As the use of virtual anatomy increases, awareness of different 3D mesh (digital model) formats is useful. Simply, a 3D mesh is the geometrical representation of an anatomical structure such as a cranium, endocast or tooth. Below, are the main differences, benefits, and uses of common PLY and STL 3D formats.
PLY (Stanford Polygon Format) is a 3D file format that was commonly developed from 3D surface scanners and photogrammetry software to allow the preservation of information on surface geometry while retaining information on RGB colour. STL (Stereolithography) is a 3D format commonly generated from software using only grayscale images such as raw CT (Computed Tomography) where RGB colour is not captured. 3D Printers only require preserved information on surface geometry, not colour, leaving STL to be a preferred format for 3D printing technologies.
Even though there is no discernible difference between the quality of the 3D mesh types, PLY format offers binary encoding of all information (including RGB colour). This results in a smaller file size, allowing less space occupied on a hard-drive or cloud-storage and faster loading of the 3D mesh into software programs as employed in 3D-geometric morphometrics.