The high-tech bikini's (not particularly sexy) name is derived from "nylon 12", the material that's used in the 3D printing process. Nylon 12 is strong, flexible and 3D printable with an impressive thinness of 0.7 mm (0.027 in). The material is innately waterproof so it's ideal as swimwear and according to the designers it actually becomes more comfortable when it gets wet.
Specifically, a process called selective laser sintering (SLS) is used to achieve the complex geometrical design which combines circles connected by very tiny strings.
"The bikini's design fundamentally reflects the beautiful intricacy possible with 3D printing, as well as the technical challenges of creating a flexible surface out of the solid nylon," says Mary Haung of Continuum Fashion. "Thousands of circular plates are connected by thin springs, creating a wholly new material that holds its form as well as being flexible. The layout of the circle pattern was achieved through custom written code that lays out the circles according to the curvature of the surface. In this way, the aesthetic design is completely derived from the structural design."
N12 was made with the use of Rhino 3D CAD software along with an algorithm written by 3D modeling expert Jenna Fizel. As well as providing the map for the the circle sizes, forms and connections the algorithm also calculates which parts need more strength and which need more flexibility.
"The visual and structural design of the bikini are very well integrated with each other," says Fizel.
In the future this process could result in complete customization by using a body scan to create an exact fit for the customer.
The N12 bikini is for sale, but quite pricey at this stage. It costs around US$200-300 for each part of the bikini and can be ordered at Continuum Shop. Hopefully prices will fall as 3D printed clothing gains popularity.
Here's the designers' outline of the project:
Photography: Ariel Efron. Model: Bojana Draskovic