3D Printed Fashion
Fashion is a broader category comprising apparel, footwear, and accessories. With today’s advancement of 3D printing technology, all of these can be 3D printed with ease. However, all are at different levels of development where 3D printed clothes are at a nascent stage but show a lot of promise.
Unlike footwear, where a lot of premium brands have already invested in the technology, fashion has not seen such massive investment yet. It is still being experimented and tested and gradually being developed to create a sustainable practice that is affordable, easy to print, and compatible with clothing standards. Since clothes come in direct contact with human skin, there is an additional level of scrutiny so that it doesn’t adversely affect the person wearing 3D printed clothes.
Types of 3D Printed Fabrics
Right now, not a lot can be achieved through 3D printing. The 3D printed clothes are nothing like our everyday apparel. We take a look at two types of 3D-printed clothes that can be made today.
Flexibility is an issue with 3D-printed clothes. Most designers use the technology to create rigid sections and club them together to form a complete garment. However, the technology harnesses its complex manufacturing capability to allow highly intricate designs to be printed.
Another way to 3D print clothes is to create meshes. A meshed structure allows for flexibility of movement and thus is more practical than the rigid types. However, flexible meshes have to be very fine to give it a cloth-like feel which is not feasible today in many of the technologies in use for 3D printing clothes.
A flexible meshed garment can be used as an over-the-top attire like a jacket. This is an ideal application for the time being. A similar concept was developed and sold in limited quantity by Danit Peleg, a young Israeli fashion designer. Danit Peleg introduced a fully 3D printed bomber as a part of her fashion collection.
Technologies and Materials
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
One of the basic 3D printing technologies used in a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printer. A lot of designers start with FDM technology to create and test their 3D printed clothes ideas. FDM technology uses a polymer filament that is extruded onto a build platform to create an object layer by layer.
Materials: Popular materials used for 3D printing clothes is PolyLactic Acid (PLA) – a soft and biodegradable material and Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) – a flexible material.
Stereolithography (SLA) is a resin-based 3D printing technology that uses thermosetting polymers. This technology can capture very fine features (as low as 60 microns) in a design.
Materials: Popularly flexible materials are used in this technology but companies like Protolabs have successfully experimented with a variety of polymers like the Accura Xtreme White 200, Accura 60, and Accura 5530 from 3D Systems, and Somos Watershed XC 11122 from DSM.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a powder-bed fusion technology that uses a powdered material for 3D printing. The powder particles are fused on the application of a powerful laser. This technology also uses polymer materials.
Materials: Polyamide is a popular material used to experiment, test, and design 3D-printed clothes.
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF), a technology developed by HP Inc., is also a powder-based technology but it uses binders to fuse particles.
Materials: Nylon 12 is one of the most widely used materials in MJF technology and it is also suitable for 3D printing clothes. This material was used by Protolabs to create a design in the Met Gala 2019.
3D Printed Clothes Projects
We now take a look at some of the real-world projects that showcased the feasibility of 3D-printed clothes.
Zac Posen MET Gala 2019
In 2019, Zac Posen, an American fashion designer, partnered with GE Additive and Protolabs to create breath-taking 3D printed dresses for the Met Gala that year. This event showcased the awesome capabilities of 3D printing technology. The collection by Zac Posen was inspired by nature in motion and the highlight was the 21-petaled 3D printed rose gown. British supermodel Jourdan Dunn wore the dress and was the talk of the Gala.
Zac’s collection showcased his designs as well as the potential of the cutting-edge technology and material combination. The gown was 3D printed on a Stereolithography 3D printer in 3D systems’ Accura Xtreme White 200 durable plastic. It took over 1,100 hours of printing time to complete the dress.
Besides this gown, Zac also created other unique designs worn by celebrities from across the globe. The technologies used in this project include SLA and MJF and materials include Accura Xtreme White 200, Accura 60, and Accura 5530 from 3D Systems, and Somos Watershed XC 11122 from DSM and Microfine green material for 3D printing rose cuff links.
Marvel’s Black Panther
To recreate the futuristic world of the Black Panther, Marvel had to use similar futuristic technology. The Marvel team collaborated with famous designer and architect Julia Koerner to design the costume of Queen Ramonda who was the Queen Mother of Wakanda and mother of Black Panther. The basic requirement of the costume was to look futuristic but at the same time represent the African culture.
The designer wanted to make use of very fine intricate patterns but such patterns could not be achieved through traditional methods. So the collective team decided to incorporate 3D printing technology.
Finally, the costume was fabricated through the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) machine.
Liberty Leading The People by Danit Peleg
In 2015, Danit Peleg, a young Israeli designer unveiled the ‘Liberty Leading The People’ collection. This is considered by some as the first-ever fashion collection in the world to be entirely 3D printed on desktop 3D printers. According to the designer, it took nearly 2000 hours to 3D print the entire collection.
This revolutionary journey was a major step in pushing the digitalization of fashion into the next phase. It took roughly 2000 hours to print the entire collection.
Chanel is one of the world’s top luxury fashion brands. In 2015, the late Mr. Karl Lagerfeld presented a 3D printed clothing collection for women during the Paris Fashion Show. Though the collection was not entirely 3D printed it had 3D printed elements like shoulders, buttons, and lapels.
According to Chanel, they use the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology to print crucial parts like the vests.
Future of 3D Printed Clothes
Even as most designers dream of a world where consumers can 3D print clothes from the comfort of their homes, the dream is still far off. There is still a long way to go for the technology to become mainstream in the fashion industry, and more so in 3D printed clothing. One of the major challenges to the adoption is the small material library. There is an urgent need to develop soft, comfy, and affordable materials. As more and more companies enter the race to develop better technology and materials, the technology will surely get wide acceptance in the coming years.