Bikinis & Blintzes: The New World of 3D Printing

June 24, 2011

3D printers have become a staple for high-end manufacturers to produce industrial parts and, more recently, even full-scale product prototypes. But as the technology evolves and the price points come down, 3D printing is starting to be used in ways that are still hard to imagine.

The latest gee-whiz 3D print moment has to do with high fashion -- admittedly, probably not a major interest area for much of the Design News audience. Still, seeing how a boutique fashion designer can push the envelope with technology is pretty exciting, and it provides a window into what's possible with 3D printing in the future, whether it's fashion or industrial design.

The trendsetter is Continuum Fashion, which, in partnership with Shapeways, a 3D print service and marketplace aimed at do-it-yourselfers and entrepreneurs, just introduced the N12 Bikini, a high fashion, yet ready-to-wear bathing suit printed from Nylon 12 material (hence the name).

The designers, Jenna Fizel and Mary Haung, are committed to pushing the boundaries of digital fabrication tools, with 3D printing their latest initiative. Since it's solid plastic, Nylon 12's strength allows it to be printed as thin as 0.7mm, but it can also make springs that bend and stretch, which can simulate fabric, making it an ideal choice for the swimsuit, according to the designers. The nylon is also waterproof -- apt, of course, for a bikini. The designers opted to experiment with 3D printing on a bikini design specifically because of the low amount of material required. Because the design fits exactly within the print area of the machine, the print models come out in a single piece, with no additional assembly required.

In addition to 3D printing, CAD played a role in the N12's design. The Rhino 3D CAD software and a specially written algorithmic script were used to create the structure of the 3D printed fabric. According to Rhino, "the algorithm uses a complex 'circle packing' equation on a doubly curved surface (the bikini), and the size of the circles respond to curvature and edge conditions of the form, helping to create smooth edges and a responsive pattern." The circle patterning system is important, according to the designers, because it can be adapted to new surfaces and sizes, ensuring that future articles of clothing can be produced using the same algorithm.

Maybe a 3D printed bikini doesn't blow your mind, but what about a full prototype of a 3D printed car? We wrote about Kor EcoLogic's Urbee, a hybrid vehicle that is the first automobile prototype with a body produced solely with a 3D printer. There have been early experiments with 3D printers recreating human body parts, and recently even more talk of 3D printers being used to pump out food products like bagels, blintzes, and even gourmet fare.

Obviously, the medical uses and high-end prototyping of car bodies will require expensive and fairly sophisticated printers. But as companies like 3D Systems, MakerBot Industries, and ZCorp. come out with cheaper and more accessible models, it's likely we're going to see a whole lot more surprises in this area. I, for one, can't wait.

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