Blender is a great, free, open-source 3D modeling tool with a massive supportive community. But working with Blender alone is not always a reality, and we will from time to time need to import and export to and from other software. But what is the best practice for this?

Blender supports a range of 3D file formats as well as image, video and sound formats. Here they all are:

3D FileCollada (.dae)Alembic (.abc)Motion Capture (.bvh)Stanford (.ply)Wavefront (.obj)X3D Extensible 3D (.x3d/.wrl)STL (.stl)Scalable Vector Graphics (.svg)gITF (.glb/.gltf)Collada (.dae)Alembic (.abc)FBX (.fbx)Motion Capture (.bvh)Stanford (.ply)Wavefront (.obj)X3D Extensible 3D (.x3d/.wrl)STL (.stl)gITF (.glb/.gltf)
ImageBMP (.bmp)Iris (.sgi/.rgb/.bw)PNG (.png)JPEG (.jpg/.jpeg)JPEG 200 (.jp2/.j2c)Targa (.tga)Cineon & DPX (.cin/.dpx)OpenEXR (.exr)Radiance HDR (.hdr)TIFF (.tif/.tiff)BMP (.bmp)Iris (.sgi/.rgb/.bw)PNG (.png)JPEG (.jpg/.jpeg)JPEG 200 (.jp2/.j2c)Targa (.tga)Cineon & DPX (.cin/.dpx)OpenEXR (.exr)Radiance HDR (.hdr)TIFF (.tif/.tiff)
VideoAVI (.avi) MPEG-1 (.mpeg1)MPEG-2 (.mpeg2)MPEG-4 (.mpeg4) Quicktime (.mov) DV (.dv) Ogg (.OGG) Matroska (.MKV) Flash (.SWF) H.264 (.H264) MP4 (.mp4) AVI (.avi) MPEG-1 (.mpeg1)MPEG-2 (.mpeg2)MPEG-4 (.mpeg4) Quicktime (.mov) DV (.dv) Ogg (.OGG) Matroska (.MKV) Flash (.SWF) H.264 (.H264) MP4 (.mp4) (can’t find .mp4? Read Does Blender support .mp4?)
SoundAdvanced Audio Codec (.acc)Audio Codec 3 (.ac3)Free Lossless Audio Codec (.flac)MP2 (.mp2)MP3 (.mp3)Opus (.opus)Pulse Code Modulation (.pcm)Vorbis (.ogg/.ogv/.oga/.ogx/.ogm/.spx)Advanced Audio Codec (.acc)Audio Codec 3 (.ac3)Free Lossless Audio Codec (.flac)MP2 (.mp2)MP3 (.mp3)Opus (.opus)Pulse Code Modulation (.pcm)Vorbis (.ogg/.ogv/.oga/.ogx/.ogm/.spx)

It does look like a lot at first, and knowing what the best file type to use depends a lot on what the purpose of your import or export might be. In this article, we’re going to look at what the best file formats are in each category with respect to virtual reality and game development.

The most popular 3D file format (in general) is the default Collada (.dae) file, while the most popular image is a PNG (.png). The most popular video format is AVI (.avi), and the most popular sound is MP3 (.mp3).

How Do You Import/ Export Files Into Blender?

The traditional way to import a file in Blender is to click on the File window dropdown > Import / Export. Choose your file type from the dropdown list. Each file type will have different import and export settings that you can manipulate.

Alternatively, some file formats, like image formats, allow you to drag the file from your browser directly into your scene.

If you’re trying to import a .blend file into your scene, you will notice it is not in the dropdown list. This is because you have to either link or append .blend files. Linking a file is suggested when you just want to import the file contents as they are and you do not wish to edit them. However, if you plan on editing them (and this will be the case most of the time), then you want to append the .blend file. 

To append a .blend file, click on the File window dropdown > Append. Choose your .blend file > Collections > and choose the collection you want to import. This will bring in all the information within that collection, including UVs, textures, and materials.

Best 3D File Formats For Game / Virtual Reality Development

The best 3D file types for game / virtual reality development are FBX (.fbx), Collada (.dae) and OBJ (.obj). Here’s why:

  1. FBX (.fbx). FBX file format is the very best file format for games, its widespread and can be integrated easily into Maya, Unity or Unreal Engine. Importing a .blend file into Unity is pretty much the same as importing a .fbx, this is because Unity fetches the .blend file and translates it to a .fbx anyway (which is why you need Blender installed on your PC in order to import a .blend file into Unity). It’s not recommended to import a .blend into Unity, because the conversion happening in the background takes more time to load the scene and because the conversion could result in errors or unexpected results.

But since you cant import a .fbx back into Blender, and because not everyone has Blender on either PC, its recommended you keep both files until you are happy with your finished model. 

Here are the best .fbx export options from Blender to Unity:

  1. Collada (.dae). Collada is supported by most major 3D packages. It can hold meshes, textures, and animations. It’s known as the universal 3D file format with Autodesk software, which increases its interchangeability with the architecture, engineering, and urban planning industries (which can be handy when you’re making simulations of real environments in Unity).

Here are the best export options for a .dae file from Blender Unity:

  1. OBJ (.obj). OBJ is a great file format for plain geometry. We say this because it doesn’t support animations. But it still makes a great format for static objects in your scene. A huge perk in using an OBJ file format is that, unlike other file formats, it doesn’t restrict your geometry typology to triangles. In other words, it doesn’t triangulate your mesh, which can be a huge saving in your end polycount on static hard surface models, like in architecture.

Here are the best export options for a .obj file from Blender to Unity:

Best Image File Formats For Game / Virtual Reality Development

The best image file types for game / virtual reality development are PNG (.png),  JPG (.jpg/.jpeg) and Photoshop Files (.psd) or TIFF (.tiff) files. Here’s why:

  1. PNG (.png). PNGs are known as the image files with the highest quality. Why they’re the best to use for game development is because they support Alpha channels, which can be essential to adding detail to a textured object.
  1. JPEG (.jpg/.jpeg). Jpegs are great for lighter files than PNGs. They do not support alpha channels but can be used just as well for textures within a game engine like Unity.
  1. Photoshop FIles (.psd). Now, you can’t export a .psd file from Blender, but you can further edit your baked images in Photoshop, as opposed to painting within the 3D program (which can get messy). If you import a .psd file into Unity, it will automatically flatten the image as it is imported. This is helpful for a non-destructive workflow where you want to see results without having to flatten the image inside Photoshop. 

An alternative to using a paid software like Photoshop is to export your images as .tiff (which you can do in Blender), then use any other ‘layered’ photo editing software you like.

Best Video File Formats For Game / Virtual Reality Development

The best 3D file types for game / virtual reality development are AVI (.avi), MOV (.mov) and Matroska (.mkv). Here’s why:

  1. AVI (.avi). This format is considered the best option in terms of quality. The only reason why you would move away from this format is to be able to compress it further (AVI files are huge). In general, your best bet will be to stick with AVI and then compress it later.
  2. MOV (.mov). This format was originally created for movies, but works great with game integration.
  3. Matroska (.mkv) is a free open-source format that was initially created for multimedia files and is exportable with Blender.

Does Blender support .mp4?

Yes, you can export a .mp4 from Blender – it’s just not as obvious as exporting to other file types. To export a .mp4 from Blender, go to your render options. Select FFmgeg as your file format. Then, select MPEG-4 as your container and H.264 as your codec. Select ACC as your audio codec, then render the animation.

Leah van der Walt

Leah van der Walt

Leah is a 3D Artist & VR / AR Developer with 8 years of experience. Based in South Africa, she is a passionate teacher and loves to listen to drum and bass in her spare time.

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