3D pattern CAD software

In June I’d written a post on 3D body scanning that generated some interesting comments. While I still don’t think body scanning will become a viable option for DEs anytime soon, the application of 3D modeling in pattern making software just may. I’m reminded of this because Mike C wrote an interesting post in the forum regarding his company’s purchase of OptiTex software. He said he was motivated to explore the option in order to reduce cycle time in design iteration after having read Concept-to-Spec Case Study in February’s Apparel Magazine (free sub). The article was about Brenda Lovie who was making custom ice skating performance apparel (at $500 to $1,500 a piece) and wanted to move up a level -or two. The article was about how she bought Optitex software and lived happily ever after. Well, magazines always say that about their advertiser’s products so I was very interested in hearing about Mike’s experience. He said:

Earlier this summer, we purchased the Optitex pattern design and 3D imaging software. Pattern design is about what you’d expect – 2D pattern creation, editing, grading, and marking. Amy reports that the she’s very happy with that part of the package. I’m not a pattern maker, so I cannot really comment on it, but I can say that the marker making module has been a big time saver for us.

We make small runs of our goods and try to maintain an inventory level thats appropriate for historical demand of sizes/colors. Being able to create a new marker each time we need to do a run is a nice bonus – especially since it just takes a few minutes.

However, what’s really cool is the 3D part of the package (which was our main requirement.) The 3D module allows you to take your 2D flat patterns and “sew” them into garments worn by a virtual model in the software. We were hoping that the software would allow us to do more design iterations on styles to perfect the fit/look that we were going for, without having to create multiple physical samples and go through multiple rounds of fitting.

We entered the measurements for our fitting model into the software and Amy went about the task of taking one of our blocks and redrafting it to form a new block for a style type. 28 revisions later (about 12 hours computer time, a fair amount of which was learning her way around the software) and the new block was born.

Our standard fitting model wasn’t available, so we adjusted the virtual model to Amy’s measurements (they are close enough to our fitting model that they wear the same size, but not exact) and Amy decided to make a physical sample to see how well the real thing compared to the computer version.

It was exactly the same in real life as the computer predicted.

Our stuff is fairly “simple” in terms of number of pieces and construction complexity, however we use a 4way stretch nylon/lycra fabric which is very difficult to work with. The fact that the software was able to correctly model it (based on the physical properties of our fabric as reported by a testing lab) was quite remarkable.

The price points on the software aren’t for the faint of heart ($16,000 or so with training, not counting a computer to run it on, a digitizer if you need to pull in hand drawn patterns and a plotter if you want to print full size patterns) and probably not appropriate for new DE ventures, but for those a little larger its definitely worth a look.

I also want to stress that Mike and Brenda Lovie are making form fitting apparel. I am not familiar with OptiTex so I don’t know how effective the 3D modeling is for draped or flowing garments. Still, Mike said their sales rep tailored the software demonstration specific to their product type (once the rep had determined that Mike was serious about buying a package) so they could determine the appropriateness of it.

I asked Mike a couple of questions about the mechanics of how he went about purchasing the software. He said he first met with OptiTex at Material World (the next show is coming up late September in NY). Afterwards, they set up a virtual demo using a service called Webex which allows real time integration between your computer and the demonstrator’s. After that, Mike said it was a matter of negotiating price. I told Mike that not everyone does that as readily as he does so maybe he’ll provide some tips for that in comments. He said that all of the later training was done via Webex as well.

I asked Mike about peripherals -you can buy all the peripherals from OptiTex but Mike says they charge list price and you can do better direct- and he said they bought a used HP 24″ plotter off of ebay for about $250. He admits this is a short term solution but that it works for the time being since a full size plotter that spits out markers can cost as much as a new car. I asked him about a digitizer and he said they bought a 36″x48″ GTCO Calcomp roll up tablet for $1,300. I was glad to hear about that because I’d been looking at those and wondering if they’d integrate well into apparel CAD. He says they’re pleased with how well it’s worked because it makes the job more mobile. If Amy (his wife, she does all the pattern work) needs to take work home, the OptiTex software is loaded on a laptop, they can roll up the tablet and take it home when needed. Oh and speaking of the loaded computer software, you’ll need a dongle. Mike says that OptiTex will charge half the cost of the software to replace it so they decided to insure theirs. I asked him how he thought to insure the dongle and I don’t remember what he said but that it wouldn’t have occurred to him and that it came up in the course of things. FYI, insuring the dongle sounds like a must-do item.

I asked Mike about any potential downsides and he really didn’t have any other than that OptiTex may not be the ideal program for you unless you need the 3D module, otherwise other CAD software may be ideal if not better for your purposes (he says that most of the CAD people have 3D but OptiTex seems to be the best). Mike said that the PDD component by itself, without the 3D modeling, was about $6,000. The only other thing he mentions is that they were compelled to purchase 8 hours of training. In their case, Amy is such a whiz that she only used about 4 hours of the training to get up to speed so they had to buy something they couldn’t use. I forgot to ask what they charge per hour of training. However, the OptiTex trainer mentioned that Amy was the only person they’d ever trained who only needed 4 hours so don’t expect to have a similar experience unless you are already experienced with pattern CAD software.

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