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glTF: Features, Applications, and 5 Essential Best Practices

gltf format

What Is glTF?

GlTF, or GL Transmission Format, is an open-standard 3D file format designed for the efficient delivery and loading of 3D graphics on the web and other platforms. Developed by the Khronos Group, the creators of WebGL and Vulkan, glTF was created with the goal of becoming the “JPEG of 3D.” It aims to provide a streamlined, compact representation of 3D assets that can be easily transmitted and rendered across various platforms and devices.

This is part of a series of articles about Image Formats

In this article:

How Does the gITF Format Work?

GlTF files use one of two possible file extensions: .gltf, which is a JSON/ASCII format, or .glb, which is a binary format. This distinction is essential for understanding how glTF optimizes data storage and transmission.

Designed for Real-Time Rendering

One of the critical aspects of glTF is its focus on real-time rendering, which makes it particularly suited for use in interactive applications and games. Unlike other 3D file formats, glTF is optimized for fast loading and minimal runtime processing, ensuring that users can interact with 3D content without significant delays or performance issues.

Additionally, glTF minimizes the size of 3D assets and the runtime processing needed to unpack and use them, making it a highly efficient choice for various applications.

JSON-based Description

GlTF files consist of a JSON-based description of the 3D scene, which includes information about the geometry, materials, textures, and animations. This description can be easily parsed and processed by web browsers and other platforms, enabling seamless integration with existing web technologies and allowing for the creation of rich, interactive 3D experiences.

Binary Data for Efficiency

To further improve loading and rendering efficiency, glTF also includes binary data for vertex attributes, indices, and other essential components. This binary data is stored in separate files, which can be loaded asynchronously, reducing the time it takes to display the 3D content on the screen.

Why is glTF Format Needed?

The need for a universal, efficient 3D file format like glTF stems from several factors:

Emergence of Web-Based 3D Content

As the internet continues to evolve, web-based 3D content has become increasingly popular, with applications ranging from online gaming and virtual reality to product visualization and architectural design. This growing demand for high-quality, interactive 3D experiences has highlighted the need for a file format that can be easily transmitted, loaded, and rendered on the web.

GlTF’s usage extends to immersive experiences like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), as well as in 3D advertisements. Its versatility makes it suitable for a broad spectrum of interactive and engaging applications.

Limitations of Existing File Formats

Before glTF, there were several 3D file formats available, such as OBJ, FBX, and COLLADA. However, these formats were not specifically designed for real-time rendering and web-based applications, resulting in larger file sizes, slower loading times, and less efficient rendering. GlTF addresses these limitations by providing a compact, binary-based representation that is optimized for fast loading and minimal runtime processing.

Accessibility and Interoperability

Another driving factor behind the need for glTF is the push for greater accessibility and interoperability between different platforms, devices, and applications. With its open-standard nature and JSON-based description, glTF ensures that 3D assets can be easily shared, modified, and rendered across various platforms, making it an ideal choice for developers and content creators who want to reach the widest possible audience.

Plus, the open-source and royalty-free nature of glTF contributes to its widespread adoption and flexibility in various industries. This aspect significantly enhances its appeal for a wide range of users and developers.

Main Features of glTF

GlTF offers a range of features that set it apart from other 3D file formats, making it an attractive option for creators, users, and developers alike. Some of these features include:

Compact and Efficient

As mentioned earlier, glTF is designed for fast loading and minimal runtime processing, making it an efficient choice for web-based 3D content. Its JSON-based description and binary data representation ensure that files are compact and can be easily transmitted over network connections.

PBR Materials

GlTF supports physically-based rendering (PBR) materials, which allows for the creation of realistic, high-quality 3D graphics. PBR materials consider the interaction between light and surface properties, resulting in more accurate reflections, shading, and overall appearance.

Animation Support

In addition to static 3D models, glTF also supports animations, making it suitable for use in interactive applications and games. Animations can be defined using a range of techniques, including skeletal, morph target, and node-based animations.


GlTF is designed to be extensible, allowing for the addition of custom features and functionality. This extensibility ensures that glTF can adapt to the evolving needs of the 3D graphics industry and continue to meet the requirements of new and emerging applications.

Additionally, the strong tooling surrounding glTF further enhances its capability for sharing 3D assets and exchanging content between various applications, tools, and libraries, making it a robust choice for a wide array of 3D content creation and distribution.

Learn more in our detailed guide to compress animated GIF

What Are the Main Uses of glTF?

Thanks to its versatile features and efficient design, glTF has a wide range of applications, including:

Web-Based 3D Content

As a format specifically designed for the web, glTF is an ideal choice for web-based 3D content, such as online gaming, virtual reality, and product visualization. Its fast loading times and efficient rendering capabilities ensure that users can enjoy high-quality, interactive 3D experiences without performance issues or delays.

glTF files can be embedded in documents, such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint files, offering new possibilities for integrating 3D content in more traditional and widely-used formats.

Architectural Visualization

GlTF can also be used for architectural visualization, allowing architects and designers to create realistic, interactive 3D models of their designs. This can help clients better understand the proposed structure and make informed decisions about layout, materials, and other aspects of the project.

Automotive Industry

The automotive industry can benefit from glTF as well, using it to create detailed, interactive 3D models of vehicles for marketing, sales, and product development purposes. These models can be easily shared and viewed across various platforms, making it easier for customers to explore and customize their potential purchases.

Education and Training

GlTF’s support for animations and interactive 3D content makes it a valuable tool for education and training purposes. Educators and trainers can create engaging, interactive 3D models and simulations that help students better understand complex concepts and practice new skills.

Best Practices for Using glTF

To get the most out of glTF and ensure optimal performance, it’s essential to follow some best practices when creating, sharing, and rendering 3D assets. These best practices include:

1. Efficient Geometry and Textures

When creating 3D models for use with glTF, it’s important to optimize geometry and textures to ensure efficient rendering and fast loading times. This can include reducing the number of polygons in your model, using smaller texture sizes, and compressing textures to minimize file size.

2. Use PBR Materials Wisely

glTF’s support for PBR materials allows for the creation of realistic, high-quality graphics. However, you’ll need to use these materials wisely for optimal performance. This can include using lower-resolution textures for less critical parts of the model and avoiding overly complex materials that can slow down rendering times.

3. Consider Level of Detail

Level of Detail (LOD) is an essential concept in 3D graphics, referring to the use of simplified versions of a model at a distance or smaller size. Using LOD can help reduce the number of polygons and textures displayed, improving performance and reducing load times.

4. Use Compression

Compression is another essential technique for optimizing glTF files, reducing file size and improving load times. There are several compression techniques available, including Draco, a Google-developed compression library specifically designed for glTF files.

5. Test on Different Platforms

To ensure that your glTF files work correctly across different platforms and devices, it’s important to test them on a range of systems and browsers. This can help identify potential issues before they become widespread and ensure that your content is accessible to the widest possible audience.

All About glTF with Cloudinary

Building on our previous exploration of best practices for glTF, let’s delve into how we can apply these standards while harnessing the power of Cloudinary. One standout feature of Cloudinary is its proficiency in accommodating glTF files, allowing for seamless manipulation and optimal delivery.

By using the dynamic URL-based transformations offered by Cloudinary, you can real-time modify and enhance your 3D models with ease. Need to adjust quality or format? Or add overlays, or tweak orientation of your 3D model? It’s as simple as altering parameters in the URL of your files. Yes, you read that right – no complex code changes, no hassle, just quick and straightforward adjustments. And don’t worry, this doesn’t compromise on the quality of your 3D models; it actually enhances it!

With Cloudinary, it’s not just about simplifying transformations. The platform also intelligently optimizes delivery through its ‘Automatic Quality and Encoding’ feature. This feature is designed to analyze and deliver your 3D models in the best possible format, ensuring superior visuals without demanding high bandwidth. What’s more, Cloudinary’s globally integrated Content Delivery Network (CDN) guarantees quick and reliable delivery of your glTF files, offering an unmatched user experience, no matter where your audience is located.

In short, the implementation of glTF best practices is not just feasible but delightfully simple with Cloudinary. It is a tool that genuinely complements your expertise with 3D models, making your work more efficient and enjoyable.

Take the first step in revolutionizing your 3D model handling by signing up for Cloudinary today.

Last updated: Jan 14, 2024