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The Challenges of Scan-to-Pattern Clothing

Jan 15th, 2018

Here at Anthrotech, the focus of our work has always been on collecting and using the highest quality data. When we measure people with tapes and calipers, we have processes in place to ensure that the measurements are as correct as they can be. Similarly, when we use 3D scanners for various projects, we make sure that the scan quality itself is very good, and that any landmarks or measurements extracted from the scans are as good or better than the measurements we might take with a tape. The reason quality data are so important is that the process of moving from data to product is inherently challenging, so we wouldn’t want to make a hard problem even harder by starting with sloppy data.

There is a lot of buzz these days about scan-to-pattern clothing. It has gained popularity in recent years, and several major retailers have jumped in. But it’s not just the major stores. A quick online search will result in pages of scanners to buy and digital patterns to download; in theory virtually anyone with these tools has the ability to produce custom-fitting clothing.

Here’s the idea: a person is scanned with one or another of several kinds of scanners, and then automated software produces a garment pattern that is customized for that particular individual. The pattern is electronically sent to a factory where it is cut and sewn. This scan-to-pattern method will create custom-fitting clothing without the time and expense of going to a tailor. And the resulting garment should fit better than a mass-produced, off-the-rack item.  The automated solution sounds perfect, right?


Behind the Scenes in Scan-to-Pattern Clothing

While scan-to-pattern clothing seems like the optimal way to ensure the best fit, there can be limitations to the resulting clothing. Customized clothing should fit well, and it needs to account for characteristics in fabric and nuances of body shape, such as the relationship of bust to waist to hip, for example. These are important attributes, but they’re extremely hard to execute in the real world.  

Putting every possible fabric into an algorithm isn’t really feasible, so broad categories are used. And, that relationship between bust, waist and hip? It’s not only the dimensions themselves, but the spatial relationship between them. Is the waist centered over the hip, or is it slightly forward, or slightly backward?

Did you know that scan-to-pattern clothing typically doesn’t produce a pattern from scratch?What actually happens is an existing pattern is altered to fit the body of the scanned person. As a result, simple alterations – like a change in sleeve length – can work pretty well if the scanned person’s body is close in size and shape to the standard pattern. However, if there are significant differences between the standard pattern and a person’s body type the fit will be less than ideal.

As cutting edge as 3D scanning is, getting accurate dimensions from scans in the first place is a challenge. If the scan operator is experienced and skilled in placing body landmarks prior to scanning, the end result might be just fine. However, fully automated processes that might be used in a do-it-yourself scenario do not always produce the most accurate measurements for all dimensions. If one or more critical dimensions are not accurate, of course, then the end product will be ill-fitting and customers will be unhappy. New scanners and scanning technologies are always being developed, so these problems may vanish in the future.


The Alternative: Maybe Get Lucky, or Wait It Out

While scanners and technologies continue to advance, if you are looking for a custom fit right now, you may want to stick with an experienced tailor. The tailor understands how the fabric will lay on the body, how to alter patterns for optimal fit, and can talk with you about your preferences for fit and comfort. That’s for now. Eventually, technology will continue to advancin the area of scan-extracted dimensions, incorporating fabric characteristics, personal taste and the ability to create a pattern from scratch. Then, scan-to-pattern processes will be able to more accurately produce cost-effective, customized clothing simply from a body scan. When that happens, we’ll all be able to look like a million bucks without spending it.

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