Up-and-coming designers and small shops are adopting the additive printing model to create designs by way of desktop printing. The machines are simple to use and about the size of a large microwave, perfect for one-offs and small runs. These consumer-friendly printers give smaller enterprises the ability to print exactly to order. This means fewer overruns or unsold stock—minimizing risk and failure in a way not possible before. Jewelers also see the immense potential of this technology. So much of the work can be done with computer-aided design (CAD) that they no longer have to take off-the-shelf parts and weld them for their prototypes. Not only is there no one hunched over a work bench, there’s much less waste. Experts see this being able to save massive amounts in material and labor costs alone.
Desktop printing gives real freedom to designers to produce a few trial units, rather than a line of thousands, and create tangible products that might have only lived as a sketch on paper.
The broadest and most ubiquitous printing technology available to garmentos (those active in the garment industry) today is 3D printing—a catchall that encompasses a wide range of processes, materials and products. 3D printing isn’t at the same scale as additive printing, but it’s still more complex than desktop printing, so fashion designers often require help from those more technologically savvy. For example, one of Holland’s leading designers began working with a design and research company to produce a collection of laser-sintered nylon heels that feel so unique they defy the word “shoe.” Another pioneer in the fashion world is working with an architect and 3D printers to create the first 3D-printed dress for a burlesque performer. The result of their fruitful collaboration is a wearable, ravishing futuristic frock—the kind you might just be able to print in a department store one day.
The technology presently available to fashion designers is pushing the possibilities of creation to unheard-of heights. Whether the process adds or takes away material, whether the product is made of nylon or silver, or whether the object is a prototype or product, the result is the same: flawless designs and replicas available at the touch of a button. Hold on to your downloaded hat—the future has officially arrived.
3D printing has the potential to change the way we make almost anything.