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3D Block Libraries: A 6-Step Guide for Pattern & Fit Teams

By Sponsor

24 Feb 2021


Apparel companies rely on blocks (master patterns that are used as base shapes) to create seasonal fashion that customers love. Often taking the form of a crowded sample closet, today’s blocks are not very conducive to the shift that many brands are making toward a digital workflow.

That is why it is so important to transfer older forms of block management to the digital realm, the right way. With a strong 3D block library brands can take advantage of the many benefits of digital product creation.

Those who are new to the digital journey often get caught in the trap of stop-and-start projects. A lack of proper planning leads to time wasted on work that has to be redone later as understanding grows.

At STITCH we’ve outlined six steps to a successful block digitization project. These best practices will help technical developers, pattern designers, and fit techs adopt a digital workflow while avoiding common mistakes.

Step 1: Get the Big Picture
Step 2: Set Your Goals
Step 3: Share the Load
Step 4: Choose the Right Avatar for Your Purpose
Step 5: Kickoff 3D
Step 6: Approve 3D Blocks

Step 1: Get the Big Picture

Before implementing a new block system, you’ll first need to understand your company’s current setup. Are patterns created in-house or by vendors? What differentiates a block and a seasonal style? Who has the final approval on blocks? These are just a few of the questions you should be able to answer.

With that overview in mind, check the 2D patterns and their physical counterparts for quality and accuracy. This may be the most important part of the process because what you see in the physical garment will be reflected in a 3D environment.

In-house pattern designers should ensure blocks are balanced on the body, have sufficient ease for movement, and do not cause fit issues or poor draping.

If vendors create your 2D patterns, they will need to provide DXF files of those patterns. A DXF is a file type that allows patterns from traditional pattern-making software to be used in 3D programs. When the DXFs are received you can follow the same process as described for approving patterns created in-house.

The most common 3D software requires that patterns have no seam allowance or shrinkage built-in. Other indicators like notches, darts, and internal lines for quilting or pocket placement should be included.

Step 2: Set Your Goals

The desired outcome you set for your project should contribute to the overall digital transformation goals of the business. It should also be agreed upon by cross-functional partners who will use the 3D styles throughout the value chain.

Potential outcomes may be: “Having our blocks digitized allows 3D designers to ideate faster because they don’t have to design from scratch” or “Vendors use our approved 3D blocks to submit digital prototypes that meet our standards”.

Others could be: “Block reviews run smoother now that we have a digital library instead of a disorganized sample closet” or “Standard trims and branding are included in the 3D blocks because they are essential elements outlined in our brand book”.

In short, when the project is complete, what is the benefit your team and other 3D stakeholders will have realized?

Creating a set of visual standards will help define whether or not the 3D blocks meet expectations. Keeping the visual standards and end goal in mind will prevent time-consuming situations where 3D block files have to be re-worked due to new requirements or missed expectations.

Step 3: Share the Load

Now you are familiar with the current block library and your end goal, divide up the workload. The way you do this will depend on the size of your team and their 3D skill level after training (see Step 5). These questions can guide you in the right direction:

  • How many product categories need to be digitized?
  • Will each technical developer or pattern designer stitch their own category’s blocks or part of the total blocks?
  • Once one team finishes their allotted blocks will they help other teams?
  • Will we create block variations now (for example the v-neck and crew neck variations of a slim fit t-shirt) or as needed?

Experience has taught us working in pairs or small groups is effective, as well as matching quick learners of the 3D software with those who struggle. In this way, teams share accountability and can help each other continue progressing according to the project timeline.

Step 4: Choose the Right Avatar for Your Purpose

Next, choose the right kind of avatar for your 3D goals. An avatar is the 3D model of a body upon which your 3D garments are “dressed”. They can vary from realistic scanned models created by a character artist, to mannequin-like figures provided by the 3D software program itself.

If 3D styles are meant to validate fit, an avatar with the same measurements as your physical fit form may be sufficient. But if the expectation is to use 3D styles for marketing and the avatar only has a single static pose, this might not meet the needs of the marketing department.

These are important considerations to make ahead of time because any changes require the 3D garment to be re-dressed on the updated avatar. Multiply that time by your total block count, and delays could be significant. Whatever type of avatar you choose, responsibility for this milestone should be shared among all 3D stakeholders.

Step 5: Kickoff 3D

From there, you can kick off 3D training. Several educational options exist, both from 3D software vendors themselves and from third parties like STITCH. Courses that may be helpful for this type of project include basics of 3D stitching, how to evaluate a 3D garment for fit, and best practices of file storage and saving.

Remember practice and persistence pay off when learning on the job. Start simple and build complexity as skills improve. T-shirts with few pattern pieces are great for getting comfortable in 3D before trying more difficult garments like outerwear.

Step 6: Approve 3D Blocks

Once the 3D blocks are done, check them against your visual standards and in comparison to their physical counterparts. Do the blocks meet the needs of other stakeholders as described in earlier steps?

If so, approved blocks can be put in your preferred storage location, whether that be the company server, an external service like the STITCH Hub, or your PLM system.

To wrap up, do a group reflection. Did you achieve the goal originally set out? How will you work differently going forward? Then, celebrate your new 3D block library!

For more information about STITCH, visit www.stitch3d.com.