You can combine 3D printed designs with fabric to create exciting new textiles. It's a really interesting process that has a lot of possibilities still to be discovered. In this Instructable, I will show you how to print on three different kinds of fabric: power mesh, heat-sealable nylon, and cotton/poly broadcloth. 3D prints on power-mesh can be seen in contemporary projects. The heat-sealable and woven cotton/poly is what I chose to experiment with, I particularly wanted to figure out how to print on a woven fabric. Some things didn't work but some worked beautifully. I show you what did and go over some of what did not.
The printer I use is a MakerBot Replicator 2 with TPU (flexible) filament from Sainsmart. PLA can be used for all of these techniques except I found that it did not stick to the heat-sealable fabric I used. I encourage you to try it out on other heat-sealable fabrics and report back. :)
It's a technique that has been explored all over the world and has been discussed and experimented with for longer than you may think. There is still much to be explored so follow along and get hooked!
Here is what I have found to be true - in order for the 3D filament to stay on fabric it either needs to be perforated or be coated with a hot-melt polymer (although not all coatings work with all filament).
Netting and Meshes
The perforated fabric can be a mesh or netting. The fabric is placed in between layers of printed filament making contact and bonding with itself through the holes in the netting or perforation. The fabric then gets locked in and your print stays on the fabric. In this Instructable I use power mesh. I link to other fabrics that will also work, some may take some experimentation.
Heat-sealable fabrics are coated with a polymer that bonds to itself when heated up. This is for creating clothing and soft goods without the used of a sewing machine. It's especially good for items that need to be air or water tight. Since the fabric has a hot-melt polymer coating on it the hot filament heats up the coating and bonds with it when printed on top of it. In this Instructable, I use Seattle fabric's 30 denier heat-sealable coated nylon. They have other heat sealable fabrics that may work.
Woven Poly Blend
The only way I have been able to get a print to stay on a fabric that is not a mesh or that has a coating is to create holes with a laser cutter. This is best done with a poly blend so as the laser cuts it seals the edges, preventing the newly created mesh from fraying over time. In this Instructable, I use a cotton/poly broadcloth.