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Scan in, print out, wear it: The future of fashion is 3D

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Every single morning, we wake up, we look at our closet and despite it is full of clothes we feel that we have absolutely nothing to wear. According to the Italian philosopher Seneca, “we live not according to reason, but according to fashion” [9].

The technology behind additive manufacturing

The terms 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) are interchangeable [3]. The AM process begins with a 3D model of an object that is usually created with computer-aided design (CAD) software. This 3D model is then sliced into cross-sectional layers through specialized software that creates and sends a computer file to the AM machine [10]. The 3D printer then starts to gradually build the object layer upon layer from the data in the computer file [3].

Applications in the fashion industry

The consulting firm McKinsey predicts full consumer adoption of 3D printing by 2025 [11]. Apart from 3D printing at home, AM machines have also been used by fashion designers for rapid and cheap prototyping [6]. As technology is getting more advanced, 3D printing is increasingly utilized in industrial manufacturing where final products like shoe soles are made (see image 2).

Opportunities and challenges

One major benefit of AM is that it allows to customize and personalize products according to customer’s needs [3]: Think of shoes tailored to the wearer’s feet, for example [4]. Fashion items can also be produced on-demand, which makes fashion companies more agile, significantly reduces their need for inventories and markdowns [1]. The AM process also creates less waste, as only the needed material is used [5].

On the flip side, 3D printing in the luxury industry eliminates the need for traditional craftsmanship [8]. No surprise that luxury houses have been particularly averse to 3D printing [8]. The technology is also too slow for mass production and needs to become faster [3]. At the moment, only plastics, resins, and metal can be used as raw materials in 3D printing – cotton cannot yet be used [7].

3D printing will likely heavily disrupt the fashion and luxury industry with design and manufacturing potentially transformed. The future success and adoption of 3D printing will probably depend on the ability to process different materials. Once solved, I am convinced that the future of fashion is 3D.



[1] 3D printing. (2020). Positive and Negative Effects of 3D Printing. Retrieved from 3D Printing: 3d-printing.html [Accessed: 06/10/2020]

[2] Heinze-Wallmeyer, S. (2018, September 19). 10 beendruckende Kleidungsstücke die aus einem 3D-Drucker stammen. Retrieved from 3D-grenzenlos Magazin : [Accessed: 06/10/2020]

[3] Stahl, H. (2013). 3D Printing - Risks and Opportunities. Darmstadt: Öko-Institut e.V.

[4] Kwon, Y. M., Lee, Y.-A., & Kim, S. J. (2017). Case study on 3D printing education in fashion design coursework. Fashion and Textiles, 1-20.

[5] Pasricha , A., & Greeninger, R. (2018). Exploration of 3D printing to create zero-waste sustainable fashion notions and jewelry. Fashion and Textiles, 1-18.

[6] Sun, L., & Zhao, L. (2017). Envisioning the era of 3D printing: a conceptual model for the fashion industry . Fashion and Textiles, 1-16.

[7] Sim, H. (2017, December 3). 3D printing in luxury fashion: Revolution or evolution? Retrieved from Forbes : [Accessed: 07/10/2020]

[8] Gupta, A. (2019, February 21). For an industry which prides itself on handmade, traditional craftsmanship, 3D printing and nanotechnology are transforming the world of luxury. Retrieved from Luxury Facts: [Accessed: 08/10/2020]

[9] Seneca. (mid-1st century AD). Fashion quotes. Retrieved from AZ Quotes: [Accessed: 07/10/2020]

[10] ASTM International . (2020). Overview. Retrieved from ASTM International: Helping our world work better : [Accessed: 05/10/2020]

[11] Manyika, J., Chui, M., Bughin, J., Dobbs, R., Bisson , P., & Marrs, A. (2013). Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy. New York : McKinsey Global Institute .

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