It was a big deal when Microsoft announced support for 3D printing in Windows 8.1. Then they started selling MakerBot Replicator 2s in their stores. It may not seem significant, but it’s a major event in the 3D printing timeline because it marks when the largest operating system distributor incorporated the technology into its operating system. Microsoft is accomplishing this by extending its regular ol’ 2D paper printing pipeline to handle 3D printing.
Essentially the current 3D printing workflow is something like this:
All stages of design, mesh fixing, and prepping have to be funneled through several applications before making it to the printer. And Microsoft wants it more like this:
Files will be printable at every point of workflow. They plan to pull that off with this:
A new, standard 3D printing format. 3MF (3D Manufacturing Format) will eventually replace STL because it will be designed to traverse between modeling programs and printers, and it includes more information like color, supports, and textures. It will scale with the technology. The new format will work seamlessly with the current 2D printing spool pipeline, functioning in the same “File, Print” manner. The print feature will slide right out with the Charms Bar and prompt for intuitive options like quality, density, and supports. An SDK is available for adding 3D printing functionality with apps, so users will have a growing number of printable possibilities. If you’d like to see a preview, the Cube is demonstrated to print through the new pipeline here: