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Virtual Textiles: Making Realistic Fabrics in 3D

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Volume:
17
Langue:
english
Journal:
AATCC Review
DOI:
10.14504/ar.17.3.2
Date:
May, 2017
Fichier:
PDF, 16.69 MB
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Virtual Textiles:
Making Realistic
Fabrics in 3D
By Kilara Le
DOI: 10.14504/ar.17.3.2

A

pparel brands and retailers are investigating the virtual prototyping of garments and other sewn products
using 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. The
industry sees this technology adding value in a variety of
ways, depending on the needs of the individual organization. However, the one vital element required is a realistic
3D representation that can extend to other areas of product
development and decision-making. Accurately representing
fabric digitally has opened up a whole new world to product designers and their team members tasked with speeding
product development.

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Vidya Tunic Courtesy of Human Solutions

Feature

Enabling Digital Fabrics
In its traditional cautious adoption of new technology,
the apparel industry is far behind many other industries in really harnessing the capabilities of 3D CAD
technology. The automotive industry has been using
3D software for decades, as have engineers, architects,
and footwear designers. To be fair, there is a distinct
difference between these other human-centric industries and the clothing industry. Representing fabric
if it’s flat on a wall, or on the seat of a car, is infinitely
easier than creating something to believably drape
around a virtual human. Though shoes do move and
flex, they are typically more rigid and made to fit
around only two moving parts—the feet.
For apparel, “to incorporate 3D in the development
process, real fabric simulation is probably the number one thing that needs to be accurate,” says Enrico
Zamarra, Senior Sales Director at Optitex.
One of the main elements of 3D CAD that has accelerated apparel’s foray into the digital future, and 3D
CAD’s credibility as a via; ble prototyping tool, has
been the ability to use realistic virtual textiles that
are translatable into physical ones and vice versa.
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Vol. 17, No. 3

Improved fabric representation is aided by the ability
to realistically drape and “stitch” the traditional 2D
pattern pieces (which have been digital for decades)
around a virtual body, or avatar. Avatars have
become much more lifelike and less “cartoonish”
over the past few years. Today’s avatars can also be
rigged to show realistic motion.
Virtual fabrics’ success lies in the proprietary algorithms written by the 3D CAD software providers.
How they correlate to the real thing depends on the
properties they account for, and then what they do
with them. According to Key Account Manager—
Fashion for Human Solutions North America, Adam
Smyth, programmers can recreate and account for
physical constants in our environment, such as gravity, and then mimic the behavior fabric and other
elements in it. Once these rules and relationships
surrounding fabrics have been established, they
must still be entered via a common language; which,
in this case, happens to be test results and their corresponding parameters.
In some cases, companies offer a testing service to
digitize physical fabric. Some have testing kits that

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IMAGES COURTESY OF VIZOO

clients can use themselves, and other users enter
fabric properties from their own tests or test reports.

Virtual fabric must look and behave like its physical
counterpart to be translatable into an actual product.

Zamarra describes the in-house testing machine
that Optitex created to interface with their software: “it will test for weight, bend, shear, friction,
and stretch, allowing for the closest representation of a physical drape. The drape is crucial to
accurately be able to review things like fit and even
important when rendering the 3D model to get a
realistic [virtual] sample.”

Only Part of the Puzzle

As Smyth points out, a virtual environment will
never be exactly the same as real life and there are
far more variables in real-life situations, hence the
eventual need for a physical prototype. For example,
in real-life products, fabric tests for crocking or
flammability are important, but they aren’t necessary
for 3D visualization.

Therefore, you could have the drape of a seven
ounce twill fabric with the texture of it applied
separately and then be able to apply different colors
to see what it looks like. This gives flexibility—but
again, only if it appears realistic.

While many 3D software providers do include a
wide variety of test results, “Each [clothing] brand
has to decide for themselves how far down the rabbit
hole they need to go,” he says, to accurately represent
a garment for their purposes.
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Physical properties are one part of the equation. To
create realism, the addition of texture mapping, as
well as print or color, onto the viritual fabric is equally
important. While in theory, it might make sense to
assume these are all connected to each fabric, in some
software programs they are associated differently.

One company increasing the realism of 3D fabrics is
Vizoo. They created xTex software and an xTex scanner that takes 12 photos with light shot at different
angles to create a photorealistic 3D image of fabric,
leather, or wood.
“It’s not just that it’s 12 different shots,” states Director of Sales and Business Development, Judy Frankel.

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“The software teases out different aspects, such as
diffuse light, spectral, displacement, and transparency,
and if there is a texture, it captures roughness.”
The typical tool for capturing fabric texture and
color, the flatbed scanner, “is only shooting light at
one angle and it doesn’t get a lot of the detail that
you’d want.” Frankel continues, “and to make a small
sample cover a larger area in the 3D programs,
designers repeat the fabric swatch (called “tiling”),
typically using Photoshop. It can take hours.”
In addition, a standard repeat in Photoshop “looks
fake. If there is any irregularity in the fabric, the
human eye can easily see the pattern and know that
the tile is repeating.” So Vizoo has written “a separate
algorithm called ‘synthesis’ which randomizes and
flips the repeat so you don’t see any of those glitches,”
she says. Even more importantly, it can do this in
seconds, saving product developers a lot of time.
It’s the marrying of real-to-life visual color and
texture with accurate digitized physical fabric
properties that make 3D garments useful as decision
making tools.

Using Fabric in 3D
Currently, apparel companies are using 3D technology to present line ideas to merchandising teams
or wholesale customers, choose color and print or
graphics placement, and to look at fit on different

sizes and body shapes before they spend the time
and money for physical prototypes.
Avatars can be shared among software providers via
a standard .OBJ file format and the visual scan files
of fabric are common formats as well. Vizoo’s file
outputs are compatible with most of the 3D CAD programs out there in the market, according to Frankel.
However, the files of virtual fabrics are not standardized and are proprietary to each 3D CAD provider,
which doesn’t make it easy for mills to create a fabric
file that can be shared among any customer. Getting
the 3D fabric accurate is important. For Optitex’s client base, “The number one use of the fabric testing
data for all brands and retailers is to help with fit,”
says Zamarra.
It’s not just creating a pretty 3D rendering. The
patterns used to create a 3D prototype are the same
ones that could be used to cut fabric in 2D to make
the physical garments.
Zamarra remarks that, “The fabric properties make
the 3D image accurate in a physical sense and apply,
in some cases, to the pattern as well. Information on
stretch and shrinkage are needed for the 3D sample,
but also for the accurate pattern that will make the 3D
sample, and ultimately, the saleable physical garment.”
Fabrics scanned using Vizoo’s technology are most
used right now in the auto industry to show lifelike
interiors, and for photorealistic virtual products in
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the footwear industry—but lately, there is a lot more
interest coming from the apparel industry, according to Frankel. Marketing and e-commerce are also
the beneficiaries of highly accurate and realistic 3D
virtual products, reducing the need for expensive
additional samples and photo shoots.
No matter how an apparel company chooses to utilize 3D, “being able to design and develop multiple
iterations of a line digitally, prior to ever producing
initial prototypes, allows for some meaningful evolutions in the process,” remarks Smyth. “Companies
can work more strategically by spending additional
time refining their products or accelerating their
time-to-market.”

The Future of Digital Fabrics
When a designer works in 3D, she can create something breathtakingly realistic. However, she could
also create something unrealistic, mixing drapes
and textures that don’t typically match. While this
could doom 3D CAD designers to exasperation, this
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Vol. 17, No. 3

capability could also open the door to virtual experimentation, with mills and vendors asked to mimic
the results of these types of mishmashes derived
from virtual experimentation.
Zamarra remarks that, “In the far future, you can
imagine that, as the virtual fabric libraries grow,
combining properties of fabrics will lead to the
development of new weaves and knits without the
physical process.”
In the meantime, for companies that are trying
to achieve a certain look and streamline their
development processes, Smyth comments that, “a
designer could now export a report of the material
properties from a product to be handed off to the
development team. From there, the developers have
a very detailed material spec when approaching the
vendor.” This potentially allows for faster matching
of materials to design intent and existing patterns.
“In the near future, the technology for fabric testing
will be easier and more available, so it will be part of

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the development process for everyone,” muses Zamarra,
and, “in response, and if they are forward thinking,
textile suppliers will be offering the testing data as part
of the fabric sale.”
Fabric mills can also benefit from the xTex scanner by
being able to provide 3D-ready visual assets of their fabric
library. This could reduce cost and time for both manufacturer and designer. “Cutting and shipping fabric samples
around is a lot of hassle,” says Frankel.
There are also design elements such as darts, stitches,
and hems, not to mention trim items like buttons and
zippers, to consider accounting for in the digital equation. These functions are difficult, but, also the ones
most being talked about to get 3D garments to the next
level of 3D realism.
Smyth adds that, “You can always make something
‘look’ real with a high-quality image source, but simulation should tell you how a product will ‘act’ when
done correctly.”

IMAGES COURTESY OF VIZOO

Whatever way you weave it, knit it, or sew it, realistic
virtual fabrics and materials are enabling companies to
make products faster that fit better—and changing how
the apparel industry communicates.

Kilara Le is a Raleigh, NC, USA-based writer and
consultant, specializing in the apparel industry.
www.linkedin.com/in/kilaralittle

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