Reverse detail of Japanese silk woven obi from Textile Hive


* We will be hosting a special 3D Textile demonstration Monday, November 6th at Textile Hive. Find out more information and sign up here.

Since the advent of digital textile design, designers have been given many tools to help create new products and designs. However, these tools such as computer aided design (CAD) programs never allowed designers to visualize their creations in the three dimensional (3D) medium they were designing for. Until physical samples were produced, designers could not visualize the properties of their designs.

Today, more and more, designers are choosing to work in a virtual space and not only is it less expensive and more efficient, but it’s also potentially making them better designers. With the combination of high quality 3D scans and 3D software tools a designer can adapt a 2D design and bring it to life with virtual modeling. Suddenly able to see their designs, and test and tweak them easily, the designer has access to material information such as fiber strength, stretch, density and luminosity, long before the production even materializes. One small fabric swatch scanned and viewed with 3D software allows a designer to map it to a full structural garment, testing countless iterations without using any physical material and in a fraction of the time needed to produce physical samples.

The benefits of this technology also extend far beyond product design and have exciting possibilities for material/cultural collections like the 40,000 textiles housed at Textile Hive. For the first time we can take a three inch swatch of French silk voided velvet created in 1860 and see it placed on a full length gown or on a chaise or car interior. The ability for cultural institutions to dynamically display their materials, historically contextualize them and present their materials for modern uses is especially exciting. Looking to learn more about this growing 3D movement in textiles, we got in contact with three individuals at the forefront of 3D design and textiles; Martin Semsch, co-founder of Vizoo, Yazan Malkosh the founder of 3D software company Swatchbook, and Luisa Gil-Fandino, the founder of Fandindo Textiles and Lecturer at the University of Texas Austin.

We started our journey with a talk with Martin Semsch, one of the two founders of Vizoo, the company behind the xTex scanner. The xTex scanner is a 3D material scanner that takes small swatches or objects and with a single scan can generate a 3D file compatible with 3D CAD software, such as Swatchbook. The idea came about when both Martin and Reinhardt Meier were at Adidas working on a project to create a digital material library from physical swatches for the design team. Once they had finished digitizing the swatches, they decided to independently continue developing the potential of their prototype (with the blessing of Adidas). In late 2014, Martin and Reinhardt launched a polished, portable version of their scanner alongside the coordinating software.  

Before this technology existed, companies with this need relied on flatbed scanners which produced a single 2D image. Each image then had to be manually digitized into a 3D file format by the designer with the help of a camera and Photoshop. We asked Martin to expand on the differences, since their prototype of the xTex evolved from a flatbed scanner.

Image courtesy of Vizoo

“2D scanning with a flatbed scanner will provide you with a single image. That means your 3D application has to “guess” how your material behaves under each different lighting condition, viewing angle, and so on, from just a single piece of information. In contrast, xTex captures the material in many different lighting situations. That provides the 3D Software with enough data to accurately display your material.” 

Each incredibly detailed capture of the xTex is made in under 10 minutes and is made up of 10 different photographs (up to 1000 dpi) which use different angles and calibrations of light to capture the qualities of the textile, not just the color and pattern, but the structure, texture, transparency, and reflective quality as well.  With this information and metadata, the xTex software then packages the files in a folder to be read by 3D the software and within their software can be easily tiled, resized, and manipulated for later use. Martin also stated that the xTex software could be used with traditional 2D scans to approximate materials in a 3D environment, which could be a potential boon for a collection like ours at Textile Hive that have already been digitized.

Multi layer Vizoo scan of Textile Hive French silk velvet swatch made in 1860

Martin also emphasized the benefit for the small-scale or up-and-coming designer, someone who may not have the resources to produce their clothing line, but has the resources to create their garments virtually. Working in a virtual space, designers could digitally prototype their product accurately and share and sell their product before ever actually investing in physical samples. 3D scans give the design software more visual data to work with, resulting in compelling digital prototypes. Currently, Vizoo is working with apparel, home furnishings, and automotive design companies to streamline their processes. 

Our second conversation was with Yazan Malkosh, the founder of Swatchbook, a software system (currently in private beta) to organize and interact with 3D files like the ones produced by Vizoo's xTex. Yazan has an extensive background in 3D design and chose to aim Swatchbook specifically at the textile industry, what he considers an “underserved market.”

Image courtesy of Virtual 3D Textile Samples

“The software is really more of an ecosystem of products that work together to help users visualize and search for fabric using a digitized version of the fabric. Our software is a propagator of the data and it allows the user to navigate and utilize the database in a natural and holistic manner.”

Needing more clarity on the direct benefit of working with 3D files, we asked Yazan to elaborate.

“The downfall of most 2D design is that designers are limited by the amount of data they can access. 3D, on the other hand, provides you with much more depth and that helps you get a much heavier data set. If proper analysis is done on the data set, then there would be many things learned that can assist in the textile design and manufacturing.”

To Yazan, 3D design is critical to fashion and textile design not only because of its practical application, such as the ease of changing a design and the need for fewer resources, but also because of the innovation and potential for this technology to revolutionize the industry.  One such innovation is a personalized and tailored way to shop.

“I believe apparel brands of the future will rely more on personalized manufacturing than mass fitting. I envision a local Amazon store that becomes a manufacturing plant which can ship your custom made apparel to you, instead of just a temporary storage warehouse for passing shipments.  In the future, online or at a store, a consumer will be able to select a flattering design, input their own measurements via a digital avatar to get a realtime virtual sample simulated after having chosen just the right fabric. They can then have it tailor made.“

Finally, we were interested in getting the perspective of a textile maker and spoke with Luisa Gil-Fandino, the founder of Fandindo Textiles, a custom textile business specializing in 3D fabrics. Luisa’s evocative textiles feature bright colors and innovative textures achieved through the structure of the fabric. Her inspiration stems from her background in architecture and industrial design and her South American roots.

“I'm originally from Colombia which is the second most biodiverse country in the World, so each time I visit I try to go new places with different weather and take time to look at patterns and textures.  Also, my undergraduate degree is in industrial design, so I think about three-dimensionality of everything.”

Image courtesy of Luisa Gil-Fandino

Luisa’s work emphasizes the dynamic structure and dimensionality of textiles. Beyond their stunning appearances, Luisa hopes to push the limit of these textiles with new-usecases, such as acoustic insulation. When designing her 3D textiles Luisa considers not only the final use of the fabric, but the overall behavior and performance of the material, allowing her to better choose the structural design and fiber for the task.  

Image courtesy of Luisa Gil-Fandino

The opportunities to enhance properties of fabrics through yarn and fiber and ultimately engineering the fabric construction are endless. With so many advances in material technology, we will start to seeing a lot of 3D textiles in wearables, the built environment, automotive and medical uses very soon. 

Curious to know more about her process, we mentioned the xTex scanner to Luisa to see if she works with similar filetypes/technology.  

“I've used a 3D scanner for digitizing objects going into the 3D printer and I've contemplated a few textile ideas but haven't materialized them yet. I've not used a specialized texture scanner yet, but would definitely like to get my hands on one.  I think as an era of ‘material as machine’ approaches where the material performs, adapts and offers several properties,  resources like a texture 3D scanner will open a new array of material architecture possibilities. Once digitized, you can give the material new parametric constraints to alter its topology and performance and produce new custom results.”

We were intrigued by the xTex scanner and reached out to Martin and Reinhardt to have a few samples from Textile Hive digitized in 3D. While we have access to have high resolution scans to examine the structure of textiles, we didn’t have the ability to visualize how these samples would drape in a virtual environment.  With these digitized files we hope to expand our own knowledge of our collection and understand better the possibilities of each piece. We are also intrigued with the idea that 3D scans of our historic textiles could highlight past textile design innovation and ingenuity with the potential of updated applications for contemporary products. We plan on sharing these 3D files with our Textile Hive members so that they can explore and experiment working in this new and exciting medium. 

Finally, Martin and Yazan graciously offered to come Portland for a special showcase demonstration at Textile Hive Monday, November 6th at 5 p.m. This unique opportunity fuses our historic textile collection and techniques with the emerging textile technology behind 3D design and is sure to be interesting. Click here to sign up.