3D Printed Fashion: Breathing Life into New Designs, Form, and Texture

Craft & Design Technology


It’s the question that dogs the unceasing creative mind when it dares to speak louder than the stony voice of reality. It happens to us all: An alloy of factors, inspiration, influences and ideas come together in a perfect rendering in your mind, but how do you bring that beautiful invention into the world in a way that upholds and preserves the essence of your idea?pingfu_badge

The question becomes especially pronounced in a highly innovative industry like fashion, where designers care so deeply about form and texture, yet have such a high degree of creative freedom. (This creative freedom is engendered by the industry’s historical unwillingness to register designs due to the short product life cycles, and the considerable time and financial investment involved.)

A look from Anna Wilhelmi's collection Go, Rags, Go!
A look from Anna Wilhelmi’s collection Go, Rags, Go!

It’s true that designer’s traditional raw materials—the thread, fabric and accessories—are vast and adaptable to a huge degree. But 3D printing is supplying a new answer to “how?” for fashion designers, pushing dressmakers and accessories designers alike to create whimsical, organic forms and textures that were once impossible. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that the fashion industry is at the forefront of 3D printing adoption.

Go, Rags, Go!

Anna Wilhelmi, a natural creative and copywriter turned fashion designer, always enjoyed “experimenting with styling, playing with unusual combinations of clothing, colors and materials.” Now she’s using her flair for the unique, a fascination with American football, and 3D printing in her new collection titled: Go, Rags, Go! Click here to view more pictures.

Although a native of Germany, Anna is a big fan of the Super Bowl, the spectacle surrounding it and, interestingly, the clothing.

“I love what the American football uniform does to the players’ bodies,” she says. “They turn normal men into bone breakers.” When conceiving of her collection, she sought to take that gladiator-style, teeth-gnashing silhouette and integrate it into her designs for women. Click here to see video of her collection.

That wasn’t quite enough. She also wanted the collection to pop with a touch of futuristic gleam.

“I wanted to create an innovative statement. That’s why I chose 3D printing technology to produce my American football silhouettes.”

But she also chose 3D printing out of necessity. Her designs couldn’t be made to her standards any other way. In the initial design stages she explored milling, but the complexity and accuracy required of her designs didn’t lend itself to milling. So she explored 3D printing at EuroMold 2012 and was blown away by the potential.

“I saw firsthand what 3D printing is able to create and that there is no limitation for my ideas anymore. It felt like Christmas when I was young,” said Anna.

“I had no money, just an idea, ambition and no fear of hard work,” she says. So she leaned on talented 3D designer Antonius Köster to help her create the 3D designs and prepare them for 3D printing. They eventually chose to use Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) to produce the final pieces. Combining delicacy with toughness, her collection required an element of exterior refinement and interior sturdiness, so the robustness and accuracy of SLS were perfect. It’s a sentiment she echoes, saying, “The computer designs looked so filigree, so breakable, but they are definitely not. I loved to see something that looks tender but simulates a protector in American football.”

Black dress made from 3D printed textiles
Black dress made from 3D printed textiles

Anna sees 3D printing playing a huge part in her work going forward, even going so far as saying she’s “hooked.” Her next generation of 3D printed fashion pieces will include materials other than plastic, perhaps even bags that integrate leather with 3D printed objects. “I also see big potential for costume design,” she says, “because the designs are light and robust, comfortable enough to be worn by actors for hours on end.”


If you check out the website for 3D Systems’ creative idea generation community, you’ll see just how far the limits of 3D design and printing have been pushed to breathtaking effect. Among the roster of beautifully crafted items they make are 3D printed textiles: gorgeous 3D shapes interwoven into sleek chainmail-like sheets. As raw materials, these textiles can be used to craft anything from handbags to dresses to curtains to upholstery. In fact, we have a stunning black dress made from one of these textiles that’s sitting in our office’s lobby now. And the magnificence of 3D printed textiles is that they come from a computer file, so you can create any size and any color of linking patterns.

3D printable shoe files from Cubify.com
3D printable shoe files from Cubify.com


Many shoe companies use 3D printing to create concept models: Nike, Adidas and Clarks to name a few. But more and more are using the same technology to manufacture shoes and shoe components for direct end use. Nike is creating revolutionary new football cleats that feature SLS-printed, contoured plates to help athletes minimize 40-yard dash times. New Balance is also making 3D printed plates for track spikes. (Check out the video here.)

On the order of higher fashion, Continuum has created a fantasy-inspired shoe collection called “strvct” that incorporates stunning geometry with glass slipper transparency. Better yet, because they’re digital files, the shoes can be varied anywhere between platform and pump. 3D Systems’ Cubify also recently launched free, downloadable shoe designs by our Creative Director Janne Kyttanen.

As with many areas of design and manufacturing, 3D printing is enabling brand new channels of imagination to branch out and new streams of aesthetic consciousness to materialize. The next step is to encourage our minds to think bigger, to take full advantage of this new answer to the question “how?”

4 thoughts on “3D Printed Fashion: Breathing Life into New Designs, Form, and Texture

  1. Kayseri nakliyat says:


  2. Sean says:

    Am I the only one thinking about how hard it is going to be to the the build platform realigned correctly after that model was standing on it?

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Ping Fu

VP & Chief Entrepreneur Officer, 3D Systems

Honored in 2005 by Inc. Magazine as Entrepreneur of the Year, Ping Fu describes herself as an artist and scientist whose chosen expression is business. In 1997, Ping co-founded Geomagic, a 3D imaging software company, which was acquired by 3D Systems in February 2013. Before co-founding Geomagic, Ping was involved in the NCSA Mosaic software that led to Netscape and Internet Explorer. Ping serves on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Department of Commerce and on the board of directors at the Long Now Foundation. Ping’s book “Bend, Not Break” was published by Portfolio Penguin in January 2013.

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