USDZ File Extension Explained

Stefan Vaskevich
author article
CEO & Founder Cyberfox

Apple’s USDZ format for augmented reality can be experienced on its iOS platforms, like iPhone and iPad, by opening Apple News or Safari. If you come across a USDZ file while using these apps, your device must be updated to iOS 12 in order to view the file properly.

What Is a USDZ File?

USDZ is a 3D file format that allows developers to exchange it between applications for convenience during creation, and also displays three-dimensional and augmented reality content on iOS devices which can be shared easily.

USDZ is a format that allows for easy viewing and sharing among iPhone and iPad users running iOS 12. What sets USDZ apart from other formats is its portability and native viewing ability, so users don’t need to download a new app every time they want to use it. Also, USDZ files can be quickly shared with fellow iOS device users. Android devices do not support USDZ yet, but have their own versions in gLTF or gLB formats.

The USDZ file format makes it simple to exchange 3D models for AR. This Adobe file format includes data for different objects and ancillary files in one place, such as mapping information, textures, rigging geometry, and more. USDZ was originally introduced at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) by Pixar and Apple in 2018 to make creating top-tier 3D content easier for AR experiences.

USDZ is a format created by Pixar that stores multiple assets in one scene, which makes it easier for artists to work on the same project at the same time. You can see this used in some of Pixar’s movies like Toy Story 4 or The Incredibles 2, both of which were animated using the Hydra Engine.

Some people are afraid that USDZ may be required for assets developed elsewhere to run on iOS devices, even though it hasn’t been widely adopted yet. gLTF is currently more popular than USDZ, which can only be used with iOS.

What is augmented reality?

With virtual reality, users can immerse themselves in a simulated world. Augmented reality goes one step further by adding digital images to the user’s real-world surroundings using a camera and device with a screen, which could be anything from another type of headset to a cell phone.

USDZ Format Applications 

USDZ and AR can be used for the following purposes, as suggested by Geoff Stahl, Apple’s Senior Director of Software Technology Development Group, at the 2019 WWDC conference:

  • ShopIQ makes it a breeze to look through items from Target, Home Depot, and Wayfair all in one place.
  • The cutting-edge platform enables you to view virtual objects without having to install any software, from the convenience of your home or any other location.
  • With Apple’s new iOS 12 update, you can now share USDZ files much more easily through the Mail and Message apps or the Safari web browser.
  • if you integrate Quick Look with Apple Pay, your website traffic will increase.
  • With Shopify’s 3D model development tools, you can make your products available in augmented reality.

USDZ Features 

Unlike other types of zip files, USDZ files cannot be compressed and do not require encryption. Instead, they render multiple objects as one object, making them more lightweight and efficient. You can edit USDZ files by using the “unzip” command through Terminal on Mac or iOS development devices.

You can also change the file extension to .zip and extract its contents. After that, you can edit the separate files with compatible tools. According to the USDZ specification:

  • The USD runtime uses a map to visualize the data.
  • The data can also be accessed by pointing to the memory.
  • Be sure to always keep your threads safe when accessing shared data.

USDZ was designed to be uncompressed so that programs or APIs could access the data without unpacking the files beforehand. In order to reduce file size, USDZ uses encryption. You can use plugins within a USDZ file by referencing individual files. Some developers argue that since a USDZ file starts at 64 bytes according to the specifications, it behaves essentially like a text file. Consequently, you can save any USDC or USDA file in USDZ format.

How to view a USDZ file

In order to see a USDZ file by using AR Quick Look, you need an Apple device that has iOS 12. If you’re looking at photos or icons with the Quick Look feature, there will be an AR link located in the top right-hand corner; once clicked, it will start the AR experience on your device.

AR Quick Look previews AR or 3D content on your iOS 12 device by displaying it over real-world views. With older versions of Quick Look, users could only preview certain file types such as images and documents. However, USDZ files now open effortlessly on Apple devices because AR Quick Look is part of the operating system. Also, the possible interactions are limited, but they include movement and sizing models with a basic swipe or pinching gesture. And although Android devices don’t have an analogous solution, some third-party options exist even though they’re not native to the Android OS.

How to convert a USDZ file

Since the announcement of USDZ, not much has changed in terms of ways to convert files. However, pre-compiled Python libraries from companies like Pixar have made it easier for users. You can also use programs like Xcode 10, which requires just a few lines of code to convert your media file.

USDZ Conversion Programs

Designers who make 3D models use a variety of programs to generate textures and later convert the files into USDZ format. Some more prevalent file formats used to save these models include OBJ and ABC. If you want to convert a USDZ file into gLTF format, unzip the USDZ file beforehand and tweak the texture files before exporting as a gLTF. Listed below are some programs that can be used to create entirely new 3D models or edit existing ones that can then be converted into USDZ files with Adobe Project Aero, Adobe Substance Painter, Autodesk Maya, or Quixel.

How to start creating content with USDZ

USDZ is a great choice for artists wanting to get into augmented reality, but Adobe has announced that its Creative Cloud applications will now support the file format. The desktop beta version is available now, and the mobile app is already live. Project Aero is where you can find all of Adobe’s latest progress on this front.

The bottom line

The USDZ file extension is used for compressed, 3D augmented reality assets. It was developed by Apple and Pixar, collaborating with third-party companies such as Adobe. The USDZ file format allows for easy sharing of AR content across devices and applications, making it a valuable tool for developers and designers. Overall, the USDZ file format shows excellent potential for the future of AR technology.

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Users can easily share USDZ files with other iOS users. The USDZ file format is for 3D models, and was introduced by Apple and Pixar. It is universal, meaning any AR app or device can use it.
Multiple programs and tools support the creation and conversion of USDZ files, such as Adobe Aero, Substance Painter, Autodesk Maya, Blender, Pixar RenderMan, Unity, and Xcode 10. Depending on your specific needs and preferred software, you may want to research which option will work best for you.
With the proper plugin installed, Blender can open and export USDZ files. Additionally, some Python-based tools can convert USD files to USDZ file extension without needing a Mac.
The specific steps for exporting USDZ will vary depending on the program or tool used. However, the export option can typically be found in the program's File or Export menu. It is also essential to ensure that any necessary textures and materials are transferred during the export process.
Some tools, such as SimSoft Composer, can convert Solidworks files into USDZ. However, it is essential to note that currently, Solidworks does not natively support USDZ files. Therefore, it may be necessary to use a third-party conversion tool or software.
USDZ files are not compressed like a traditional ZIP file, so they do not need to be "unzipped." However, if you have downloaded a USDZ file and it appears as a ZIP folder on your computer, this may indicate that it was incorrectly named during the download process.
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