Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Advanced digital printing technology brings smart fabrics to life

Having the ability to simulate and transform everyday fabrics into interactive smart fabrics is becoming highly sought-after technology. The EU-funded CREATIF project has developed printing tools and software able to create bespoke smart fabrics.
Advanced digital printing technology brings smart fabrics to life
Ever wondered how and when it would be possible to play a fabric piano or fabric drum kit at home with all the functions and noises of real-size instruments?

Dr John Tudor from the University of Southampton and project coordinator of the EU-funded CREATIF project, set his sights firmly on making such ideas possible by further developing the technology and software needed to print smart functions on fabrics based on the results of the previous EU-funded project, MICROFLEX. ‘Towards the end of MICROFLEX it became clear that the creative and cultural industries were of significant economic importance to the EU and that smart fabrics had the potential to be widely used in these industries. The CREATIF project offered the chance to further develop the printing technology as well as the software to allow the creative and cultural industries to design smart fabrics without requiring detailed technical knowledge,’ shares Dr Tudor.

The software’s productions

The research team combined Abode Illustrator features with their tailored CREATIF software. This intricate software was able to collaboratively design, layout, visualise and simulate smart fabrics which could then be printed remotely by means of a direct-write printer. As a result, light and sound emission, colour change and proximity sensing could be produced in novel printed fabric keyboards, pianos, speakers and intricately curved shapes for the light emission.

Thanks to an impressive consortium bringing together a mix of expertise - a design software developer (Grafixoft), a university specialised in fabric machine design (University of Aachen), a university with world leading expertise in creating smart fabrics by printing (University of Southampton), a creative design SME (Diffus Design), an SME active in design-led building structures and architecture (Base Structures), a large company active in architecture and creative design (Zaha Hadid) and an SME specialised in advanced inkjet printers (Ardeje) - the CREATIF project was able to successfully create, write and print interactive designs using the software from start to finish. ‘The most important technical results were the new printers which we built and demonstrated as well as the software which enabled the design of smart fabrics without the need for detailed technical knowledge’, stresses Dr Tudor.

However this project was of course not without its challenges and problems. ‘The main challenges were printing on the rough surface of the fabric and developing a new printing technology which can directly write the smart functions on the fabric without needing extra tooling, such as the screens required in screen printing technology. A further challenge was to make the software as easy to use as possible and to make it compatible with the existing design software used by the Creative and Cultural Industries,’ underlines Dr Tudor.

Thankfully the software overcame such hurdles and the new CREATIF printers allowed the design of smart fabrics without the need for complex technology.

Next steps

The project officially ended in March 2017 and the team now intends to further develop the CREATIF printing technology and emerging smart textiles in collaboration with partners from within the Creative and Cultural Industries. Watch this space.

Keywords

CREATIF, digital printing, smart fabrics
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