Print your Clothes – A DIY Trend of the Future?
It gets more and more clear that 3D printing is an excellent means of overcoming any limits concerning medicine, art, architecture, and so on. It seems as if every aspect of life benefits from the technology, so it was solely a question of time, when it enters private households. Although we have not reached this state yet, we get closer to it every day. Lately, 3D printing started entering the apparel industry and was already used for a Fashion Show in Paris, as well as for the outfit of Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy at the opening ceremony in 2016. There is still a lot of work to be done, but someday it might be possible to print a customized, perfectly fitting piece of clothing easily at home, instead of searching for the perfect piece and trying it on in various sizes.
Kicking Off a New Trend
3D printing clothes is not as easy as it may sound. The first challenge is the material. In order to create a three-dimensional structure, plastic materials are deposited layer upon layer, which makes perfect sense for architectural models, for instance. This technique also succeeds in making 3D-printed material look like fabric but it does not yet resemble the soft touch and the way actual fabric drapes. In this respect, weaving, knitting and other traditional manufacturing techniques of clothes will probably forever occupy the leading role. The advantages of 3D printing clothes, however, range from an exact fit to the customization of color and pattern choices. According to Danit Peleg, who is the mastermind behind Amy Purdy’s dress at the Paralympics,“3D-printed clothing is an all-but-inevitable part of the ongoing digital revolution”.She compares this process to the digitalization of music, which we used to buy in record stores, but nowadays a click is enough to download a song and listen to it, whenever and wherever we want.
Finding the Ideal Material
Another pioneer in 3D printing clothes is the fashion trio threeASFOUR, who merged an entire collection of 3D printed clothing that was presented on a runway last year in New York City. The practicability of this collection is, unfortunately, very limited, as some of the models were unable to sit down in the designs. Again, the material is the problem, so the trio consisting of Gabriel Asfour, Angela Donhauser and Adi Gil started working on a way to 3D-weave. They collaborated with a 3D printing company and architect Bradley Rothenbergwho already designed 3D-printed wings for a Victoria’s Secret show, but the problem with the material seemed impossible to overcome. Eventually, however, they succeeded in creating Pangolin, which is a 3D-printed dress that took 500 hours and 10 simultaneously working 3D-printers to be made. The solution was an algorithm that simulates cell division in order to resemble an interlocking 3D-weave.
For Purdy’s dress, Peleg used the material FilaFlex, which is a rubbery material that fits the curve of the body and thus attempts to achieve a draping similar to traditional fabrics. A similar rubbery material was used for Pangolin, but Rothenberg criticizes that it “kind of looks like fake leather” and that it is “very uncomfortable, and it sticks to you”. Hence, the problem is not entirely solved – but the foundation stone for this technology is laid.
3D-Printed Successes in Other Industries
There are aspects of apparel that do not require a fabric-like material. Forerunners who already successfully use 3D-printing for their products are Nike and adidas. Both companies use 3D printing for padding and soles of their shoes, which are characterized by their stiffness. That is why the fabric issue that complicates the printing of clothes is not a challenge here. Jewelry is another sector which benefits from 3D printing.
Lately, even the NASA launched a project that aims to 3D-print a material that can protect astronauts from the elements – like armor. In the near future, this will be the most realistic endeavor, until 3D printing clothes becomes a practicable possibility.