3D Printing: The New Fabric for Designers

Project Runway recently wrapped up its twelfth season with the final fashion show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, including designer finalist Justin Leblanc. A former architecture student and now fashion designer, he has a BA in Architecture from North Carolina State University and a Masters of Design in Fashion, Body and Garment from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Justin, also a former intern for Alexander McQueen and Nick Cave, started as someone drawn to these finely crafted designs (mylifetime.com). Beginning with his degree in architectural design, he then realized that fashion design would give him more outlets for his creativity. “He took the fashion side turn,” his mother says in the season finale. Despite this, Justin insists that “my training in architecture also heavily influences my design aesthetic.” http://www3.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Justin+LeBlanc+MBFW+Project+Runway+Show+kDpOT80M_-Ll.jpg

So what did Justin do with his final collection on Project Runway to amp up his designs? He 3D printed accessories that he designed to represent sound waves, referencing the fact that he was diagnosed as deaf as a toddler and recently has acquired hearing through his cochlear implant. These designs show a transition between these stages of his life by producing something edgy and modern and utilizing technology to create something with a unique aesthetic on the runway.


When Tim Gunn visited the designers on the first part of the season finale, he checked in with Justin in North Carolina, learning about 3D printing as he viewed the collection in progress. Justin explains that 3D printing has been around for a long time, but it has only been recently accessible." Tim looks at the 3D printing machine and exclaims, “It looks like a vending machine!”

So what does this ‘vending machine’ do? As Justin said, 3D printing isn’t new, but it’s being used in new ways today, in fashion, jewelry, food, medicine, electronics, even the military. By creating digital designs, these three-dimensional objects can be created with high specificity. Invented in the 1980s by Chuck Hull, 3D printing involves using modeling software (in a process known as steriolithography) to create the object through a printer that builds it layer by layer, dot by dot.


It works in an additive method and many materials can be used, like rubber, plastic, paper, polyurethane-like materials, metals and others. With this flexibility in materials, designers can find the right material for the project. Justin’s designs utilize a kind of plastic, but he warns the models to be careful with the accessories, as they’re still fragile.

Triangulated cuff in polished alumide, by Archetype Z Studio. http://static1.sw-cdn.net/rrstatic/img/materials/alu-jewelry.jpg

As 3D modeling becomes more common, the exorbitant prices for a printer (forget printing the objects themselves), may significantly drop. Printers could cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000  five years ago (www.3dmakers.com), while printers today are available for as little as $1,000. This can allow design, including fashion and jewelry design, to create highly unique pieces at an affordable price.

3D printing can take some time and Justin references this when he talks about the 108 hours needed for a single print. Despite this, the technique only requires the design and a press of a button to produce a flawlessly crafted object. Justin found a way to include something as unconventional as 3D printing into his design, bringing back the architectural quality to his work in this collection, and the judges were impressed.




In the season finale, Justin adds, “I like pushing the boundaries.” He did exactly that with these 3D prints, creating something memorable and proving  just how valuable the asset of 3D printing can be in the fashion industry.