Nov.9, 2014 | By Alec

As some of our regular readers might have noticed, several attempts have been made to apply 3D printing technology to develop wearable clothing. Just in the past two months or so, 3D clothes and accessories have been seen on a number of fashion runways. Remember Chromat's daring 3D printed outfits last month?

But it's not just the world of fashion that is playing with this exciting technology, as several research teams have also ventured into that direction. Just two weeks ago, we reported on a German project that took things one step beyond fashion pieces. Unlike those runway outfits, that team from the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences explored the intriguing possibility to recreate textile structures (strands upon strands of fabric) using 3D printing.

Theoretically, this could be the key to producing wearable, comfortable and flexible 3D printed clothing. But problem with this approach has always been reaching the desired level of flexibility and comfort, without sacrificing durability. So far, many attempts have resembled a piece of medieval chainmail, rather than a piece of cloth.

SLS Nylon

But an intriguing English project entitled Technical Crafting could be more successful. This project is a collaborative effort of two researchers from the Manchester School of Art, Mark Beecroft and Laura McPherson. Together, they combine a host of theoretical and practical knowledge about textiles with digital technologies.

Their ongoing project was only launched some six months ago, but they have already achieved some interesting results. Throughout their project, the aim has been to develop a range of flexible textile samples using 3D printing. Ideally, these can be used to develop functional, flexible and wearable textiles in the future.

And while this might not be immediately visible from the pictures above, Mark assures us that these beautifully 'woven' (but actually 3D printed) samples have already attained a level of flexibility and fineness comparable to that of clothing.

FDM nylon

As the duo explained to, they have been entirely focussed on using 3D printing technology to recreate traditional production methods. Obviously, this means that the shapes and interlocking loops you'd find on your clothing under a microscope formed the starting point of their research.

These shapes have been redesigned for 3D printing using Autodesk 123D Design software, albeit at an obviously larger scale than would be the case in a woollen scarf. Initially, their test samples were 3D printed on the HP Design Jet model 3D printer, but the results were unsatisfactory. 'The key to the development of the samples has been gaining flexibility and movement in each piece and this has required a higher spec 3D printer.'

They therefore resorted to Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing technology. '[This] gave us a much better resolution and more flexible pieces to work with. The process of designing and re-working the 3D printed structures has been a very organic process, moving backwards and forwards in the experimentation stages.'

SLS nylon

Especially interesting is their determination to maintain the 'knitted' structure, which they characterized as a 'cross fertilisation of techniques, old and new.' This, they hope, will allow 3D printing technology to become a fully integrated and functional part of textile creation. To the duo, especially its ability to develop designs and ideas both on and off the computer is an obvious advantage of this technology.

As this project is still ongoing, we'll have to wait and see what else they will realise. At the moment they're also exploring the various options that coloration, heat setting and manipulation capabilities of these nylon shapes bring to the table.

Dying these printed fabrics is especially something they're keen to achieve, and they have already discovered a number of successful ways to apply colour to their 3D printed pieces .This, they hope, will help 'to blur the lines between what is printed, woven or knitted.'

FDM plastic

For now, however, we will have to wait and see if their production methods will enable them to 3D print a few pieces of wearable clothing as well. But it's already apparent that they've ventured into the right direction; they've even already displayed these interesting samples at the Spin Expo in Shanghai last summer, while they will also be present at the oncoming ŒKnitting Nottingham exhibition. We'll update you on their process as soon as we learn more.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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Evie wrote at 9/8/2017 6:21:33 PM:

Hi there, I would like to contact the people using this technique. Please email me:

CHARLES OBULO wrote at 4/29/2017 6:13:18 PM:


Vinh Vu wrote at 11/28/2014 6:20:22 PM:

I want to contact with those people who are researching on 3D printing textile. I am looking for people who can investigate on this technique at the moment. I have design a few textiles which is flexible and can able to apply on fashion area by using desktop printer (FDM). I am currently living in London. My email : Portfolio:

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