The days of 3D printing being a hyped-up novelty are gone. The technology has moved past the innovation stage and is well into the early adoption phase as more and more people seek out information and dip their toes into the industry. But while 3D printing as a whole is rapidly becoming more mainstream, when it comes to printing clothing, there are still major challenges.
I experience some of those challenges every day in my 3D-printed fashion lab in Miami, and I’m using one of the most advanced 3D printers available on the market. For someone working on clothing at home with a consumer-grade 3D printer, the challenges would be even greater. But luckily, I do see solutions on the horizon, and as the technology matures, most of the problems fashion designers currently face will begin to ease.
Here are the top three problems I currently see facing 3D printed sustainable fashion, and the solutions that I believe will arrive sooner rather than later to help ease the frustration of 3D designers like myself.
Problem 1: Materials are Currently Quite Limiting
While there are a number of types of
The other big problem is
Luckily, there are innovative companies out there tackling both of these problems as we speak. A company called
Problem 2: 3D Printing is Slow
There have been great strides in the efficiency and speed of 3D printing over the past few years, but I’d be lying if I said that the technology was currently fast. The time it takes to complete a design is obviously based on overall complexity, but even the simplest of fashion pieces requires some serious patience.
For example, in my September show at New York Fashion Week, the pieces incorporated a lot of complex geometrical shapes. As a result, it actually took around 150 hours to print one of the dresses on a single printer! That’s obviously an extreme example, but even with the current skirt I’m working on, which is a much simpler design, printing takes around 18 hours.
The solution to this problem is obvious – the unstoppable march of technological progress! Every year printers get faster and faster and, especially as large format printers grow in speed, the time it takes to do large, complex designs will rapidly decrease. For multi-piece designs like the skirt I mentioned (which requires a 3D printed liner as well), employing multiple printers is also an easy way to cut the manufacturing time down.
I’ve also begun experimenting with stereolithography (SLA) printers, which are faster than traditional printers. SLA printers also allow me to print with different materials like silicone and flexible resins. The downside is that, while fast, SLA printers are small. They are getting larger though, and I’m eagerly awaiting the launch of a large-format version in the coming months.
Problem 3: There’s a Long Way to Go in Education and Acceptance
While 3D printing is now in an early adoption phase and more and more consumers are becoming familiar with it, when it comes to 3D printed fashion, there is a long, long way to go. In fact, when you tell the average person about 3D printed clothing, most of them initially don’t even believe it’s real. They also assume that 3D printed clothing is worse for the environment and for the consumer than traditional materials like cotton. That’s understandable, since most people associate “plastic” with “bad”, but when it comes clothing production, they couldn’t be more wrong.
The industry also needs more education on the technology itself, specifically the software used to create designs. As it stands, it can be a steep learning curve to tackle, and many fashion designers that might otherwise be interested in trying out 3D printing will never get started due to the barrier to entry posed by the relatively complex software.
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Photo: Vita Zamchevska