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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Digital Custom Printing: 3D and Inkjet for Fashion Items

I’m seeing a lot more variety in the use of digital 3D and fabric custom printing within the fashion world, and I find this extremely exciting. It shows that print is more than ink on paper. It also shows that there’s a market for the mass customization afforded by digital custom printing.

I recently read two articles on the subject: “London School of Fashion Exhibition Shows 3D-Printed Fashions” on (4/5/13) and “The Bikini of the Year—RELLECIGA Lace Bikini Series & Vibrant Graphic Printed Bikinis” in The Sacramento Bee (4/26/13).

Three Dimensional Footwear, Eyewear, and Jewelry

The first article displays photos of numerous items made relatively easily with layers of polymer using a MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer. The machine looks like a futuristic microwave and retails online for just under $2,800.00 (the starting model).

The article showcases an exhibit curated by the London College of Fashion in their Fashion Space Gallery. To quote from the article, the event “shows designers exploring digital print in fashion and the potential of 3D printing as a tool for design.”

What I find interesting about the images (which include dramatic and elegant–and in some cases especially intricate–shoes, glasses, and jewelry) is that these items can be made inexpensively with control over fine detail and with the promise of unlimited creative variation.

And these items can be created on equipment priced within reach of a small fashion design shop.

Moreover, I think it will expand the awareness of those who attend the show to actually see a MakerBot Replicator 2 producing these items. I know that when I first heard about 3D custom printing (or additive manufacturing), I couldn’t visualize the process of printing layer upon layer of polymer to create three dimensional items. So I think this exhibit will demystify this technology and bring it into common awareness.

Footwear included in the online photo selection includes shoes with intricate cut-outs or webs of polymer material that would be difficult if not impossible to create with any other process. The jewelry also has a spider web-like quality in some cases and a fuller, more detailed and curvilinear quality in others. It seems that the 3D fashion designers are playing to the strengths of digital technology in their creative approach to fashion design.

Printed Bikinis by RELLECIGA

I commented on a similar article about bikinis a few months ago, and I’m now seeing more articles about the same kind of fabric custom printing work. I find this interesting since bikinis need to endure exposure to sun, salt, sand, and water. My assumption, therefore, is that fabric printing materials are being devised that are increasingly durable and able to withstand abuse and abrasion.

After all, the designers need to address stretching issues and waterproofing issues along with comfort and appearance challenges when using nylon as a base material for their bikinis. Clearly, the new digital custom printing technology goes way beyond printing on t-shirts.

“The Bikini of the Year—RELLECIGA Lace Bikini Series & Vibrant Graphic Printed Bikinis” notes the benefits of digital printing, citing the intricacy of the patterns, the vibrant colors, and the option of printing very short runs of a fashion item or even customizing each piece.

This flexibility encourages not only short-run printing but also experimentation and prototyping. And the technology is affordable for small fashion design shops, particularly when compared to the prior technology of custom screen printing. Before the advent of digital fabric printing, a printed fabric run had to be very long (several thousand yards) to justify the expense of making an individual screen for each ink and then printing the inks in sequence on a rotary screen press.

The article goes on to note that unique inks are being developed that are ideally suited for each type of fabric. Rollers feed the fabric through the inkjet or dye-sub presses, and then heat and/or steam cures the ink. In some cases, post process washing and drying are necessary, and some initial fading may occur upon the user’s first washing of the garment. Other than that, the garments wear normally, just like any other fashion item.

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