Thursday, September 29, 2011

3D printing of clothing

At least, sort of 3D.

My wife, as usual, has been complaining about the difficulty of finding dresses that meet her requirements, which include fitting her, looking reasonably attractive, being washable, and pockets. Having read a number of things recently about 3D printing, it occurred to me to wonder if something along similar lines would, or soon will be, practical for clothing.

It requires an accurate model of the customer's body, which I'm not sure you could get from photos, although it's possible that smart software could manage it. But for a less demanding version, imagine something like a phone booth in a shopping mall. You go in, shut the door, take off your clothes—if Clark Kent could do it, so can you. The sensors in the booth take a 3 dimensional picture of you. Perhaps you move around a little and they take more pictures, since how your shape changes as you move is relevant to getting clothing that will be comfortable. The description of your body shape is uploaded to the firm that put the booth there.

You go to the firm's web site, select fabric, color, style. The web page displays what the resulting dress will look like. If you like it, automatic machinery produces the dress for you. 

Custom tailoring for the masses.

If customers are worried that their naked pictures will get ogled by someone in the cloud, the booth delivers its data directly to the customer, perhaps on a flash disk. The customer downloads the relevant software, plugs in the flash disk, connects to the web site for availability of fabrics, colors, and styles.

Is it doable? Is it being done? It seems like an easier problem than full scale 3D printing, since clothing is made from 2D shapes joined together. The quality of the material should be at least as good as with conventional clothing, since it's the same cloth. And the fit a good deal better.

Anything I'm missing? Any ambitious entrepreneurs out there?

20 Comments:

At 5:57 PM, September 29, 2011, Blogger Jock Coats said...

Except that most cloth is woven rather than solid perhaps! There are some online tailoring shops who get to a similar level of bespoke but without the first bit - scanning yourself in. They are usually cheaper than the equivalent Saville Row/Jermyn St level of bespoke but not really low.

 
At 6:13 PM, September 29, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not an expert on the matter, but I'm not sure what problem this is supposed to solve. I don't think most 3D printing technologies would work very well trying to produce a material that was soft enough that it changed while being printed. I suppose there are probably ways around that, like printing with 2 different materials, 1 a "fabric" and one a substrate to keep the shape which could then be removed (like wax in a lost wax casting) but that sounds like it would be expensive.

If you're proposing, as implied in your last paragraph that 2D pattern shapes be created, then someone will still have to sew them together. This system doesn't seem any better than hiring a tailor to measure you with a measuring tape (much cheaper than a 3D scanner) and then cutting with shears from a semi-custom pattern before sewing the pieces together.

You can do this today by just going to a local tailor, and even on-line. For instance see here (http://dresstailor.com/). The 3D scanner for measurements and 3D printing aspect don't seem to actually be large productivity enhancements. Taking basic measurements from someone isn't very hard and I don't think it's a large component of the cost of basic tailoring, it's not clear printing fabric is in any way superior to just using scissors, given the limited material options you'd be forced to use (no true fiber knits or weaves, but instead being stuck with basically plastic sheets).

Like I said, I'm not an expert (I've only sewn a few things), so I could be wrong, but this doesn't seem to be much of a productivity enhancement as far as custom tailoring goes. I suppose for "mass custom" ordering laser cutting might be useful, but 3D printing doesn't seem like it would add much.

 
At 6:44 PM, September 29, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

I seem to have been unclear.

I wasn't proposing to use 3D printing technology. I was proposing to get the information needed to do custom tailoring (i.e. a detailed image of the body), then produce the clothing by cutting suitable shapes out of ordinary fabric and sewing them together. The same way clothing is done now, but automated, and with every garment tailored to the shape of the person it was intended for.

 
At 6:52 PM, September 29, 2011, Blogger Mike Hammock said...

Perhaps it would be clearer if you titled the post "3D scanning for custom-tailored clothing". Putting "3D printing" right in the title is causing confusion.

 
At 7:28 PM, September 29, 2011, Blogger J Storrs Hall said...

Actually, with millimeter microwave or backscatter x-rays you wouldn't have to take your clothes off...

Cloth handling is one of the harder things for robots to do, but I don't doubt it will be feasible in the coming decade. Cutting and sewing are already quite straightforward.

Custom knitting is another possibility.

 
At 8:55 PM, September 29, 2011, Anonymous TJIC said...

A few thoughts:

* yes, clearly, the world will work this way someday

* it's been tried before. I recall reading press releases 10-15 years back from one of the major jeans companies. They rolled out a few measurement booths and a few months later the entire thing was shut down.

* computational cloth draping is a tricky not-entirely solved problem. Bespoke clothes will need to be tried on, inspected, then altered, for at least a while longer.

* there has long been a thriving business model where Taiwanese (I believe) tailors tour US cities, measure clients in a rented hotel room, fax the dimensions back to the Far East, and have the finished suits fedexed back a short while later.

 
At 1:59 AM, September 30, 2011, Blogger William B Swift said...

Toffler wrote about this, "mass customization", around 30 years ago in The Third Wave, but the technology still isn't quite practical though we are getting close.

 
At 4:55 AM, September 30, 2011, Anonymous Simon said...

World’s first 3D printed bikini heads for the beach

 
At 6:47 AM, September 30, 2011, Blogger August said...

I believe I saw a bit of video on the news 10-15 years ago about the jeans company TJIC mentioned. They had the little booth and everything set up just like you say. I don't know why it didn't catch on- I hate shopping and would much prefer something like this. Maybe this industry needs a Steve Jobs to do for it what Jobs appears to have done for phones and tablets.

 
At 7:53 AM, September 30, 2011, Anonymous Andrew MacFie said...

This is related: The Next Generation Of Shopping Allows Users To Try Clothes On Without Having To Wear Them

 
At 8:29 AM, September 30, 2011, Blogger Brian said...

Don't they already do something like this to model characters in CGI animated movies? A skin tight suit with sensors all over it that the camera can monitor while you move, then the computer fleshes in the animation around the points of movement.

 
At 9:37 AM, September 30, 2011, Blogger Steamboat Lion said...

It's the pockets that are her problem. Everyone knows that women's clothing doesn't have pockets. That's what handbags are for. And on those occasions they don't want to carry a handbag, that's what a husband with pockets is for!

 
At 1:20 PM, September 30, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

"that's what a husband with pockets is for!"

And I never suspect that that's why she married me.

 
At 1:30 PM, September 30, 2011, Blogger Jim said...

Brooks Brothers offers digital tailoring which operates pretty much according to the scheme you've described.

Here's a link:

http://www.brooksbrothers.com/specialorder/mtm_tailored_info.tem

 
At 6:52 PM, October 03, 2011, Blogger Bill Drissel said...

I'm a techie so I read your note to my crafty wife. She said women like to shop ... like to try things on ... women can't imagine what clothing will look like until they try it on ... "how it feels" is as important as "how it looks". She says she's not investing in your company :-).

Regards,
Bill Drissel

 
At 6:58 PM, October 03, 2011, Blogger Bill Drissel said...

David,
When I wear a Tshirt on weekends, I have no pockets for pens, pencils, PDAs, nav sets etc. I had my crafty wife make a pocket thing that sorta looks like half a vest fulla pockets. Maybe sumpin' like that would work for your wife.

Regards,
bd

 
At 7:04 AM, October 04, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Putting "3D printing" right in the title is causing confusion."

I did qualify it immediately below the title.

 
At 4:18 PM, October 23, 2011, Anonymous Screen printing Portland Oregon said...

I've seen quite a few suppliers of shirts with 3d prints but the designs are not that good enough. Printing technology is faster than the bullet. Let's wait for this year for the surprise.

 
At 8:34 AM, January 16, 2012, Blogger Brian said...

Read this today and remembered this post.

http://www.i-programmer.info/news/105-artificial-intelligence/3625-the-perfect-fit-thanks-to-kinect-like-technology.html

 
At 1:05 PM, February 22, 2013, OpenID buksavimi said...

well..thanks for the article is really cool and informative... But I have really skeptic opinion about 3D printing. Because every new innovation really looks great and this one looks great too ! But I am really interested in this sphere so I have been following all information about this innovation and see that people now are creating from clothing, products that people can eat to the real weapons ! The main question is how far it will go ? ? Maybe we all should think about printing our own bunkers where we could hide when some crazy people decides to create something with bad intentions...

 

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