3D printed clothes sound like a futuristic idea and an innovative solution, something the apparel industry can take full advantage of. It allows designers to overcome the limitations of traditional shapes and materials. They can create a variety of clothes relatively quickly and inexpensively. As a matter of fact, the process of making clothes involves ‘printing’ minuscule pieces, which at connection form a mesh, that adjusts to the shape of a body. Artists and designers are always fascinated by novel technologies and approaches that can help them innovate.
A lot of fashion designers use different materials such as PLA plastic and rubber to express their creations through apparel, accessories, shoes, etc. By combining these materials with 3D printing techniques, designers can create more exciting projects. Perhaps, the major limitation of making clothes with 3D printing is production time. Simple dresses can take several hours to print and assemble, which makes these clothes costly and omits many consumers from the process.
If we look at the commercially available options, clothes printed in 3D are still expensive. However, as the 3D printing technology is developing rapidly, it will become increasingly available and accessible in the coming years. As clothing manufacturers introduce new technologies, more and more 3D printed apparel will become available. 3D printing is also used to create sections or accessories for specific garments. 3D printed materials are often used as a feature or ornaments such as cuffs or buttons.
Clothing produced with 3D printing is not yet as soft and elastic as cotton or Lycra. As a result, most clothes with 3D printing comprises of accessories. Items like footwear, eyewear, jewelry, etc. have experienced plenty of innovation in 3D printing. Several designers and artists have been creating marvelous designs and 3D printed accessories.
Advantages of 3D Printed Clothes
One of the reasons designer clothes are expensive is because they are usually tailor-made to fit the wearer. Outfits from couture and designers are unique, rare, and to some extent, difficult to access. 3D printing can bring about a change and make these custom-made clothes into a mass-market reality. What was once accessible to the affluent and elite, could now be available to the average folks.
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Clothing with 3D printing is also ecologically friendly and reduces waste. Traditional designs have a lot of fiber scrap that can be wasted. Dyes used in colored fabrics are also a significant source of water contamination and pollution. Fabrics and textiles require a lot of water to produce. Another serious problem for textile giants such as China is air pollution; 3D printing can solve many of these dilemmas.
3D printing also allows designers to prototype and innovate faster. Waiting times can be significantly reduced. Wearable attire can be manufactured with little to no geometric constraints. Additionally, the digital aspect of 3D printing eliminates many of the limitations faced by designers in the traditional production sectors.
Even for large companies, 3D printers can bring transformation in terms of the speed of the market and supply chain. Clothes and footgear can be 3D printed inside 24 hours. While the pace of style changes, the longevity of seasonal collections decreases from year to year. The ability to deliver new designs to the outlets as efficiently and as quickly as possible is key to any clothing or shoe manufacturer’s success. 3D printing provides the speed and efficiency needed to thrive in this growing industry.
Small Batch Size
An additional transformative aspect of 3D printing technology is the smaller batch size. In conventional setups, clothing and fashion brands will need to order clothes and shoes. They are shipped in 40-foot containers from far away locations such as Bangladesh or China. 3D printing can produce fashionable products in small batches or on-demand. These developments could significantly alter their working capital needs and budgets.
3D printing prototypes and sample production are also time and cost-efficient. The use of 3D-printers for the creation of prototypes of fashionable products is called rapid prototyping. It takes far lesser time in comparison with the traditional methods. Besides, iterations of designs are rather expensive, which is not the case when working with a 3D printer.
Disadvantages of 3D Printed Clothes
No technology or innovative approach is error-free, and the same applies to 3D printing. Here are some of the disadvantages of 3D printed clothing.
Copyright and Piracy
One major problem in this regard is copyright. Like music and film, the piracy of design files can negatively impact the fashion industry. The illegal distribution of fashion designs can affect the original designer. Authenticity is another issue that may concern customers. How can they be confident that the work they receive is a creation of the designer who is advertised?
Loss of Jobs
The loss of jobs could also be a by-product of introducing 3D printing in the fashion industry. The business model of big brands producing fashion clothes in bulk could be disrupted. People could print garments at home, and companies could produce small batch sizes for specific collections. The entire perception of 3D printing is that it is machine-intensive, not labor-intensive. Therefore, replacing cheap labor with automated devices can result in job losses in some production facilities.
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When people want to print personal items, quality control is also a problem. Big brands usually spend a big chunk of money to ensure the quality of their products. They make sure that key features and the brand image of the company are not affected or altered. However, since everyone with a 3D printer can access clothing designs, not every aspect could be fine-tuned. Controlling the final design can be a challenging task for companies.
Even if the design has not changed, you cannot be sure that the actual 3D printing process is done correctly. If the seam or the button is loose, whose fault is it? What are the consequences if the buyer returns the product in this situation? In such a decentralized world, it will be trickier to control brand image and quality.
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