September 24, 2022
  • September 24, 2022

How is 3D printing changing the textile industry?

By on August 18, 2022 0

3D printing has revolutionized many industries in recent years, and now it can change the way we produce textiles. This article will examine the key role that 3D printing techniques play in the modern textile industry.

Image Credit: nikkytok/

What is 3D printing?

3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, is a recent innovation that has quickly become one of the most important manufacturing methods. In this process, products are built layer by layer according to a specific computer-aided design from extruded materials.

Several types of 3D printing processes have been developed over the past few decades, including fusion deposition modeling, stereolithography, selective laser sintering, selective laser sintering, digital light processing, and laser fabrication. fused filaments.

3D printing methods have several advantages over traditional manufacturing, including cost-effectiveness, time, resource and energy savings, significantly less material waste, and greater design freedom. Several industries, including manufacturing, aerospace, transportation, space industry, and construction, have widely explored the use of these methods and widely implemented 3D printing technologies.

How can 3D printing help the textile industry?

The field of 3D printing fabrics is in its infancy, but producing textiles with these methods could bring some key benefits. The textile industry is a large consumer of water and material resources, which gives it a massive environmental footprint. Currently, the global textile industry is extremely unsustainable and scientists are constantly exploring new ways to improve the methods used in the industry.

3D textile printing has the potential to drastically reduce the number of resources needed to produce fabrics for uses such as clothing and upholstery. Processes can be streamlined, use less raw materials, chemicals and water, and moreover, the amount of waste produced is drastically reduced thanks to 3D printing methods.

Other benefits include reduced energy requirements and resulting carbon emissions, cost savings and increased design freedom. Multi-material printing capabilities provide advanced and innovative material design possibilities not possible with traditional manufacturing techniques.

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Another key innovation made possible by 3D printing is the manufacture of “smart” materials with built-in features and unique structures. In short, 3D printing is a revolutionary solution for the textile industry.

3D Printed Textiles: Flexibility and Portability Issues

One of the main challenges of 3D printing fabrics is their relative stiffness compared to traditionally made textiles, which limits their wearability and comfort. Some 3D printed textiles have been introduced to the market in recent years, but the widespread commercial viability of these fabrics is limited by this issue.

A few solutions have been proposed to overcome this limitation and impart properties such as stretch, softness and flexibility to 3D printed fabrics. The three main approaches are flexible structural unit printing, fiber printing, and textile printing.

Several studies have explored this problem, proposing different routes to fully flexible and wearable 3D printed fabrics. For example, studies have explored the development of tissues with chainmail structures, geometric structures, and bionic structures. Other studies have explored the direct deposition of 3D printed polymers onto traditional fabrics to produce fabrics with unique structures and functionalities.

3D knitwear

Knitwear is produced all over the world, but the process of producing garments using traditional knitting methods is incredibly resource-intensive, contributing massively to the textile industry’s carbon footprint. 3D knitwear has been studied in recent years, with machines capable of 3D printing individual fibers being developed by companies such as New Industrial Order.

This technology promises to improve the circularity of garment manufacturing. Garments can be made to order with savings in cost, materials, energy and waste. The seamless construction allows the yarn to be reused to make new garments.

MIT’s work on soft tissues

MIT researchers have developed soft fabrics from TPU. Focusing on the structure of printed materials, they were inspired by collagen, one of the main proteins in biological organisms that has an intertwined structure with increased flexibility and strength.

The researchers proposed that their innovation could be used in the textile industry as well as in the medical field as cardiovascular stents, surgical mesh and orthopedic devices.

Heat-Wicking Materials: Produce 3D Printed Fabrics with Improved Cooling

Scientists at the University of Maryland have developed 3D printed materials with advanced heat removal capabilities. The material’s innovative structure, composed of polyvinyl alcohol and boron nitride, maximizes thermal conductivity, drawing heat into the material on one side and expelling it on the other. Essentially, this turns the fabric into an inexpensive, powerless air conditioner with applications for sportswear and everyday wear.

NASA Scale Mesh Project

The field of space exploration requires materials capable of withstanding the rigors of extreme environments. NASA, which is at the forefront of 3D printing technologies, has sought to develop fabrics that provide improved insulation and protection against the harsh environment of outer space.

An ongoing NASA project is the production of “scale mesh” which can be printed in one piece from an innovative flexible metal. It resembles scale armor and has improved thermal control, flexibility, bendability, and strength. Geometry and function can be printed, leading NASA scientists to call it “4D printing”.

Smart chain mail that stiffens on demand

Video credit: nature video/

Materials with improved protection performance

A study by Wang et al. produced an innovative protective material 3D printed by selective laser sintering. This material is composed of interlocking granular particles that can switch between a soft, flexible and wearable state and a hardened and protective state.

When pressure is applied, the particles lock together and form a hard chainmail-like structure with twenty-five times more rigidity than in the relaxed state. Analysis has demonstrated that in this hardened state, the material can support loads of more than thirty times the weight of the material.

3D Printed Electronic Materials

Zhang et al. have created an electrically conductive material using 3D printing. The material is composed of a conductive core of carbon nanotubes and a dielectric sheath of silk fibroin. This smart material has been proposed for use as a bioelectric harvesting fabric that can be used in several wearable electronic devices.

In summary

3D printing has offered innovative solutions for the textile industry and related fields. Although still in its infancy, the number of projects already presenting intriguing solutions to current business needs demonstrates the potential of the field. As the field progresses, there will undoubtedly be continued innovation in the manufacture of 3D printed fabrics.

Further reading and more information

Xiao, YQ & Kan, CW (2022) Review of development and application of 3D printing technology in textile and fashion design Coatings 12(12) 267 [online] Available at:

Hay, Z (2019) 3D printed fabric: the most promising projects All3DP [online] Available at:

New Industrial Order [online] Available at:

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