3D Printing Technology: The Future of Textile Design?

There are a few different uses that typically come to mind when one thinks about 3D printing technology. It can conjure of the image of simple, single-colored plastic models — toys and experiments made for fun. On the other end of the spectrum, people are researching 3D printed organs and other medical applications. But there are many other potential uses for this technology, and believe it or not, textile design is one of them.


Textiles as new direction for 3D printing


The 3D printing industry is still young, and very much in the experimental phase, especially when it comes to a field such as textiles. Printing organic products such as cotton and other natural fabrics is challenging, so 3D printed garments are often made from other materials like plastic. They tend to be bulky and stiff, more suited to a fashion show than to everyday wear. For these reasons, 3D printing technology has been more focused on accessories such as jewelry and eyewear. These objects do not need to have the same pliability as textiles.


One such use for this technology in the clothing industry is for insoles. Companies like Canadian start-up Wiivv Wearables and New York–based Feetz allow the customer to scan their feet in order to create an accurate model, from which the company uses 3D printing technology to make an insole perfectly fitted to the individual. This allows for cheaper customization, making the insoles more accessible to consumers. While Wiivv is currently focusing on insoles, it hopes to use this technology for clothing in the future. The idea is to make tailored, well-fitting clothing more affordable.


Natural vs. synthetic fabric


Other companies are currently working on making this idea a reality, but with mixed results. In 2015, Electroloom ran a successful Kickstarter to create a 3D printer for clothing. The printer created seamless garments made from a cotton/polyester blend, making them much more wearable and practical than many other 3D textile designs so far. The process was inspired by the technique used to create organic tissue, and involved spraying a solution containing the fabric blend onto a mold, where it would solidify into fabric. It took 8-14 hours to produce one piece of clothing.


Unfortunately, despite the company’s promising Kickstarter, Eletroloom was forced to close down last year. It was unable to raise another round of funding, and could not afford to continue developing and refining its prototype. It was apparently making slow progress on a high-risk project, and there was not enough interest to sustain the venture. However, despite this disappointing result, the company has shown that the potential is there, and perhaps other people will take up this project in the future and develop it further.


Meanwhile, The University of Hertfordshire in the UK is working on developing 3D-printed clothing that is more flexible and wearable than existing iterations. The university calls its line of clothing Modeclix, made from 3D-printed textiles that are then dyed, weaved, stitched and knitted. The fabric is flexible and drapes in a similar way to more traditional clothing. While these are still only prototypes, they show that 3D printing textile design has potential, and could become more practical in the near future. With the success of these prototypes, the university now hopes to make them for a wider market.


Future prospects of 3D textile design


As the 3D printing industry grows, so too does the prospect of 3D textile design. Many companies are experimenting with the technology, learning from the successes and failures of others and coming up with new ideas of their own. While we are clearly still some time away from this becoming mainstream, it has a great deal of potential in the market.


Due to the growing competition in the global fabric and textile market, businesses are using networking websites like BizVibe’s fabrics and textiles industry section to find quality business partners. So whether you are looking for importers, exporters, or manufacturers, there is a place for you to start on BizVibe.

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