We’ve compared some of the most common point cloud formats and their interoperability to help you choose a point cloud file format that suits the purposes of your project.
When it comes to LiDAR survey file types, there’s no one point cloud format that all laser scanning systems use — there are hundreds. So it can be difficult to know which point cloud formats are compatible with your point cloud processing software.
In this article, we’ve compared the most common point cloud formats used by processing software. Many of the most advanced point cloud softwares will allow you to use these file types, or convert them if they don’t support them.
The Two Categories of Point Cloud File Types
Most point cloud formats fall under two file types: ASCII and binary. As you may have guessed, binary file formats store information in binary code. ASCII file formats are still rooted in binary, but they use text to convey information.
ASCII file types have more access options than binary formats — for example, text editors and popular applications, including Microsoft Excel. However, data conveyed through text takes longer to interpret, and file sizes are much larger compared to binary files. Binary files can also hold and convey more information, as well as improve file read speeds.
While many formats can convert to improve compatibility, binary formats shouldn’t be converted to ASCII — this can cause a loss of information — therefore; it’s best to also keep binary and proprietary files as a backup
Common Point Cloud Formats
While there are many different formats within binary and ASCII file types, there are a few point cloud formats commonly used and compatible with different types of point cloud processing software, including TopoDOT, Bentley, Leica, Faro, and Trimble.
- XYZ — There are several variations of this ASCII file format, all based on Cartesian coordinates (XYZ coordinates). XYZ formats are designed for importing and exporting geometries and are widely accepted by different point cloud processing software.
- LAS — LAS is a binary format used specifically for storing LiDAR data. It’s an industry-standard format, so it’s widely used and compatible with most programs.
- OBJ — There are both binary and ASCII versions of this file format, developed by computer graphics company, Wavefront Technologies. It’s widely used for 3D graphics applications.
- PTX — PTX can be both ASCII and binary, but in an ASCII format, it is specifically designed for saving point cloud data from laser scanning systems.
- E57 — This vendor-neutral file type uses both ASCII and binary to store data so users can make the most of the benefits of both file types. It’s accessible, fast to read, and can store vast amounts of information.
- DOT — This is a binary format proprietary to TopoDOT that enhances visualization, load times and user interactiveness.
What Point Cloud Format Can You Use with TopoDOT?
Several point cloud formats are compatible with our point cloud processing software, including XYZ, LAS, PTS, and DOT. However, we recommend using e57 files with TopoDOT. As a vendor-neutral file type, the E57 format is widely used, and with binary and ASCII data, E57 files can store important data including 3D spatial information, calibrated images, and individual scan position data.
Regardless of which format your survey data is in though, we strongly advise our users to convert data to TopoDOT’s DOT format. This is an optional step in using TopoDOT to process point clouds, however you will see improved user-friendliness, faster load times and better visualization.
You can easily convert point cloud formats using the “Point Cloud Conversion Wizard” tool in our Point Cloud Project Manager Toolbox or the Data Management Tab — for those utilizing the Ribbon.