Creative implications of 3D inkjet printing technologies for textiles
This project expands future applied-design capabilities for textiles as a function of inkjet deposition technology. The project investigates 3D inkjet rapid-production tools’ potential, focusing on creative gaps in the developing technology in its application to the textile design process. As such, the research investigates future design possibilities for inkjet printing technology in the creation of 3D textile structures and surfaces. The research “demonstrates how tacit knowledge can be employed, observed and created in a methodical way, with new artifacts playing a role in provoking insights based on tacit understanding”… [with a ] focus on developing and employing tacit insights that would not be revealed in situations where nothing has been changed.”
As inkjet textile technology evolves past a rapid prototyping tool into a series of responsive manufacturing techniques for textile products, designers, textile technology developers and soft goods industries will be able to use the results of this research to maximize their creative development. By developing and employing modified 2D/3D textile design processes with the technology future creators will be assisted to conceptualize and manufacture locally, creatively and with more accessible technologies.
Keywords 3D textiles, surface design, technology-driven design process, inkjet printing, fused deposition modelling, novel textile design.
In the last ten years a surge of new technologies have filtered into the broad range of craft/design disciplines. Many of these technologies are applicable across disciplines as they employ the capabilities of digital imaging. Several digital prototyping and production techniques enable the designed object to transcend traditional material properties, constraints and disciplines. The creator of the “One Shot Stool” completely dispensed with the need for separate joining elements such as bolts or nails to connect components; instead the twist-folding stool is created in one step using rapid prototyping (RP) tools.
Increasingly, the relationships between the act of designing, prototyping, producing and consuming have become more symbiotic through the application of computer-driven RP technologies. In our society of design conscious consumers, the flexibility of design and computing technology reinforces the trend for customization, personalization, experience and exclusivity to be built into the design of products.
How can we creatively apply new technologies to integrate these concepts into design? For the technology-driven designer, the boundaries between the craft/design disciplines have drastically blurred. Selecting computer-driven manufacturing processes functions similarly to selecting drawing tools from a palette. The physical outputs are now a direct extension of digital imaging technologies.
This project expands future applied-design capabilities for textiles as a function of inkjet deposition technology. The research focuses on one strand in a series of lateral investigations by the authors with existing inkjet technologies employed in the design and development of textiles. The project investigates the tools’ potential, focusing on the creative gaps in the developing technology that are either too risky for the industry to invest time in, or apply the technologies in a manner not directly related to its intended purposes. As such, the research investigates future design possibilities for inkjet printing technology in the creation of 3D textile structures and surfaces.
Aims and objectives
The research goal was to use practical testing and development as a means for investigating and generating a 2D/3D textile design process. Much theoretical research has gone into developing software to approach 3D design of textiles, mostly focused on replicating existing textile structures in 3D visualizations such as those of Dong and Chantler (2005), but little research has demonstrated design principles that can be applied to enhance the physical creation of 3D textile concepts through the application of rapid production technologies.
This research is not simply about creating working samples; it follows on a program of research previously demonstrated by the authors about developing appropriate methods for integrating new technologies for continued design development. Through the project we have embodied a type of design research.
The overall aim of the research was to work together to build a comprehensive picture of potentially significant ‘breakthrough methods’ for future design applications in the use of inkjet technology for textile design. This paper presents initial results of the following objective: To design and print both 3D textile structures and topographical surface effects that can be adhered to a fabric base, focusing on evaluating the technology’s potential for changing the scale of 3D structural textile designs.
The investigations used inkjet fused-deposition modeling methods for ‘printing’ three-dimensional (3D) fabric structures and surfaces. Two approaches were employed to design 3D inkjet textiles: a) building up the surface texture of an existing textile by conceptualizing, designing and printing 3D elements that adhere to the fabric surface; and b) printing 3D textile structures that are novel variations on knit and woven structures. The experiments focused on evaluating the technologies’ potential for changing the scale and structural elements of 3D textile designs, as a means for finding the most workable and flexible structures for use as actual fabrics.
To conceptualize methods for ‘capturing’ or generating the 3D designs, the team employed a design process of 3D scanning and reverse modeling techniques devised by one of the authors.
The research group developed criteria for visual and structural concepts to be explored in the testing of 3D surface structures. The goals were as follows:
- Attempt to investigate 3D surface structures that are novel developments for textile design effects. For example, the team did not want to spend time trying to replicate existing fabric structures for 3D effect; i.e. we would not attempt to create surfaces that mimic known weave/knit/non-woven structures or to imitate yarn or fibre structures in 3D as this type of research has been previously attempted, primarily by material scientists and textile engineers, and mostly focused on creating algorithms for generating randomised visualisations of woven or composite fabric textures in three-dimensions (Quinn, McIlhagger, and McIlhagger, 2003) (Texture Lab, Heriot Watt University).
- Determine methods for creating and predicting 3D surface structures that would enhance (or at least not excessively inhibit) flexibility of the substrate.
- Combine goals for flexibility with an ability to create structures that would not collapse or crumble with flexing or bending of the substrate. This involved a visual investigation of the types of geometric and/or organic shapes or motifs that are optimal for these criteria.
- Develop design approaches and techniques that focus on the advantages of 3D inkjet fused-deposition modelling printers. This involved determining an approach to the technology’s need to include lattice or structural supports as part of the 3D ‘build’ process, as well as investigating methods for taking advantage of the rigidity of the nylon-based polymer used as the printing medium. Future investigation will include comparison of these approaches to possibilities and constraints that exist in other rapid prototyping techniques, such as selective laser sintering, stereo lithography, etc.
- Experiment with creating 3D designs from existing images that have been used by the authors in investigating potential for other digitally driven output technologies for textiles, such as laser etching, digital printing and digital embroidery. This allows for the researchers to visually demonstrate the transformation of a designed image/idea as it is re-represented in multiple output technologies.
Investigations involved analyzing and developing textural constructs that could be re-represented through 3D technologies, yet be used functionally as an extra-dimensional surface of a textile. Structures inspired from images like the electron microscope photograph of carbon nanotubes functioned as a starting point for the designs. From these, a series of 3D designs were created. The designs were printed while testing a series of techniques for adhering the dimensional print to existing fabric structures, as well as attempting to generate an embedded textile-like ground within the body of the 3D printed file.
Initial results were variable, but provided excellent artifacts for visual and structural evaluation, leading to refinement of the designed-effects.
The researchers discussed ways in which we might approach the creation and/or retention of flexibility of material while using the 3D FDM printer. Since the material printed is an ABS Nylon, which is melted for inkjet deposition and then hardens after cooling, the team had to explore the potential for maintaining flexibility with the rigid material. Our initial approach was to think in small modular units that could be adhered to a flexible textile substrate.
Mixing flexibility with structural integrity
As a means for mixing flexibility with potential for 3D textile surface designs that could only be created using RP technologies, one of the most complex tasks is creating dimensionally effective designs that are structurally able to deal with the requirements for either being adhered to a fabric surface or printed directly onto a flexible substrate design. Our initial attempt at a novel and potentially flexible structure. The goal was to create a structure that could move with the fabric, made up of modular elements.
3D designs from existing images
In order to visually explore the changes to a textile design concept as it is translated through different types of digital output technologies, we selected an image developed by one of the authors that had previously been explored through digital printing, laser etching and digital embroidery design processes. The original image was imported into a 3D software design package and then extruded into a 3D shape using a filter algorithm in the software.
Dealing with lattice/support materials
While dissolving the support material in an FDM printed structure may help to solve some of the design constraints, it creates added levels of complexity and environmentally challenging chemicals into the design process in such a way that the designer/researchers involved in the project deemed to be undesirable.
In slightly stubborn defiance, and in suspension of quick reasoning, we are continuing to explore means for using basic FDM printer technology to create structures that minimize the need for entangled support. The goal is to determine an approach that can inform recommendations for creating future structures effectively.
Potential applications and benefits
As inkjet textile technology evolves past a rapid prototyping tool into a series of responsive manufacturing techniques for textile products, designers, textile technology developers and soft goods industries will be able to use the results of this research to maximize their creative development. Though we are early in the investigative stages of the project, many possibilities have presented themselves for further exploration. The authors hope that by employing modified 2D/3D textile design processes with the technology future creators will be assisted to conceptualize and manufacture locally, creatively and with more accessible technologies.