Want a 3D printed design on your next dress? Or maybe add some interesting accents to your shirt or jacket lapel? You can 3D print directly onto fabric with your home printer using standard PLA, ABS, or other regular filament. 3D printing on fabric retains the flexible properties of the fabrics, doesn’t require exotic filament, and permanently incorporates the 3D elements into your garment. This method works for printing on net, tulle, lace, or other similar fabrics with holes. You can use fabric yardage or a constructed garment with tulle, lace, or net areas.
The critical step in this method is to pause the print after printing a couple layers so the filament forms a sandwich with the fabric. 3D Printing on a t-shirt is a slightly different process. To see how that’s done check out our first project.
What do you need?
Standard 3D printer using regular PLA or ABS filament. We used an Ultimaker 2 with a heated bed and a Zeepro Zim, without a heated bed.
Fabric or garment made of fabric. Polyester, cotton, nylon, or blends, either knits (like tshirts) or woven (like dress shirts). Netting, tulle, or other fabric with small holes work great. Tulle with small plastic sequins will also work. We do not recommend thick fabrics or anything with large surface decoration as these will interfere with the extruder.
Small clips. We recommend you use plastic clips or small clothespins. You don’t want anything that will scratch your build plate and you also want small clips so they won’t hit the sides of the printer when the build plates moves.
3D model. We used Tinkercad and models downloaded from the Thingiverse.
Software for slicing. We used Cura.
Select your model. The size of your design will depend on your printer capacity. Individual designs up to about 4 inches square and arrays of geometric shapes are good choices. You could print names or words with spaces between the letters. Large designs with no spaces between the elements will not be flexible.
Slice your model and convert to gCode. We’ve found that between 15-30% infill is adequate for most models. If you use Cura for slicing there is a plugin that will allow you to put a pause in the gCode. Put the pause in for after 2 to 3 layers of the design have printed.
Set up your printer for your 3D model and filament type. Print 2-3 layers of your design. Pause the printer. If you did not put a pause in the gCode do this using your printer’s manual control.
WARNING: The paused nozzle/extruder is hot! Do not touch it! If you are worried about touching it wear some work gloves during this step.
Carefully lay the fabric down over your layers. An advantage of this method is that you can precisely place the fabric since you know exactly where the design is printing. This is great if you are trying to match up designs on the same piece of fabric, or if you are enhancing a garment that already has a 2D design with some 3D printed elements. If you are using a t-shirt or other constructed garment, be sure you are only printing on one side, not both the front and back (see our first project for detailed instructions on how to 3D print onto a t-shirt). Smooth the fabric on the build plate and use numerous clips to hold the fabric taut at the middle and corners. Check to be sure that your fabric won’t get caught in any of the moving parts of the printer and the extruder head won’t hit any of the clips while it is moving around to print.
Resume print. Carefully watch the printer for the next couple of layers to be sure the extruder head isn’t pulling the fabric too much. A couple small wrinkles are generally not a problem but dragging the prints off center is. Since the printer is laying down minuscule amounts of filament it is often hard to see the first layer on the fabric.
Hooray your print is done! Wait for the build plate and nozzle to cool and carefully remove your fabric. The filament should sandwich the fabric. Now you are ready to wear your awesome garment or use your fabric to make something fantastic.
Want to see projects that use 3D printing on fabric?
Come to Hal Rodriguez’s Show and Tell at the Bay Area Maker Faire – Saturday in the Show and Tell Area
Want to find out about Electronics for Clothing and Costumes?
Come to Sahrye Cohen’s talk at the Bay Area Maker Faire on Sunday, 5/22/16, 2:30 PM-2:55 PM, Location Zone 2: Make Electronics