub: JSC3D


This is a command line file conversion tool that converts files from VRML to OBJ and a few other formats. Conversion to the OBJ format makes files that can be used with JSC3D for display on a webpage. This program was created by Dr. Patrick Min (of Princeton University) and is free for non-commercial use, but not open source. Versions of this software are available for Windows, OSX, and Linux.

Patrick Min's Meshconv page: Meshconv

Below is the javascript code we are using to run JSC3D on this webpage.

jsc3d.webgl.js (42.2 KB)

jsc3d.touch.js (46.1 KB)

jsc3d.js (168.2 KB)

Below are a few examples of visualizations of 3D print files. Click on any one to see a 3D rendering on line which you can control with your computer mouse.

diamond.html (1.3 KB)

sigma_13_red_a_open.html (1.3 KB)

sigma_13_red_a_closed.html (1.3 KB)

wurtzite large ball sort sticks (1.4 KB)

diamond2_2.html (1.3 KB)

diamond2_3.html (1.3 KB)

herapathite_15cm.html (1.3 KB)