The Future of Textiles – Digital Realm

Image Credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Textiles are the most essential element in the making of garments. Whether they’re made of silk or cotton, wool or linen, poly or some other man-made fiber, the future of textiles is headed in the digital direction. The subject of this post will explore the digital realm of textiles and other materials and where they’re headed.

If you’ve been following our blog, then you will remember that I first covered this topic in a September 2020 post entitled,  TECHNOLOGY: Big News in 3D Design & Fabrics. And, recently, at the July 2021 PI Apparel conference (Product Innovators), I am happy to report that the world of digital textiles is still on the move!

Just how important are digital materials?

Image credit: PI Apparel

PI Apparel is a membership community for apparel and footwear professionals. Their July 15, 2021 Spotlight session, focused on Digitalizing Materials, and was the most attended Spotlight to date. Panelists for the session included representatives from Browzwear, CLO, Optitex, Vizoo, Substance by Adobe, Seddi, swatchbook, Studio Lupas and Tong Hong Tannery. Brands such as Nike, Ralph Lauren, Old Navy, Perry Ellis, New Balance and Target, as well as research organizations, such as AMFI (Amsterdam University of Apparel Science) were also represented.

Image credit: PI Apparel

The fact, that Browzwear, CLO and Optitex were together in a session on How & Why to Make the Most of Existing Digital Libraries, shows a willingness to work with competitors to foster the goal of using 3D, at scale, to accurately represent materials virtually.

The two aspects of both visual and physical must be combined in a way for the virtual material to reflect the physical material. For suppliers who are providing virtual materials, they are now able to compare the physical material by draping a particular textile over a ball in a controlled lightbox with the virtual material modeled in the same lighting conditions so that it can compare to the quality of the visual model. The physical aspects need the raw data for stretching, bending and other physical properties of the material to model the proper soft physics. This technique helps the designer get a feeling for how a textile will drape, bend and react to a particular design when using 3D design software.

Goals Versus Scanning

Image credit: Susan Wilkinson

One of the issues with scanning materials is the level of detail that is needed for each requirement. As part of  Web 3D Nov 2020 Conference Workshop #3, these challenges were discussed between me (co-owner of Gneiss Concept) and Dejan Zvekic – CPO of Geng Geng (3D Expert of Material Exchange). Scan requirements can vary from good-enough-for-artists to use, as a base for their designs – to accurate, very time-consuming scans that are obtained in multiple file formats.

The type of information stored from the scans can include textures, e.g., color (base or diffuse), roughness, metalness, transparency, specular, normal, and displacement. Scanners or scanning software will define these terms per their device. So far, inroads have been made in digitizing materials, but there are still some materials that present challenges.

Note that there are many materials that remain difficult to scan as stated below:

Image credit: Material Exchange

Another challenge is that material properties also need to be stored for proper modeling in 3D digital software. Sharing data in the commercial environment requires common attributes such as: name, price, country of origin, description, lead times, minimum order quantity (MOQ), perhaps collection/season, and color family. Each material type will then have its specific attributes. In addition, certifications for the materials, such as a Restricted Substances list, Zero Discharge Harmful Chemicals and other data may be required.

Permission granted by Material Exchange.

Digital Realm – An interview with Jason Eric Brown

Image credit: Tong Hong Tannery

In an interview with Jason Eric Brown of Tong Hong Tannery, a self-described CMF (color, material, finish) nerd, he described material scanning and what is required. Since the apparel and footwear industries would like their suppliers to generate digital materials, my interview with Jason shed light on the process of material scanning and digital materials, which was helpful in understanding the scope of work. I learned that Tong Hong Tannery uses Vizoo scanners and X-Rite Tac7 scanners, Substance by Adobe and swatchbook.

According to Jason, one of the challenges of having a large database of materials is searching for a specific material in the library. For example, if you want a 28-gauge cotton material of a certain color, how do you to set up the database so that it is easy to find?

In his opinion, the Vizoo and X-Rite Tac7 scanners both have their purposes depending on your goals and the materials themselves. The Vizoo is a quick scanner but not able to scan everything and the X-Rite Tac7 can handle more complex materials, but it can take a up to a day to scan. If one has a large collection of materials, one will need to use both types of scanners, depending on the material and the business needs.

Tong Hong Tannery starts with scanning the physical materials on a flatbed or roll printer (depending on material) to find the normal, height, and mask, while adjusting for the gloss of the material. It is important to start with a physical item. He uses Substance by Adobe to assemble the “packages”. The scans consist of layers – 1) textures 2) pigments and 3) processes. Jason finds scanning in black and white helpful to build the layers. This way, the color of the material can be added easier for different colorways and will not be impacted by the physical scanning.  These are also rendered using Octane Render or Modo software for the final product presentation.

As Jason’s materials are mostly used for footwear, he is focused more on the appearance of the material rather than having to include the soft physics. Garments are more dependent on the soft physics.

Future Skill Sets

Image credit: swatchbook

Understanding the creation of digital materials will be important in the future, since the new fashion industry mantra is Less Samples, Less Waste, Less time. For the CMF nerds among us, the future is here and becoming scalable. Stay tuned…

So, tell us, are you a CMF nerd?

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Carol McDonald

Carol McDonald

Carol McDonald is a new contributor to the University of Fashion. She, along with her husband, are owners of Gneiss Concept, a consultancy that focuses on mass customization of footwear and apparel manufacturing. She has over 30 years of experience in Manufacturing and Sustaining Engineering covering Consumer products (Starbucks, Intermec, Microsoft), Medical equipment (Physio Control), Testing equipment (Fluke Networks), Fitness products (Precor) and Design Innovation (PNNL). She has attended Shoe School in Port Townsend, Washington and Modo software training at Pensole, Portland, Oregon. Carol McDonald graduated from University of Washington, Bothell, in Electrical Engineering (B.S.), from Oregon State University in Mechanical Engineering (M.S.), from University of Oregon in Mathematics (B.S.). Carol McDonald is co-chair of IEEE 3D Body Processing Industry Connections Group which brings together diverse stakeholders from across technology, retail, research and standards development to build thought leadership around 3D body processing technology standard, https://standards.ieee.org/industry-connections/3d/bodyprocessing.html Her three grown children are involved in STEM fields ranging from distributed power generation engineering, a High School science teacher, and computer programming. She enjoys family ski trips, adult rec soccer and quilting.