Electroloom co-founder Marcus Foley says the process was originally inspired by techniques used in labs to generate organic tissue. At first, the team simply wanted to see if the process would actually work for something other than cells; once they proved it would, their focus shifted to making it faster and easier to make specific garments.
A typical print takes eight to fourteen hours in Electroloom’s current prototype. Foley says the time is directly related to the number of nozzles spraying solution on to the contained metal (or spray-painted cardboard) template. Each nozzle can only spray a miniscule amount of solution at a time for the fiber extraction method to work, so adding more is the easiest way to reduce print times.
The team’s Kickstarter campaign recently surpassed its funding goal, meaning early adopters should have their own printers by March 2016.
Just selling printers isn’t the team’s end game, however. They freely admit that they’re approaching the market with backgrounds in engineering and science, and need feedback from users with experience in fashion to know how else they can improve their printer to make it broadly useful in the creation of garments.
Interaction with early adopters will also help define the company’s business model. For instance, users will need templates for the clothes they intend to make with the printer. Part of the appeal for the printer is the fact that you’d be able to create garments using computer-aided design tools. While that software is available, it might be trickier figuring out how to turn those designs into metal slabs to spray fiber on to; Electroloom is looking into how they can make that easier, perhaps by manufacturing the templates for users with partners in Shenzen.
They’re also looking into blends that would result in fabrics other than polyester/fabric. And to save fashion designers time after they’ve printed a garment, they’re working on adding dye into the solution so clothes could come out with their final colors or patterns.