3D Printed Knitwear: Print Your Own Clothes At Home
by Jon Wood
A Kickstarter campaign for a machine that creates custom 3D printed knitwear is thriving, having already reached over three times its initial goal at time of writing this. It’s a pretty cool piece of kit, so I decided it was time to investigate further.
Is it just me or has 3D printing not really lived up to its initial hype? In fact, I would go as far as saying that most people still don’t know what it’s truly capable of…. Is this down to a lack of education or is because we just haven’t figured out what to do with it yet?
I mean, I know we’ve built 3D printed houses in record time, and the military and aviation space are having great success in building avionic parts, not just more quickly, but also at a much lower cost.
We’ve also built car and motorbike parts and I heard today that a mini jet engine generating 33,000 RPM has been created using 3D printing, which sounds awesome!
But are we really using this technology on a mass scale yet?
Well, not really. Whilst 3D printers are available for us to buy and use at home, only a few hobbyists have taken this up so far. I guess consumer 3D printers aren’t really advanced (or affordable) enough yet for it to be a real benefit for most of us. They’re also still pretty big and bulky, and few people know how to work the software involved properly. Nonetheless, this is how the inkjet printer started out, but once the tech was inexpensive and user-friendly enough, the market boomed. Now pretty much everyone has an inkjet printer. There’s good reason to believe that the same will be true of 3D printers in future.
One of the things many people dream of is the idea of designing their own clothes and printing them out at home. And now, it seems, we are one step closer.
3D printing is great if you need to create something made of plastic or even metal or ceramic out of thin air. But what if you want something fuzzier and warmer? Something like, say, a knitted scarf, sweater, or even a hat like granny used to make!
3D Printed Knitwear!
Enter Kniterate, a “digital knitting machine,” that makes it easy to take digital designs and automatically knit them into wearable fabrics at the push of a button… basically, 3D printed knitwear!
This is amazing! Just think of all the fashionistas at university wondering what to design for their final project… Well, life just got a little easier! Imagine been able to choose your fabric, press go, and watch your design come to life in front of you.
Simpler designs like scarves and ties can be knitted wholly by the Kniterate, while more complex pieces like dresses or sweaters will require a bit of assembly after the machine has done its work, but that is to be expected as nothing is ever perfect first time round.
The company is also developing an app to make it easy to design new patterns, add images and text, and customise the type of stitches used.
According to the Kickstarter page, Kniterate hopes to bridge the gap between traditional home knitting machines (apparently a thing that’s been around since the ‘80s — who knew?), which are cheaper but complicated and tricky to use, and more expensive industrial machines. That said, a single Kniterate 3D printed knitwear maker costs $4,699 on Kickstarter, with only 125 units being offering through crowdfunding. And if you miss that, you’ll be stuck paying $7,499 at retail, which certainly stretches the price point for the consumer a bit.
Obviously, given the price and the fact that Kniterate is an extremely complex piece of hardware and software from a first-time company, it’s worth doing your own research before putting up the cash. The first Kniterate units are expected to ship in April 2018.
Companies like Adidas and Unmade already offer customisable clothing options to order, either in-store (Adidas) or online (Unmade). Companies like Modular also create the 3D rendering software that’s easy for customers to use on brand websites to customise items from the brand’s line.
Mass customisation is a movement that is quickly gaining traction, posing a potential threat to the mass production model. Nonetheless, the examples above rely on a pre-set line of options. However, the idea of bringing fully customisable clothing direct to one’s own home is one that will be incredibly popular as the hardware begins to fall in price.
I see this movement as a massively democratising tool, which brings power back to the consumer and away from big businesses. This is also a potentially more environmentally-friendly approach, given the fact that the mass production model tends to create a lot of waste by overproduction. By creating pieces in direct proportion to demand via customisation, this issue is eliminated. Everybody gets what they want, the environmental impact is less, and equally, extraneous costs are minimised for businesses themselves.