How 3D Design is Different from 3D Development

In the last few years, we have entered the era of 3D democratization. It is no longer just the big, forward-thinking companies that are using 3D software in their workflows. It has become accessible for even individuals to use and now everyone from designers, tech designers, textile designers, and patternmakers are all using it. There are huge benefits to using 3D in each of these roles across design and development, but while both designing and developing in 3D may use the same software, the goals of the two use cases are different.

How 3D software in fashion works

No matter how you’re using 3D in fashion, there are some basic things about how it works that stay the same. 3D software uses a 2D pattern (shapes that you can draft or drape directly in the 3D software or import from another CAD program) and allows you to “stitch” that pattern together to simulate how the garment will drape in real life. You assign each pattern piece preset or custom physical properties to control how it drapes, weighs, and stretches. Then you can assign a visual look and surface patterns or colors to each material. This makes the 3D sample a visual and technical representation of the design.

The goals of 3D design and development are different

For design, 3D is a great playground for working out design ideas and visualizing how those concepts will look from all sides. The goal of 3D for design is to quickly iterate on ideas and combinations until you decide on a final design. 3D is an amazing tool for visualizing how different prints, colors, and fabrics will affect your overall design.

Digital fashion takes 3D design one step further and makes that design look as real-life as possible. The material textures, lighting, background and environment can all be styled and rendered to create a photorealistic image. That digital garment can then be used as part of digital marketing, for use in AR/VR apps and filters, or as a stand alone piece of digital artwork. The outcome of digital fashion is virtual.

The goal of 3D development, on the other hand, is not a design decision or a digital asset. The goal of 3D development is to get a product manufactured in the physical world. The digital 3D capabilities are used to fast-track fit, sizing, and design development in order to reduce the physical resources and time needed to test and fit a real-life garment. The priorities are different between 3D design and 3D development and so the 3D tools used and people involved are different too.

3D for fashion design

3D design focuses on the visuals and the creative ideation of a design. Fabric drape and texture will be important features in 3D to play with to see how they affect the design. In 3D, you can see how a print looks at different scales on your garment more easily and accurately than any other method without using materials necessary for physical samples. On the garment design side, digitally draping or drafting style lines and seeing how they will lay on the body lets you experiment with proportions and shaping in your design. When you like what you see, you can even see how the garment looks in motion by rendering an animation.

Because the 3D design is about the visuals, you don’t need to worry about seam allowances, seam types, or stitching much at this design stage. In 3D, you can apply a visual topstitching line to your garments, but the 2D pattern doesn’t need to have hems and seam allowances to match in order to get the visual look across in your digital garment. What avatar you use in 3D design is less important as well. Whether you want to create your design on a runway model size, fit model size, or a custom size is up to you.  

If you aren’t working in 3D yourself, you’ll most likely work with a 3D or digital fashion designer. Designers are trained in customer and trend research, concept and mood board creation, and garment design. More and more designers are adopting 3D into their workflows to better communicate their collection. Once the creative for the collection is complete, designers usually hand off the collection to product developers or tech designers to see it through production.

3D design yields a visually accurate representation of your design. It can be used to communicate your design vision to other team members or your factory or even used in marketing. This can be your entire goal for using 3D in your process. However, if you want to produce your design in the real world, that’s where the different considerations of 3D development come in.

3D for apparel product development

3D development is more about the technical side – fit, sizing, and manufacturing – than the creative side. Development is all about achieving the designer’s creative vision on real-body proportions and sizes and making the garment as efficient to manufacture as possible. 

Instead of using the 2D pattern only to get to the 3D visual sample like you would if you’re just using 3D for design, in development, the 2D pattern is the goal and the 3D sample just supports it. In development, the size of the digital avatar really matters. In order to make informed decisions about the fit of the garment, the avatar has to be representative of the body size and shape of the target customer. The measurements and fit standards in development are tightly controlled to create a consistent, high-quality fit across all sizes. With the pattern being the goal, the seam allowances, notches, markings, and other production pattern must-haves require careful attention. 

The 3D tools helpful in development are the fit maps, physical properties, and different avatar poses and sizes. 3D softwares can show you where there is tension in the garment, where there is more or less ease, and even how those tension spots shift and change when the body is in different positions. This technical information helps a patternmaker create a garment that feels as good to wear as it looks.

At the development stage, it is a technical designer and/or patternmaker who is using 3D in this way. The design has already been decided. It is the technical designer and patternmaker that figure out how to make the design. When the technical designer and patternmaker are done with their work, the pattern can actually be used for sampling or production of a real garment. 

3D can be used in many ways throughout fashion design and development. However, it is helpful to recognize what you are using it for and therefore what outcome to expect from using 3D. You may use 3D in multiple ways or multiple people on your team may be using it, but each stage has different priorities and will use 3D tools in different ways to accomplish their goal.



2:36 pm August 22, 2023

Fantastic article, Alison. I found that using the fit maps takes a bit of trial and error to understand at first. Seeing bright red areas isn't necessarily always bad but just indicates that's where the tension is. It always helps to cut and sew a physical sample that you can try on and see how that relates to the tension maps in 3D to get used to seeing how it translates to the heat map in the software.

Alison Hoenes

3:08 pm August 22, 2023

Great point, Ellie! I agree. I do look at the fit maps, but with lots of other things in mind like fabric type, the fittedness of the style, etc. I actually really like the transparent fabric view as it lets me see the ease around the body in places like the armholes, etc. more clearly. Since I have fit so many real garments, I use my experience with that to see where there might be issues when looking at the 3D as well. I also agree that 3D isn't a replacement for physical sampling (when a physical product is the goal). 3D sampling just helps get the physical samples closer to perfect on the first try.

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