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Sci-Tech

Electroloom 3D printer makes seamless fabric from liquid

By using a process known as electrospinning, a new kind of 3D printer might someday fabricate your clothes moments before you go out for the night.

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Why yes, we did just print out these clothes in our bedroom! Electroloom

3D printers have been used to make everything from candy to sculptures of unborn children (not to mention a skull and a rocket car.) So it was only a matter of time before the technology would be repurposed to make something that (literally) touches all of us every day -- fabric.

A team of entrepreneurs is taking 3D printing in that direction with Electroloom, a device that makes fabric from a liquid sprayed onto molds.

They are running a slightly unusual Kickstarter campaign right now in which they're asking people to pledge cash to become a beta tester and help them improve the product. So instead of promising a fully functional machine that can make your wedding tux, for pledges at the highest level you'll get a machine that can make fabric that could be fashioned into a crude tank top, skirt or hat and lets you become part of the team that can help push the tech forward.

Unlike the fabric printer we recently covered from Disney Research, the Electroloom doesn't cut existing fabrics into novel shapes. It literally creates fabric from scratch. It does that through a process called electrospinning in which liquids are turned to tiny fibers that are sprayed onto a mold (like a metal plate) where they gather and bond together thanks to an electrical field created inside the machine.

Once the mold is covered, the fabric can be carefully peeled off, and voila -- you've got a tank top to wear to the next South By Southwest festival.

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Fabric for this wacky hat was 3D-printed from liquid. Electroloom

The creators say they're currently working with a polyester cotton blend and that the Electroloom will ship with enough liquid pods to make at least seven beanies, four tank tops or three skirts -- or anything else you can design. They also say that they're working on new silk and acrylic fabrics.

The team came up with the idea for the Electroloom after working at their university, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, to 3D-print artificial blood vessels.

Clearly, this isn't a Kickstarter campaign for the casual home user. You'd want to be comfortable with 3D printing generally and have enough design experience to fabricate your own molds. You should also have a little cash saved up, as the early-bird version of Electroloom will set you back $4,500 (about £2871, AU$5630). It does come with two molds tailored for your body size and you can choose from the tank top, skirt or beanie. If that's too steep, you can get one of the clothing types made for you for a $100 (about £64, AU$125) pledge.

So far the campaign is doing well, with more than half the $50,000 goal raised well in advance of the June 15 end date. If the campaign succeeds, Electrolooms are expected to ship -- worldwide -- in March 2016.