3d printing directly onto fabric



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!



I showed my samples to someone who makes vintage clothing, and she got very excited about the possibility of creating appliques. That heart, for example, could have the center cut out, and the fabric can’t unravel, as the plastic has oozed almost all of the way to the other side. As well, any solid piece can be printed of any size, so you could even have things like a large plate with multiple captured nuts that allow bolting appliances onto a costume.


Oh, wow! I need a 3d printer now :frowning: It’s amazing. Thank you for sharing. :slight_smile:


You are most welcome, m’lady. It struck me that if you had a printer with a bed that didn’t move, it wouldn’t be too hard to build a new bed that allowed printing directly onto garments, just like DTG printers do. Heck, you could print mounts/enclosures for LED’s/PCB’s/etc. right onto an outfit!

Here are a few projects with which to justify the purchase. (Be warned, though: this is a new frontier, and those who are not prepared to learn will quickly find themselves lost. Fortunately, guides are many and eager to help.)


Thanks, yes, I’ve been watching the 3D printing industry grow for years now and I watched those other videos you posted the link for. Absolutely amazing :slight_smile: I’ll watch these tonight.

Haha, and I see these projects are exactly what I need for my embroidery :slight_smile: So much thread and a bobbin to go with each. Storage is a problem.


@Grace at least with a 3D printer, you do not need a collection of bobbins :wink:


No, I’ll be able to make thread & bobbin stands/containers & be able to keep everything nice & neat & tide :slight_smile:


You can also use your 3d printer to make replacement parts. I reverse engineered, designed, and then printed a replacement part for a serger a few months ago. You can even REengineer parts and improve them. If the 3d printed part won’t be strong enough, you can use it as a positive for a silicone mold and then cast a new part out of resin.


Oh, wow! I have it on my wishlist :slight_smile:


As fantastic a tool as they are, I would caution you to be ready to spend at least $500 on one, and $1000 is probably better. I spent $300 and ended up spending at least $100 more just to get it safe and running as well as it can, given its limitations. As it stands, I will probably end up selling this one and getting a kit for a much better printer with better quality components, or even just buy the exact components I want and built one from scratch.

This search will give you a list of articles on the best 3d printers for beginners within the past month from whenever you click on it. Also expect to spend a LOT of time learning how to use it, as any 3d printer that costs less than a few thousand definitely isn’t ‘plug-n-play’; this is a new frontier, and things are still being figured out. Like sewing, for instance, if you are willing to take the time to learn, however, you will find it to be SOOOOO rewarding. (Until then, if you want to get someone else to print things for you, you can just Google ‘3d printing services’.) Once you have it down pat, just like with your sewing machine, you can contract out your services and earn money printing things for people.

One more thing: you know how when you are talking about how much a sewing machine costs you carefully don’t mention how much you ended up spending on material/thread/etc.? I’m not going to tell you how much I’ve spent on filament. :grin:


LOL, yes. It’s like me & my computers. I started off with 2x8" drives & 32k RAM. I won’t mention what I paid for this baby and all its add-ons over the years and a 3D scanner will only be another add-on.

The chap up the road has a small start-up 3D scanner. It cost him ZAR 17k & the filament comes in at over ZAR 500 a roll and then it doesn’t work in winter. He needs a heat controlled environment for it to run in (which isn’t a norm here in SA).

I’m thinking it’s time to get him to invite me over to play :slight_smile: I really like your idea of printing directly onto fabric and the things one can do costume-wise. We have a show every 2nd year that I do some costumes for and the cogs are turning :slight_smile: :slight_smile:


If he is needing an enclosure, then he probably isn’t using PLA, as I am. There are a few downsides to using it, but the biggest advantages are that it prints at cooler temperatures and doesn’t put nasty fumes and nanoparticles into the air, so you can print with it right out of the box. If you are going to use ABS/etc., then you need an enclosure with a built-in HEPA filter to keep from poisoning your air, unless you are willing to vent it outside. People will say that that is ridiculous, but they clearly haven’t done the research.