What is a STEP file? Learn more about STEP files and STP

The STEP file is a standardized CAD file used to share designs between CAD softwares. Discover what is a STEP file extension, how to open step files and convert
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What is a Step file?

A STEP file, which stands for “Standard for the Exchange of Product model data file”, is a standardized CAD file used to share designs between CAD softwares. The exchange of product data in this file is in accordance with the ISO 10303 standard put together in 1994 by the ISO committee.

The standard’s official name is “Industrial automation systems and integration – Product data representation and exchange.” The Step format (*.step, *.stp) contains all the information about a 3D design and saves it as a series of text documents. This article will make you learn step file utility, its advantages and disadvantages, and its differences from other neutral CAD formats.


File:Step-Datei unter FC einfügen.jpg - Wikimedia Commons


What is a STEP file used for?

Today, with the different CAD systems available, interoperability between different CAD solutions has become more and more essential. This file format is, therefore, commonly used to share CAD data and designs between different CAD programs that cannot read each other operating system’s native files.


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This feature makes the step/stp file an appropriate option for sharing 3D models between customers, other departments, international organization and even contractors.

Moreover, because of its cross-platform nature, step files make editing and collaboration much easier. This is why many applications such as engineering, industrial, prosthetics and 3D printing rely on this format.


What is the main difference between source files and STEP files?

In the realm of Computer-Aided Design (CAD), source files serve a pivotal role in the creation and design of products. These proprietary files are generated in-house using specialized CAD software, and are subsequently shared with other CAD programs via STEP file formats, rather than the native CAD file format.

As it stands, CAD files for home use, such as those saved in .CATProduct format for Catia, cannot be opened seamlessly in other CAD software such as Autodesk. This dilemma is solved by the use of STEP files, which facilitate interoperability between different CAD platforms.


What is the difference between a STP and a STEP file format?

The answer is that there is no difference between a *.step file and a *.stp file. Both are related, interchangeable and meet iso standard exchange format standards. They are simply synonyms.


What is the difference between step file AP203 and step file AP214?

The AP203 file contains information about the geometry and configuration of a solid model. It does not contain information about colours and layers.

In contrast, the AP214 file is an extension of the AP203 file, as it contains information about the geometry and configuration of a solid model, as well as colours, layers and tolerances. It is a more popular file format.



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Is a STP/STEP file a CAD file?

The step file format is a standard CAD file. The file can be opened in popular CAD software programs.


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What are the most popular step file viewers?

A wide range of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software programs have the ability to open and export STEP file format extensions, making them a go-to choice for facilitating seamless interoperability between various CAD platforms.

Notably, SolidWorks, AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Catia, PTC Creo, and Onshape are among the most commonly used software programs for producing CAD drawings and generating STEP/STP files.


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It’s crucial to ensure that your CAD software is up-to-date with the latest version, as this can affect your ability to open the file. Moreover, corrupt or virus-infected STEP files can pose a challenge to opening them; however, you can use Google’s VirusTotal page to check for file corruption. By staying vigilant and following best practices, you can ensure a smooth and productive workflow for your CAD design projects.


Can I open step files on Mac?

Yes, it is possible to open the step files on Mac. Use 3D software that works on Mac, such different software programs as Autodesk Fusion 360 and IMSI TurboCAD can open the file easily.


How to export a step/stp file from a CAD software?

It is possible to export a 3D design as a step or stp file format directly into the export or save as tab of various CAD programs. Here are all the detail to export a step or stp file extension used with SolidWorks, Inventor and Onshape.



How to export a step file with SolidWorks

  1. Click File > Save As
  2. Select the STEP file type for Save as type
  3. Click OK

How to export a step file with Autodesk Inventor

  1. Click File > Export
  2. Select STEP Files for Save as type
  3. Click OK

How to export a step file with Onshape

  1. Right click the tab you would like to export
  2. Click on Export
  3. Select STEP file for Format
  4. Click OK


How do step files encode data?

Step files (.step) encode 3D data in the EXPRESS language to store 3D data of a model. For this reason, interpreting a step or stp file is easy because there is only one entity instance per line of code. In addition, because the step file is ISO-10303-21 (Clear Text Encoding of the Exchange Structure) compliant, each step file is divided into identical sections: header, anchor, reference, data and signature. The header contains the implementation level, file name and schema, file population, and section context. The data section contains entity instance names, attributes, data type mappings, etc.

In addition, the 3D geometric data is coded as a boundary representation (B-rep), which means that the 3D model data is represented as a collection of closed surfaces. The complete documentation of the STEP standard can be found in the U.S. American National Standards Institute eStore.


Who is responsible for the development of the STEP standard?

The ISO technical committee is responsible for the development and international organization for standardization and management of the step file, and implementation methods which it reviews annually.


How to open step files?

It is possible to open a CAD file in all major computer-aided design software. The easiest way to open a step file is to first locate the document on your computer. Then simply right-click on the file and select open. From there, you should be able to see it within the CAD software program already installed on your own computer. By clicking on the program, you should see the step file automatically open in it. Alternatively, it is possible to open step files directly online for free.


How to import a STEP file format in Blender


Can you print a STEP file?

Due to the nature of the file format extension, it is impossible to use it for 3D printing.  A Step file extension describes shapes in complex mathematical formulas, making it a very complex and heavy file that 3D printing software cannot handle properly. It is therefore recommended to convert and use an STL file instead for 3D printing because shapes are organized as a list of 3D triangles and meshes ( and are therefore readable by 3D printing software). It is also possible to convert a step file into an OBJ (Mesh) for the 3D printer to print the model.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of using step files?

The main advantage of using a step file format is that it is the most common and accepted neutral CAD common file format, and so no matter the industry. Therefore, as mentioned in the previous section above, it makes sharing CAD files on the cloud much more convenient.

However, there are some disadvantages to using step files. For instance, because of its compression, there is some degradation of data quality. It is also important to mention that step files do not include information about materials and textures, only the shape and form of the 3D data.


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Also, step files do not include lightning and camera data. To include such information, an FBX or a USDZ file has to be used instead. Finally, as mentioned above, it is not possible to directly print a step file. Moreover, a STEP file contains a lot of information, which demands a lot of time and effort to create. It is also not possible to directly render a step file. The file has to be processed first to create a series of triangles.


What are alternatives to step files?

There exist other neutral computer-aided design file extensions, types and formats that have similar functions as the step file. Below is a list of the most common ones.


What is the difference between the STL and STP file?

The .stl file, which stands for “stereolithography file”, contains 3D data about the geometry and shapes of the surface. Like the step file, it can be shared and exported by different CAD software. However, the .stl file does not store the 3D data in the same manner as the step file. First, the model’s geometric information is stored as triangles woven into a mesh, making the data readable for 3D printing software.

Second, this file does not contain information about the colours, textures and attributes of a model. Therefore, this less detailed file is also used for storage efficiency reasons.


What is the difference between the OBJ and STEP file?

The OBJ file is similar to the step file because it can be interpreted on different CAD platforms. One key difference, however, is that OBJ files can contain texture and colour data (unlike step files). For this reason, OBJ files are commonly used with multi-colour 3D printers. However, the OBJ file is much less common than the step file, so fewer 3D design software support it.


What is the difference between the 3MF and STEP file?

The 3MF file is a new open-source file that is able to contain information about the colours and textures of a 3D model, unlike step files. This XML-based file works in a similar way to a ZIP archive because it actually compresses the 3D model data. With a 3MF file, the body of the 3D model is captured as a triangular mesh, reducing the amount of detail. Nevertheless, unlike the obj file, the 3mf file is not commonly used, and many computer-aided design programs do not support it.


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What is the difference between the IGES and STEP file?

IGES files (.igs, .iges, .ige) are neutral CAD format, just like the step file. However, it is mainly used for surface models, while the step file is used for solid models. This means that the IGES file may contain gaps between surfaces. This is why the STEP file is, in fact, the successor of the IGES file. It has solved many problems encountered with the IGES file.  The IGES file was last updated in 1996, whereas the STEP file is continuously updated to this day. The general consensus is to use the STEP file, rather than the IGES file, because it is more up-to-date with current technology, less likely to contain errors, and widely recognized.


How to convert step files?

It is possible to convert step files into most native CAD software formats (.dwgj, .3ds, .dxf, etc.). Converting a step file can be done directly in a CAD program ( that accepts step files).  It is also possible to convert a step file into another neutral 3D format (such as .stl .obj and .3mf). This conversion can be done directly in a CAD program ( that accepts step files) or with an online step converter for free.



Need help with your step file?

In conclusion, STEP files are a crucial element of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) workflows, allowing for the seamless exchange of CAD data between different software platforms. At Visao, we recognize the importance of maximizing the potential of STEP files by harnessing them to create interactive 3D visualizations for a variety of applications, including marketing, sales, and production.

With our cutting-edge web-based platform, manufacturers can take their STEP files to the next level, showcasing their products in a visually stunning and engaging way. If you’re ready to elevate your use of STEP files and experience the full potential of our 3D and augmented reality solutions, we invite you to request a live demonstration from Visao today.

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