The N12 bikini is the world’s first ready-to-wear, completely 3D-printed article of clothing. All of the pieces, closures included, are made directly by 3D printing and snap together without any sewing. N12 represents the beginning of what is possible for the near future.
The same process can be used to make shirts, dresses and suits that are custom fitted using body scanning. It is 0.7 millimeters (1/36th of a inch) thick
N12 is named for the material it’s made out of: Nylon 12. This solid nylon is created by the SLS 3D printing process. Shapeways calls this material “white, strong, and flexible”, because its strength allows it to bend without breaking when printed very thin. With a minimum wall thickness of 0.7 mm (1/36th of an inch), it is possible to make working springs and almost thread-like connections. For a bikini, the nylon is beautifully functional because it is waterproof and remarkably comfortable when wet.
The N12 was designed using Rhino 3D CAD software and specially written algorithmic script to create the structure of the 3D printed fabric. The algorithm uses a complex ‘circle packing’ equation on an arbitrarily doubly curved surface (the bikini). The size of the circles responds to curvature and edge conditions of the form, creating smooth edges and a responsive pattern.
The patterning starts with a curved surface, some geometry to indicate edges and value ranges for the circles sizes and tolerance parameters. The pattern begins placing circles at a point near the edge. Each subsequent circle tries to stay as near to the nearest edge geometry at possible. The circle’s size is determined using this nearness and the local curvature of the surface. Curvier areas get small circles and flatter areas larger, both to help with accurately approximating the surface and to ensure flexibility where it is needed and efficiency of pattern where it is not.
Every time a bend or elbow is encountered in the surface edge, a small gap will be left in the pattern. Gaps will also occur near the middle distances between edges where the placement of the next circle is less certain. After the first level of pattern has been created, these open areas are infilled with smaller circles to ensure complete coverage, and to create a more interesting aesthetic pattern.
One of the goals of the circle patterning system is to be able to adapt it to any surface, at any size. This means that future articles of clothing can be produced using the same algorithm, this could be taken a step further into absolute customization by using a body scan to make a bespoke article of clothing, 3D printed to exactly fit that person only.