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GLB Format: How It Works, Use Cases, and Pros/Cons You Should Know

glb format

What Is the GLB Format?

The GLB format is a versatile and widely-used 3D file format that has gained significant traction in recent years. It is a binary file format that is essentially a container for various 3D assets and resources. These assets can include 3D models, textures, materials, and animations. The GLB format is based on the glTF (GL Transmission Format) file format, which is an open standard for the efficient transmission and loading of 3D graphics.

GLB, a binary form of the glTF file, uses JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) encoding to detail these assets. This efficiency in structuring data contributes to the format’s small file size, leading to faster load times for users, an aspect critical in applications requiring real-time rendering, like gaming and interactive web applications. Additionally, the format is capable of supporting motion and animation without sacrificing quality, a crucial factor for dynamic 3D content. 

The purpose of the GLB format is to provide a compact and efficient means for transferring and displaying 3D content across various platforms and applications. This makes it an ideal format for use in applications such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 3D modeling software, web applications, social media platforms, animations, and visual effects.

Its use is also prevalent in the gaming industry, where GLB files are utilized for their efficiency and ability to handle complex 3D scenes.

Importing GLB files into software like Blender is straightforward: you simply open the file context menu, import the file, and open it from the saved path. GLB files can be converted to FBX format for broader compatibility, enhancing their use in popular platforms like Unity, Unreal Engine, Blender, and Maya.

This is part of a series of articles about image formats.

In this article:

GLB File Structure

The GLB file format is based on a binary structure that is composed of three main parts:

  • Header: Contains information about the file format version and the length of the entire file.
  • JSON chunk: Stores the 3D scene description, including information about the 3D models, materials, and animations.
  • Binary chunk: contains the actual binary data for the 3D assets, such as the vertex and index data for the 3D models, as well as the image data for the textures.

One of the key aspects of the GLB file format is its extensibility. This means that developers can extend the format to include additional features and capabilities as needed. For example, you can embed custom metadata, additional shaders, or even custom compression algorithms. This flexibility makes the GLB format an attractive choice for developers and content creators alike.

Key Use Cases and Platform Support

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

The GLB format has found widespread use in the fields of VR and AR. Its compact size and efficient design make it well-suited for streaming and displaying 3D content in real-time. Furthermore, the GLB format’s support for PBR (Physically Based Rendering) materials enables the creation of highly realistic and immersive experiences.

Many VR and AR platforms, such as Meta, SteamVR, and Microsoft’s HoloLens, have adopted the GLB format as their preferred 3D file format. This has further solidified the GLB format’s position as a go-to choice for VR and AR content creation.

3D Modeling Software

The GLB format is also widely supported by various 3D modeling software packages, such as Blender, Autodesk’s 3ds Max, and Maya. These software applications often provide native import and export functionality for GLB files, allowing artists and designers to work seamlessly with the format. The support for GLB files in 3D modeling software has made it easier for artists to create and share their work across different platforms and applications.

Web Applications

One of the primary goals of the GLB format is to enable the efficient transmission and loading of 3D content on the web. As a result, the format has been widely adopted by web developers and is now supported by major web browsers, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

The GLB format’s web-friendly nature has made it an attractive choice for various web applications, such as online 3D viewers, product configurators, and virtual showrooms. Significantly, it supports WebGL, a popular web-based 3D graphics API.

Social Media Platforms

Social media platforms have increasingly embraced 3D content, and the GLB format has played a crucial role in this development. Platforms like Facebook and Snapchat allow users to create and share 3D content in the form of filters, lenses, and 3D posts. These platforms often rely on the GLB format for the efficient storage and transmission of 3D assets.

Animations and Visual Effects

The GLB format is also used extensively in the fields of animation and visual effects. Its support for complex animations, PBR materials, and extensibility make it an attractive choice for animators and visual effects artists.

Many animation and visual effects software packages, such as Adobe After Effects and Maxon’s Cinema 4D, provide native support for importing and exporting GLB files. This simplifies the process of creating and sharing animations and visual effects across different software applications and platforms.

Related content: Read our guide to compress animated GIF

Advantages of GLB Format

Compact and Self-Contained

One of the primary benefits of the GLB format is its compact and self-contained design. Unlike other 3D file formats, which often require separate files for 3D models, textures, and animations, the GLB format stores all of these assets within a single file. This simplifies the process of managing and distributing 3D content and reduces the likelihood of missing or misplaced files.

Efficient

Another advantage of the GLB format is its efficiency. The format is designed to minimize file size and reduce the amount of processing power required to load and display 3D content. This makes the GLB format an ideal choice for use in applications where performance and bandwidth are critical concerns, such as VR, AR, and web applications.

Interoperable

The GLB format is highly interoperable and is supported by a wide range of software applications and platforms. This allows users to easily create, share, and consume 3D content across different software packages and devices. The format’s extensibility also enables developers to adapt the format to their specific needs, further increasing its versatility and usefulness.

Supports PBR Materials

The GLB format’s support for PBR materials enables the creation of highly realistic and visually stunning 3D content. PBR materials provide a more accurate representation of real-world materials, allowing for better lighting, reflections, and overall visual quality. This is particularly important in applications such as VR and AR, where the realism of the 3D content can significantly impact the user experience.

Disadvantages of GLB Format

Limited Support

While the GLB format is widely supported by many software applications and platforms, there are still some that do not offer native support for the format. This can be a drawback for users who rely on these applications to create or consume 3D content. However, this issue can often be mitigated through the use of third-party plugins or converters.

Compression Artifacts

The GLB format’s focus on efficiency and compact file sizes can sometimes result in compression artifacts. These artifacts can manifest as visual discrepancies, such as reduced texture quality or visible seams in 3D models. While these artifacts are generally minimal and may not be noticeable in many applications, they can still be a concern for users who require the highest possible visual fidelity.

No Native Support for Light and Camera Data

The GLB format does not provide native support for storing light and camera data within the file. This means that users must manually recreate these elements when importing GLB files into certain software applications. While this is generally a minor inconvenience, it can be a drawback for users who require precise control over lighting and camera setups.

Exploring GLB Format with Cloudinary

Even though we talked about some limitations inherent in the GLB file format, there’s an impressive tool that can help us embrace the strengths of GLB while streamlining its challenges. That tool is Cloudinary, a robust media management service.

The integration of Cloudinary with GLB streamlines the handling of 3D models, skirting the complexity often associated with 3D file management. Cloudinary boasts an array of transformation features, enabling dynamic manipulations like resizing, rotating, or even applying special effects to GLB files. This evolution from static to dynamic adds layers of customization to your 3D models. What’s more, Cloudinary’s video transformation capabilities result in efficient format conversions for GLB animations catering to diverse media requirements.

Although GLB files may have their constraints, Cloudinary presents an opportunity to overcome them. By harnessing the power of Cloudinary, working with GLB files becomes not only a simpler task, but also one filled with opportunities to enhance user experiences through the delivery of dynamic 3D content.

Interested in making your multimedia tasks a breeze? Try out Cloudinary today.

Last updated: Jan 14, 2024