The Latest 3D Printed Fad: Flexible Armor And Pangolin Cosplay


Last week, [David Shorey] came along to the monthly Hackaday meetup in Pasadena. These meetups feature speakers and drinks, projects and chit-chat, and sometimes a few demos of what the local Hackaday community has been working on. [David]’s impromptu demo was something no one had ever seen before. It’s 3D printed tiles embedded in fabric. This is the beginning of 3D printed flexible armor, a great method for cosplay builds, and a really cool way to add another trick to your 3D printing toolkit.

Hexagons tesselate. Image credit: DrainSmith

Even though this is the first time we’ve seen fabric embedded in 3D printed parts, the steps to reproduce this project are actually very easy. The most important bit is the fabric itself. This is just a piece of tulle, a fine fabric mesh that’s usually used for bridal veils. According to members of the 3D printing community, you can pick up some tulle in the fabric department of any WalMart. The steps to reproduce this technique are simply to print three layers, pause the print and move the head out of the way, lay the tulle down on the print, and hit resume.

Judging from the commentary surrounding this new technique, there are a few tips and tricks to get the most out of this 3D printable fabric. The fabric should be taut and held down with either tape or binder clips. Melting or burning doesn’t seem to be an issue, but tulle made out of nylon is fairly common, and printing 3D panels with exotic filaments that require high temperatures may result in a mess.

While very cool, there are some limitations to the technique. If, for example, you are building a suit of body armor out of bendable tessalatable panels, you will have to assemble a quilt made out of panels as large as your print bed. This could be made easier by sewing (or gluing) the tulle/scale assembly onto a larger piece of fabric. Alternatively, the process could be modified for use with an Infinite Build Volume printer. This would give you yards and yards of 3D printed scales, ready to be fashioned into an outfit.

This is one of the most interesting techniques to bring 3D printing into the domain of ‘soft’ hacks and fashion we’ve ever seen. If you want to check out what’s possible with this, be sure to check out [David]’s Instagram. There are a lot of really great ideas there.



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