The literature review consists of six parts that support this 3D printing design research project. The six components include printing process, filaments, printers, software, apparel, product possibilities, designers’ readiness for 3D technology in developing fashion innovations, and 3D printing sustainability issues, supporting the design as research reported herein, that being the principle of zero-waste in 3D printing in the fashion industry.
3D printing process
It is important to keep in mind that different 3D printers are capable of different things; however, the extrusion process is essentially the same, whether industrial or commercial. Extrusion printing, or Freeform Fabrication (FFF), is currently the most common and recognizable 3D printing process. The filament, which is wound on a spool, is passed through and heated in an extrusion head, with the temperature depending on the filament type. Next, the molten material is deposited onto the build platform. Layer upon layer is added as the platform slowly moves down, solidifying after extrusion and bonding as the process continues (Formlabs 2018).
If, upon accessing the CAD file (blueprint) for the object, the 3D printer deems an object unstable, it will put down a raft before printing begins. A raft is a horizontal latticework of filament that is located underneath the object. The raft helps with adherence to the build plate and reduces warping. If there are steep overhangs, supports are printed at the same time the object is printed. They provide added strength and prevent unwanted twisting or other deformations. The result is the solidified material or desired object (Formlabs 2018).
Although this process is slower when there are complex geometries, improvements are being made all the time. Using acetone in post-processing helps resolve adhesion problems. No other post-processing needs to be done other than sanding or coloration, if desired, with plastic-friendly paints (3D Printing Ally, n.d., http://3dprintingally.com/101.html). The reported project used extrusion printing but there are other types of 3D printing: stereo lithography, digital light processing (DLP), laser sintering or laser melting, inkjet, selective deposition lamination (SDL), and electron beam melting (EBM) (3D Printing Ally, n.d.).
3D printing filaments
3D printers heat and extrude plastic filaments (raw material). MakerBot uses virgin materials such as polylactic Acid (PLA) (corn-based), Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), and flexible filament. PLA is preferred because it is biodegradable, has a lower melting point, and has higher dimensional stability as compared to ABS; however, PLA is water-soluble and not best for long-term wear (Pei et al. 2015; Samuels and Flowers 2015). Pei et al. (2015) reported significant findings through experimenting with warping, bond, print and flex with their choice of experimental filaments, PLA, ABS and Nylon 465, in both woven and knit fabrics made from natural or synthetic fabrics. They concluded that experimentation is needed to find solutions to challenges in using 3D printing for fabric applications.
In the meantime, Fair Trade plastic has both environmental and social components of sustainability. Joshua Pearce, a material scientist, created an ethical filament standard for 3D printing filament, following which the ethical filament was formed (http://ef.techfortrade.org). The ethical filament standard and mark is a work in progress. It will serve as a globally recognized fair-trade brand. Once ready, it will certify the ethical credentials of both sourcing and production of a filament. It will partner with waste-picking communities and local entrepreneurs to create a seamless process to create 3D printer filament from recycled waste materials. The proposed standard will grade filament using the Ethical Filament Value Chain. Proposed grading involves going through the following stages: plastic collection, cleaning, shredding and flaking, pigment and extrusion, quality checking, packing and dispatching. The proposed standard states that there will be two levels of requirement: minimum requirements to meet the ethical filament accreditation, however, suppliers may strive to exceed the requirements by reaching the higher level of standards (Ethical Filament 2015).
Other thermoplastic materials have also proven to be successful with 3D printing including nylon or polyamide. As for metals, derivatives of cobalt and aluminum are most commonly used along with stainless steel in its powdered form. Silver, gold, and titanium have recently been added to the metals list. Ceramic is another filament material but it must be fired and glazed to be finished rather than being finished immediately after printing as are the other materials mentioned. Standard A4 copy paper can also be used with SDL processes. Researchers have been and will continue to experiment with biological, or medical, materials to help the medical industry and patients. Finally, food substances (e.g., chocolate) have been experimented with over the last few years. Developments have also taken place to see if materials can work together (3D Printing Ally, n.d.).
3D printers and software
A variety of 3D printing and software design tools exist including Autodesk 123d Design, 3D Scanning, Tinkercad, Thingiverse, MakerBot Replicator 2 (an engineering-based modeling tool) (https://www.makerbot.com/), and Rhinoceros 5 (https://www.rhino3d.com/). They differ on learning curve, user-friendliness, applicability to specific end uses, features, design flexibility and creativity, power and versatility, price, and copyright issues (Fabian 2017). Some CAD software has an especially steep learning curve. Kwon et al. (2017) reported that even though the Rhinoceros 5 interface is user-friendly, it is very difficult to familiarize oneself with its tools and functions.
Different types of 3D printers that work with certain types of materials have been created to suit specific industries. Food printers have been recently introduced to print out flavored candy that can be enjoyed soon after printing is finished (Molitch-Hou 2015). Artists, such as ceramicists, have been using 3D technology to render their designs in the CAD software of their choice and print those designs with a ceramic-focused printer. The firing and glazing processes still have to take place; yet, artists gain a huge advantage in that their design can be easily replicated as files from CAD software can be saved for future use.
3D fashion product possibilities
The aforementioned 3D technological developments are providing opportunities for innovation and development especially in the fashion industry. 3D technology lends itself to customization that could actually eliminate fitting processes and simplify the overall design process (Shin et al. 2016). Customization applies to wearable technology as well as smart fabrics and textiles that are gradually being introduced to the market. Wearable technologies, such as the Fitbit or the Apple watch, track the number of steps taken in a day. Smart fabrics can allow cooling or heating when needed. They can also track body temperature, heart rate, and other bodily functions. The shoe and accessory-on-demand concept has also grown and allows consumers to have input, including having a say in the final product, particularly regarding the fabrication (Sun and Lu 2015).
Although many 3D printed garments seem impractical at this point, fashion and practicality are evolving. Examples of the former include the Iris van Herpen ice dress and the Dita von Teese dress made in collaboration with the Francis Bitoni Studio (http://studiobitonti.com/), the Michael Schmitt Studio, and Shapeways (http://www.irisvanherpen.com/). Although avant-garde, van Herpen has also contributed to this evolution in the fashion industry as have designers Noritaka Tatehana and Niccolo Casas.
Regarding practical applications, Robinson (2014) reported a collaborative project whereby 3D printed elements were incorporated into traditional wool fabric production to create innovative new looks and functions. In another experiment, Samuels and Flowers (2015) researched the possibility of 3D printing on cloth using MakerBot Replicator 2, chosen because it allows adjustments to the height and material of the base and temperature. They chose to test PLA appliqués on worn denim, which they taped to the glass printer plate of a 3D printer. From there, they first printed the .stl, or industry-standard stereo-lithography format files of small rectangular prisms on the fabric and later tested for tensile strength and washability.
Lynne MacLachlan, an engineer-turned-jewelry designer, has extensive knowledge in 3D technology, and she hopes that others in her field will take advantage of its potential and services (Smith 2014). As an example, 3D printed accessories can function as an art form that enables viewers to interpret cultural references through outward adornment. One such example is a neckpiece called Beautiful Protector. This piece demonstrates how 3D printing technology can provide an aesthetic experience when worn as an accessory and bridge the gap between advanced technology and traditional forms of adornment (Thurston and Mamp 2015).
Cubify, a commercial 3D printing company, recently introduced its new model Fabricate, made especially for apparel designers. Essentially able to make 3D textiles, the idea of 3D printed textiles and garments on the runways of Fashion Week is not so far out of grasp (Goehrke 2015). The Atlantic magazine recently published a brief technology news article about wearable technology and 3D printing (Meyer 2015). Customization will be possible using technology and the just-in-time strategy, with Meyer (2015) predicting that technology will allow read-to-wear companies to deliver same-day customized jeans and other products by 2025.
3D printing for shoes will have a significant impact on fashion. Innovation in performance footwear is being explored, as most 3D materials are extremely lightweight. Mass customization will allow consumers to create an accurate fit while also adding in their personal style (Black 2012). Geometrical freedom is virtually unlimited for AM, something not offered through any other singular process (Campbell et al. 2011). Weller et al. (2015) emphasized how customization is effortless with 3D printing and affirming that added detail comes at no additional cost unlike use of conventional technologies. Nike and the aerospace industry have supported and integrated this into their shoes and plane parts, respectively. Moreover, increased product complexity does not necessarily mean increased costs allowing further individualization from AM, which is different from other manufacturing processes (Reeves 2009).
Apparel designers’ readiness for 3D
Although it is safe to assume that some artists and designers are familiar with this type of technology, not all are experts. 3D technology requires working in three dimensions, which means people have to be able to think in three dimensions; that is, they must engage in divergent thinking, approaching a problem from various angles (Hoskins 2013). As an example, sharing a design now involves sending a .stl file rather than an actual product (Campbell et al. 2011) truly making 3D printing the disruptive technology everyone is talking about now.
In actuality, apparel and fashion designers are by their nature divergent thinkers, making them well equipped to use 3D printing and technology since they already understand the human body and know how to change something from 2D to 3D. Examples include moving from flat pattern to a garment and using software to create endless possibilities of silhouettes and shapes never before attempted in garments. However, knowing how to convert flat patterns to a 3D garment does not necessarily help apparel designers adjust to using 3D modelling and printing technology (Sun and Lu 2015). Apparel designers face a steep learning curve when adopting 3DP technology (Kwon et al. 2017).
Although adoption of 3DP technology has its challenges, there are several advantages to fashion designers’ utilizing this technology. The apparel and fashion designers’ ability to 3D scan a body could lead to the elimination of prototyping, as the scan can put a person’s exact measurements into a CAD program. From there, a garment, accessory, or brace can be created to the exact shape of the body, with no alterations, and be printed exactly to fit (Sun and Lu 2015). Another advantage of 3D technology is the way in which alterations can be done through software rather than altering a pattern by hand, which is still widely done today. The former can lead to further creativity in pattern making (Shin et al. 2016).
Actually, some apparel designers already rely on CAD software to create patterns that have specific, advanced measurements (Bodhani 2015). Recently, 3D Systems (2014) released their Bespoke™ braces for chronic condition scoliosis. The process is the same for each patient but the outcome is unique. After being fitted to perfection, the prototype is then made digital where it is altered and personalized even further. Finally, the brace is 3D printed with 3D Systems’ selective laser sintering (SLS) technology. Chinese researchers from the National Rehabilitation Aids Research Center in Beijing, in partnership with German MD and Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Hans-Rudolph Weiss, have also utilized 3D printing to create customized scoliosis braces. Their goal was to make them more lightweight, sturdy, and less distinct (Krassenstein 2015) than existing options.
Sustainability of 3D printing
3D printing is synonymous with sustainability (Gebler et al. 2014). The use of 3D printing in manufacturing can assist in waste reduction. Because the entire object is complete once the printing is complete, nothing needs to be cut away. The object can be finished with sanding and painting if necessary. When applied to the apparel industry, using only 3D printing machinery rather than having a multitude of machines, could drastically cut costs and change the way in which the industry manufactures clothing (Sun and Lu 2015).
3D printing is based on additive technology, which uses only the materials that are required to create the object (Reeves 2009). Sometimes rafts or supports are required to enable the object to build correctly and lift up the printer platform; these create waste (Formlabs 2018). Although 3D printing is a sustainable means of manufacturing, ethical responsibility and environmental impacts must still be kept in mind (Gebler et al. 2014). The fumes and time needed to create a print can pollute but on a much smaller scale than subtractive manufacturing. 3D printing’s waste is only 40% versus the waste produced by subtractive technologies and much of 3D printing waste is recyclable (Berman 2012).
3D printing has already proven to be an economical and cost-effective way for prototyping and manufacturing. The design and prototyping possibilities with 3D printing are limitless. As it uses CAD, a prototype can be quickly rendered and printed by the designer or the manufacturer (Weller et al. 2015) allowing them to decide, before mass production, whether or not the outcome meets their expectations. Additionally, designers and manufacturers may even print on-the-spot for consumers further eliminating waste. From a sustainability perspective, 3D printing also has the possibility of extending the life of a garment by assisting in making it multi-functional. For example, the Microspace Transmorpho dress may function as a full-length gown or as a mini dress, the silhouette and texture changing along with the length (Koo and Zarate 2015).
3D printing is a tool for designers that reduces waste by rapid prototyping. However, the application of a zero-waste philosophy (Zero-waste International Alliance 2009) to eliminate waste in the processes of creating innovative 3D printing designs has not been a consideration. That being said, 3D printing has the potential to add another perspective to sustainable fashion (Tania 2017).