3D printing has been making a stir for years. It’s the next innovative step in sculpting. This technology transforms digital files into three-dimensional solids through a mere printing process. Since its inception in the early 2000s, the idea has taken off. At first a tool only high-end manufacturers could use, these printers are now trickling down to the everyman, helping him make everything from sliding door bolts to coin sorters.
Recently, 3D printing has also been making its mark on the fashion community. It’s the logical next step after companies like Epsom stole the show with patterns made using digital printing systems. The surprising thing is, 3D printing is moving so fast we’re not far off from having fashion 3D printers in-store, servicing consumers on a day-to-day basis. For an industry that still hasn’t fully embraced digital printing, that’s a huge leap. How will fashion incorporate this new tool into its traditionally-geared stores and collections?
THE ART OF 3D PRINTING
To understand what 3D printing could mean for the fashion industry, it’s useful to know a little about the process. 3D printed objects are created using an additive process. The printer layers down successive layers of material until the item is complete. Typically, when you look closely at products created using a 3D printer, you can make out dozens of thinly-sliced horizontal “sections” piled on top of each other to make the design.
To make a 3D print, you first need to have a virtual design of the object you wish to create. This can be done in two ways. You can either use a 3D scanner to copy an existing object or use modeling software to construct a new design from nothing. While there are cheap DIY scanners and free open source software to help make rough mock-ups of your designs, the best way to get a truly accurate print is to hire a digital company with industrial grade software. It may sound complicated, but as fashion designers are quickly discovering, these steps often still save time.
THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE GARMENT
More and more, fashion is zeroing in its focus on functionality and flexibility. The philosophy is that everyday clothing should be comfortable and easy to wear. Stuffy suits and elaborate gowns are fading to the wayside as people opt in favor of semi-formal shirts and blouses accompanied by jeans or slacks. From this emphasis on comfort and ease, we get designers asking how they can improve clothing rather than simply “make art.” That’s not to say there isn’t a place for making voluptuous dresses and ornate waistcoats. People just wear those pieces less and there isn’t the same expectation for people to dress up.
All these changing ideas, the rise of personalized fashion, and the 21st-century digital explosion have inspired many young designers to explore the technology of garments, what they’re made of and how to make them more efficient. This has also led to a few companies addressing the question of garment manufacturing, which in turn guided them to 3D printing.
FASHION AND 3D PRINTING
As you read, 3D printing involves a precise process, but once you’ve got that down the world is your wardrobe. Perhaps this is why 3D printing has taken off so fast. The idea of using this technology in the fashion industry only came about a few years ago, and already a store in Boston has installed a machine that can make a garment on demand in 90 minutes. With efficiency like that, it’s no surprise other retailers are eyeing these machines for their stores.
3D printing technology has other implications for fashion retail as well. It eliminates waste and resolves that pesky out-of-stock problem all on its own. No additional programming or research needed. It also caters to the customization era, allowing customers to be a part of the creative process. With the right software, you can literally watch an original outfit crafted right before your eyes and give your personal input. Just like Instagram made us all photographers, 3D printing is about to make us all designers.
3D printing offers tremendous opportunities for the fashion world. It’s one of those inventions that forces us to re-examine our understanding of the word “efficient.” Just wait until stores are sending you orders via 3D fax. That’ll be the day.
— Timothy Vest