3D Printing Makes an Impact on Apparel

By Clare Scott

A lot of attention surrounding 3D printing has focused on industrial applications in industries such as automotive, aerospace, and medical devices. Another area where the technology is making an impact is in fashion and apparel. 3D-printed wearables have the potential to reduce material waste, create complex shapes and geometric features, and shorten time-to-market.

For a while, 3D-printed clothing was typically seen in high-fashion and on the runway rather than in clothing sold to the public. It often took the form of polymer accents and stiff garments that looked good but were impractical for everyday use. This is changing as the technology, materials, and applications advance.

3D printing supports mass customization through the Array material extrusion system from Mosaic. The company developed a method to 3D print name badges, numbers, and logos, called “tags,” for jerseys and other clothing garments. Mosaic is working with Athletic Knit, a large jersey manufacturer, which has historically used a time-consuming and labor-intensive process to make tags. Mosaic has designed an automated 3D printing process to replace this process. The company has created an adhesive filament that is printed on the first layer so the tags can be easily attached to the garments.

Tags created using the Array system and adhered to a knit hat, courtesy of Mosaic

Another company focused on this sector is Stratasys, which recently introduced its J850 TechStyle 3D printer, a PolyJet machine designed to print textiles. The printer uses Stratasys’ proprietary inkjet technology and specially developed materials to print directly onto different fabrics. This has led to new design flexibility and freedom. Designers can easily create optical illusions and custom garments. It may be a while until we see 3D-printed clothing in a store near you, yet the technology is moving toward greater accessibility.

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