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Is 3D Printed Fashion the Future?

Fri 26 Jan 24

The advent of 3D printing sparked widespread excitement as it started becoming accessible for mainstream use.

The revolutionary implications it held for the fashion industry were seemingly ground-breaking, with the potential to redefine our approach to design and production, offering innovative and sustainable solutions.

With such a promising resume, why is 3D printing still far from being commonplace in the fashion industry?


How does it work?

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is all about converting designs from the digital world into the three-dimensional world.

The process begins with CAD software, where designs are crafted and translated into Standard Triangle Language (STL). This digital code is then sent to the 3D printer, which meticulously builds up the object layer by layer.



The advantages are manifold, with one of the most celebrated being the ability to create complex designs that are often impractical or time-consuming using traditional methods. For example, imagine having to create intricate lattice work with just needle and thread; then consider letting a 3D printer do it! 

It makes life easier and considering the increasing affordability of 3D printers, proves to be cost-effective too. In general, the entire production process can be significantly sped up with this transformative technology.

Unfortunately, it’s getting harder nowadays to escape the sciences by becoming a creative... they follow you everywhere! As the fashion industry evolves, embracing technologies like 3D printing and AI, designers are required to acquire new skills.

There are new challenges emerging, like preservation of traditional craftsmanship knowledge, and of course the looming debate of whether machines are taking our jobs. 

With new challenges, however, come opportunities that we cannot afford to overlook in an era dominated by climate change and overconsumption.

3D printing holds the potential to revolutionize garment sizing, offering made-to-measure perfection. Customization becomes seamless, allowing individuals to tailor colours, patterns, and structures to their liking.

If people can buy pieces completely tailored to their taste and body shape, it’s not hard to see how much less product would end up in landfills.

Innovative and sustainable materials, such as recycled plastics or biodegradable filaments, along with efficient use with minimal waste during production, raise the question of why 3D printing isn’t more widespread.


One answer to this may be the limited range of fabric effects 3D printing can offer.

Most items produced with this technique are rather stiff synthetics, creating the problem of how wearable the items actually are.

While research is ongoing, and advancements are being made, designers currently tend to use 3D printers for specific garment parts rather than the entire piece.

 Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen is one of the best at this game. Known for her Avant-Garde couture fashion, she adeptly integrates 3D printed sculptural elements with softer, flowing materials like silk or chiffon to create designs that are out of this world.

At present, 3D printing finds its strength in robust, durable, and flexible filaments like Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) and Polyamide (PA), making it well-suited for accessories, shoes, and activewear.



Brands like Auracles and Reebok have come out with some wacky 3D printed sliders, not to mention the mesmerizing Reebok x Botter Murex Shell Shoes.

Hardly wearable to average person, but a strong example of what you can reach for with 3D printed designs. Louis Vuitton also debuted a new 3D printed shoe at its last pre-fall show in Hong Kong. 



Performance wear is also taking to 3D printing with success. Nike and Adidas notably use it to create high-performance padding and shoe soles.

Munich-based brand Patronace, created by award-winning designer Bastian Müller, employs a unique textile printing technology called GRDXKN to achieve smart textiles.

These are made by layering multiple textiles with performance enhancing properties. For example, one such layer controls moisture, is breathable, water repellent, abrasion resistant, and shock absorbing.

You’re essentially getting to pick the best fabrics for what you need and engineer your own by stacking these together. 



Italian brand XYZBAG offers a personalized touch, allowing you to customize your own bag, which is then 3D printed on order.

Some high-end brands have also taken a swing at it, but not in the way you would expect.

While MSCF went viral once again with the “Microscopic Handbag”, too small to wear even on your pinkie finger, Dior created nearly 1500 replicas its iconic products to put on display at Galerie Dior. 



3D printing is an easy win in the jewellery department. You can directly make 3D printed jewellery or use the technology to facilitate the creative process.

Traditionally, jewellers hand-carve wax patterns for casting precious metals. With 3D printing, jewellers can now create intricate patterns that are cast in moulds, allowing for more complex designs with precision, bypassing laborious hand carving.

Until 3D printing can be scaled up to the wider industry, it remains a tool for avant-garde or one-off projects rather than everyday business. However, if more brands invest in this transformative technology, they stand to save time and resources in the long run.

While challenges persist, the future appears bright for 3D printed fashion, with the potential to usher in a new era of sustainable, customizable garments that push the limits of our imagination. 

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