3D Printing for Fashion

Published on June 14, 2017

3D Printing for Fashion

Blog
  • 3D printing is being used by many fashion designers.
  • 3D printing is not at the moment ready for mass producing clothing.
  • Some new developments however may make this more likely to occur in the future.

Over the past decade many fashion designers have done extensive experiments with 3D printed fashion. Janne Kyttanen was one of the first starting with handbags, tops and other fashion items. Most 3D printing materials are rigid. Since the beginning of 3D printed fashion this has been one of the main obstacles to overcome. By making chain mail like structures flexible clothing items can be made with powder bed fusion 3D printing for example. Now with the advent of a wider array of flexible materials 3D printing for fashion looks closer than ever to coming to fruition. It will however have to overcome some obstacles.

Published on June 14, 2017

3D Printing for Fashion

Blog

Build Volumes & Speed 

3D printer build volumes and speeds are somewhat limited when compared to industrial mass manufacturing equipment. If designers wish to produce clothing at scale then higher throughput machines will have to be found. At the moment 3D printed fashion items are not custom made for one individual. It is through this that 3D printing can add real value to clothing. If 3D printers can in an automated way make unique clothing items inexpensively that can fit then the technology could be used widely in fashion.

Cost 

At the moment this is far from the case however. The material cost in 3D printing is still too high. This, and low throughput from machines, means that individual clothing items are too costly to find mass adoption at the moment. The process will have to be industrialized for fashion in order for it to make sense for this application. New software tools will have to be developed in order to make it possible to correctly produce the perfect garment for each individual.

Surface Texture 

Another issue is with some of the surface textures of the materials. Powder bed fusion materials have a powdery feel on their surfaces. Even if parts are tumbled to smooth them they are often slightly too abrasive to wear directly on the skin. This coupled with the high price of materials and insufficient flexibility is a hurdle that needs to be overcome.

Not yet a Textile 

We are not currently able to 3D print materials with the same durability and flexibility as well as softness of a textile. Flexible materials such as the polyjet materials are not yet durable enough to be used in everyday wearable clothing. Other flexible materials such as TPU/TPE for material extrusion systems are durable and tough enough for clothing. These however usually have a surface quality that does not make them attractive enough to make clothing items. New materials and new surface finishes will have to be developed in order for 3D printed fashion to advance.

 

Couture 

Due to these current limitations 3D printing has so far only really been used for Couture. One off pieces that are meant more for the runway than your closet. Even in this context, many 3D printed fashion pieces are supremely uncomfortable. Their rigid structures and surfaces make them difficult to wear and would make them almost impossible to wear in any practical daily use kind of way. Even though you may see many 3D printed fashion articles we are not currently getting significantly closer to mass producing 3D printed fashion. There are simply a lot of designers testing the waters. Iris van Herpen and others are exploring the design freedom of the technology and this is getting them lots of attention.

Reality 

In order for fashion 3D printing to really advance new materials and processes will have to be developed. Materials will have to have much better surface qualities, durability, softness and flexibility while being significantly cheaper. Printers will also have to be faster and have higher throughputs as well. In the final analysis: once this does occur it would give designers an automated way to directly 3D print out unique form fitting clothing for the masses.