4D Printing: Building Smart Fashion of the Future Today

4D Printing: Building Smart Fashion of the Future Today

4D Printing: Building Smart Fashion of the Future Today 

The technology of today is far different than that of 20, 10 — even 5 years ago. Self-driving cars are accelerating worldwide, smart home devices are increasingly commonplace, and economies are on their way towards becoming completely cashless.

And these trends in technological advancement can be found impacting every industry, even fashion. Consider, for example, recent applications of AI in both design and online shopping. Or the 3D-modeled, digitally customizable skirts from Julia Daviy — the first of their kind in 3D-printed, ready-to-wear fashion available to the market.

More astounding yet are emerging shifts in the manufacturing of fashion textiles. If you can visualize a garment, designers are inching their way closer to being able to create it in a matter of hours through the use of 3D printing technology.


The speed of production and availability of materials in 3D printing may not be prime for mass adoption just yet, but solutions are on the horizon as these technologies continue to mature. And as this current technology grows smarter, new evolutions arise.

At Julia Daviy specifically, we’ve made massive shifts over the last three years with regards to 3D-printed textiles. We’ve successfully transitioned from homemade plastic 3D-printed garments pieced together from multiple segments, to a more flexible 3D-printed clothing material created using large-format 3D printers. This material has now been recommended as a must-have for women’s wardrobe by British Vogue.

And now it’s time to move even further forward as we explore 4D printing for fashion — an application poised to change the ways in which we design and wear clothes forever.

What is 4D Printing?

4D printing is a method of manufacturing built around the idea of self-assembly. This isn’t to say that you, as the wearer, would be required to assemble anything, however. Instead, it implies that “things” would actually be able to make themselves.

Skylar Tibbits, an MIT researcher and expert in the field, discusses the concept in relation to buildings. Through the use of 4D printing technology, architects could design skyscrapers capable of changing shape and repairing themselves post-production. It’s a technology that could completely re-envision city skylines and infrastructure.

The Difference Between 3D and 4D Printing

3D printing is no stranger to the world of product design. The process essentially transforms digital designs into 3D physical objects — building them out layer by layer.

This differs from 4D printing in the sense that a printer will put to use specially designed materials that can change shape. This means sophisticated, 3D printed designs can be taken one step further and made to change their appearance based on programmed triggers like water, light, heat, or other simple energy output.


4D Printing Applications in Fashion

When it comes to fashion, Julia Daviy is one of the only designers to begin implementing 3D printing techniques in creating everything from shirts to dresses. Not only are these methods functional, but they’re also sustainable — committed to environmental friendliness through the popularized zero-waste wearables.

With 4D printing, fashion designers and studios are bringing new visions to life. Nervous System out of Massachusetts, for example, has created jewelry and garments with articulated joints. This allows pieces to automatically change shape once removed from the printer and placed on the model — resulting in pieces that better fit to the form of any body shape.

In theory, 4D printing is a method of manufacturing that could be used in designing fashion that does far more than change shape. Imagine a button-down, simple in design and function to the naked eye. With 4D printing, designers could program these items to change color or take on an entirely new pattern.

Alternatively, this same approach could be used to alter the length of a dress or the neckline of a top. Style needs aside, 4D-printed clothing can also be self-programmable enough to protect against humans changing their shape and other characteristics (e.g. density) under extreme conditions. All of this means consumers could have more control than ever before over the design and fit of “smart clothing” tailored to their exact liking and/or environment without the cost of expensive alterations.

4D Printing Limitations

4D printing may certainly sound too good to be true, but the potential is real. What has yet to become a reality, similar to 3D printing, is mass adoption within the fashion industry.

As with any newer technology, more time is needed to advance efforts, lower costs, and work out the kinks. Studios are still very much in the experimental phase of bringing 4D printed designs to life as they work with limiting materials and slower production times.

Final Thoughts: 4D Printing and Smart Fashion of the Future

There’s no denying that fast changes are underway. Designs have come a long way since the first 3D printed objects — transforming into pieces that are not only wearable but marketable to the larger consumer market, like the Organic skirt by Julia Daviy. In order to see 4D printing come to life on a larger scale, we need to continue to refine and popularize methods of 3D printing for today, tomorrow, and beyond.

Tell us how you see the industry further evolving in the comment section below.


Text: Julia Daviy


Photo: Danil Kaistro, Vita Zamchevska

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