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Tailor-printed fashion sizes up to the stitch

15 February 2006

3D printing could herald a new era in garment manufacture when the technology makes its debut at this year’s London Fashion Week.

Fashion designer Manish Arora will, for the first time, showcase the UCL (University College London) technology, which allows designers to translate their designs straight from the page into finished works, by-passing the normal manufacturing process.

Manish Arora will use ready-printed brooches and buttons in his collection, which will be shown at the Natural History Museum on Wednesday 15 February.

Plans are already underway to create larger pieces for subsequent collections and the UCL team says in the future the technology could be used to make custom-made clothes and shoes for a fraction of the cost, which are designed, printed and ready-to-go in hours rather than months.

3D printing is commonly used by architects and designers to make prototypes. Physical models are created from computer-aided design (CAD) data using an inkjet print-head to deposit a liquid binder that solidifies layers of powder.

The prototypes are designed using an emerging technology known as genetic algorithms. It works by mimicking the process of evolution in a computer to find the best solutions to a problem.

By modifying this process, so that the designer maintains control of the aesthetics of the final product, and by increasing the quality or ‘resolution’ of the printing process, it was possible to apply the idea to fashion design.

PhD researcher Siavash Mahdavi, of the UCL Department of Computer Science and the company Complex Matters, explains:

“When you use computer-aided design the specification of the end product must fit certain criteria, such as durability and cost. The computer then comes up with various design solutions that it tests in a simulated environment to see how they perform. Different facets of the design that best meet the needs of the product are combined, or ’bred’, until after around 1,000 generations, the best design that meets all the criteria is found.

“A particular strength of this system is that it can print out designs in very high resolution. This means that when we print a product, we can vary the density in different parts of it, creating an object that is seamless, but with different density in different parts – very difficult to achieve with existing production methods. You could design a jumper that is harder wearing at the elbows or a corset that has strength lengthwise, but still allows you to breathe.”

Manish Arora says: “Usually, if you’re trying to manufacture a few accessories for a show it can be an expensive process. If you wanted 10 buttons for a coat you would have to ask a manufacturer to make a new mould, that’s only cost-effective if you make millions of copies, and the process can take months. Using the computerised system, you can have the finished product in a couple of days at a fraction of the cost.

Siavash added: “It’s a long way off, but in years to come the product printing equipment could become widespread, allowing us all to realise our design doodles. You might even be able to print out a pair of shoes in the privacy of your own room!”

-end-

For further information, please contact:

Siavash Mahdavi, UCL Department of Computer Science, Tel: +44 20 7679 0420, Mobile: 07980 859 782

Email: S.HarounMahdavi@cs.ucl.ac.uk

Judith H Moore, UCL Media Relations Manager, Tel: +44 (0) 20 7679 7678, Mobile: +44 (0)77333 075 96

Email: judith.moore@ucl.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

Find out more about Manish Arora by visiting: www.manisharora.ws