A couple of days ago, I decided to try a ‘thing’: DTF3DP - 'Direct-to-fabric 3d printing.
This is what I managed the first day:
(Each square of t-shirt fabric is about 2cm across. I made them tiny so that I could print them as quickly as possible.)
After two more days, I am now able to print (multi-colour!) things like this:
(The fabric–denim–measures 4cm x 6cm.)
If you have a 3d printer and want to try this yourself, here are some notes:
The important settings for your slicer are:
- Use the highest temperature for both extruder and bed possible for the first layer, given the filament and fabric limits. (You may need to do what I did and have the slicer pause the print before moving on to the second layer to let the temp get back down to what you usually use.)
- Set the first layer to be the height of the top of the material from the bed plus the lowest possible layer height. (This will generally mean needing a digital calliper but every fabber should have one anyway, right?)
- Set the first layer flow to a very low percentage, like 10-30%. After all, you may have told your slicer that the first layer will be 1mm high, but you don’t want it to push out that much filament. You’ll want to experiment with this for each fabric; you want to push out as much filament as possible without it overflowing the edges of the print and/or distorting it. (This is why I used a couple of dozen 2cm x 2cm squares of fabric to print out 1cm x 1cm diamonds.)
- Set the print speed of the first layer to be slooooow. Nope. Slower than that. Try ‘0.5mmps’. Seriously. You want to have the greatest chance of the plastic being able to stay molten as long as possible as it works its way into the fabric, squishing around the fibres.
- If it allows it, tell your slicer to restrict all travel to within the model. This will keep strings from showing up where you don’t want them.
- Likewise, have it ‘Z hop’ when travelling to avoid smearing the plastic. Remember that you are printing onto something that isn’t perfectly flat, and plastic from previous layers can be proud of the print surface.
- I would use the lowest layer height that you can after the first, and just add more layers. I get very good bonding, and any ‘proud’ plastic from previous layers gives ‘plowed’ evenly across the surface.
- One trick that I use instead of ‘100% infill’ is to tell Cura (the slicer that I use) to make my top surface 180mm thick. That just makes it think that all layers are a top surface, and I get very good results.
You MUST have some way to hold the fabric to the bed without it shifting. I considered using spray-starch and/or water-soluble glue, but didn’t have either and ultimately found that simple contact cement stays sticky quite well, only requiring an occasional scrub with rubbing alcohol to get right of stuck fibres. The issue is that it is pretty much impossible to get it perfectly flat, which is why there is some mottling of the flag. (…of course, the bigger issue will be trying to get my bed completely clean again, but I’m saving that particular headache until I’m done this project.) I’m going to see if sheets of that sticky silica gel might work. I think that I have a small piece that was intended to keep cell phones from sliding around on car dashes, but I haven’t found it yet.
The density of the material matters; the more open the weave, the deeper the plastic can penetrate and therefore the stronger the bond. With my final test pieces on t-shirt material, trying to remove the printed piece simply tore a hole in the fabric. On the other hand, though it is very difficult, the print can be removed from denim without damaging the fabric.
The flag print ends up being around 0.5mm thick, which is thin enough to be quite flexible, and can even (mostly) recover from being sharply creased.
In short, combining 3d printing with fabric opens up all kinds of new things that can be done. Here is a video showing some innovative ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
Hope this helps!