Björk showcases the comfy future of 3D printed fashion

3D printed clothing that is both form-fitting and comfortable to wear is heading for the mainstream thanks to technology showcased today by the artist Björk.

The 3D-printable material, Nano Enhanced Elastomeric Technology (NEET), has been developed by 3D printing giant Stratasys and will be available commercially later this year.

Today it is been used in a mask developed with the company’s multi-material 3D printing technology, which is designed to perfectly mimic Björk’s musculoskeletal structure using 3D scans of her face. The mask is called Rottlace, a variant on the Icelandic word for skinless.

“Inspired by their biological counterpart and conceived as ‘muscle textiles’, the mask is a bundled, multi-material structure, providing formal and structural integrity, as well as movement to the face and neck,” said mask designer Professor Neri Oxman, from MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter group.

Image courtesy of Matt Carasella. Featured image courtesy of Santiago Felipe

The Pangolin 3D printed dress, designed by threeASFOUR. Image courtesy of Matt Carasella. Featured image courtesy of Santiago Felipe

Despite being made of several materials, including NEET, which allows it to stretch, the mask was printed in one sitting, meaning the technology could be used for custom manufacturing on a significant scale.

For Oxman, however, it could also allow high-end clothing and textiles designers to stretch the limits of their creativity.

“Multi-material 3D printing enables the production of elaborate combinations of graded properties, distributed over geometrically complex structures within a single object,” she said. “With Rottlace, we designed the mask as a synthetic ‘whole without parts’.”

Björk performed in the mask at an event streamed in VR at the Tokyo Miraikan Museum, as part of a virtual reality project dubbed BJÖRK DIGITAL, which finishes on 18th July.

She also wore a 3D printed dress that uses the material on 4th June, during a performance in Sydney as part of the project. Named Pangolin, the dress was designed by avant-garde fashion collective threeASFOUR, which has produced several 3D printed garments with Stratasys using the NEET material, and was originally launched earlier this year at New York Fashion week.

Featuring intricate interlocking panels, the garments looks carefully and expensively tailored, but with a fit and feel that makes it comfortable to wear.

If the technology becomes widely available, it could be revolutionary for fashion.

Despite its potential, 3D printed clothing has so far been restricted jewellery and accessories, with the few 3D printed garments available sacrificing looks for functionality.

However Stratasys’ technology could change that, and the company is planning plenty more showcases to further adoption.

“The Rottlace mask was designed for Björk while we are also working with Neri on a larger mask collection for Stratasys, which will debut later this year under the title ‘The New Ancient’,” says Naomi Kaempfer, Stratasys creative director of art, fashion and design.

“It’s an honor to see visionaries such as Björk embrace 3D printing for the expression of her art. This technology not only provides the freedom to produce perfect fitting costumes for the film and music industries, but also the inimitable capacity to materialize a unique fantasy to such a precise level of detail and 3D expression.”

Bioink made from cow cells paves way for scaffold-free 3D printed replacement joints

A research team of engineers has developed a method to create artificial cartilage using 3D printing that may one day allow us to grow replacement patches for worn out joints.

“Our goal is to create tissue that can be used to replace large amounts of worn out tissue or design patches,” said Ibrahim T Ozbolat, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics. “Those who have osteoarthritis in their joints suffer a lot. We need a new alternative treatment for this.”

Cartilage represents a good target for bioprinting due to its simple structure, consisting of only one cell type and with no blood cells in the tissue. Additionally, its inability to repair itself means that the prospect of artificial patches represents an important medical opportunity.

Previous attempts to create cartilage did so by embedding cells in a hydrogel, a substance comprising of polymer chains and water that acts as a scaffold for the tissue’s growth. This method didn’t allow cells to grow as normal, however, meaning that the created tissues lacked sufficient mechanical integrity. Ozbolat’s team’s new method allows them to produce larger scale tissues without the need for a scaffold.

The multiarmed 3D bioprinter used to print the cartilage

The multiarmed 3D bioprinter used to print the cartilage

The method consists initially of creating a tiny tube from algae extract. Cartilage cells taken from cows are then injected into the tube and allowed to grow for about a week and adhere to each other. Because cells do not stick to alginate, the tube can be removed to leave a strand of printable cartilage.

This strand substitutes for ink in the 3D printing process. Using a specially designed prototype nozzle, the 3D printer lays down rows of cartilage strands in a pattern chosen by the researchers. After about half an hour, the cartilage patch self-adheres enough to move to a petri dish containing nutrient media. The nutrient media allows the patch to further integrate into a single piece of tissue.

“We can manufacture the strands in any length we want,” said Ozbolat. “Because there is no scaffolding, the process of printing the cartilage is scalable, so the patches can be made bigger as well. We can mimic real articular cartilage by printing strands vertically and then horizontally to mimic the natural architecture.”

A plug of 3D bioprinted cartilage sits in nutrient media. Images courtesy of Ozbolat, Penn State

A plug of 3D bioprinted cartilage sits in nutrient media. Images courtesy of Ozbolat, Penn State

The cartilage produced by the team is currently inferior to natural cartilage, but better than the cartilage made using hydrogel scaffolding. However, Ozbolat believes mechanical pressure on the artificial cartilage will improve its mechanical properties, mimicking the way in which natural cartilage forms with pressure from the joints.

Applying the process to human cartilage will likely involve each individual treated providing their own source material to avoid tissue rejection.

However, once successful, we will have proven the possibility of artificially repairing tissues, as opposed to our current limitation to replacement or support.

Other tissues are far more complex than cartilage but if we consider it a starting point, this developing method could potentially lead to the ability to create “patches” for a variety of tissues, enabling us to combat the degradation of cells that leads to a variety of medical problems.