In the apparel manufacturing industry where the average sample approval timeline is approximately six weeks, having a 3D system to streamline the process makes all the difference. An efficient 3D system not only saves time and money, but helps to produce a better quality product, writes Ram Sareen, CEO-founder of Tukatech.

Successful brands all share one common theme: fit. The brands with the best loyalty all have a consistent fit in their garments, regardless of details or style.

One of the best tools to help bring consistency to a brand's fit is 3D prototyping software. For companies looking to invest or update their current 3D capabilities, they should ask themselves a series of questions to make sure they choose the best software for their company.

Can I use it to communicate effectively, and does it allow for improvement on the existing communication?

The purpose of prototyping is largely communication; between retailer and vendor, the tech designer and the pattern maker, and from the brand to the consumer.

A quality 3D system should be able to replace design sketches and enhance tech packs with more than 2D pictures and measurements.

The system works best when the avatar or fit model can move while wearing the prototype garment to see how it drapes across the body. It should also be able to work in both 2D and 3D and have the information go back and forth between the two views. Users should also be able to view the proto from any angle and zoom in and out.

It should give the entire product development chain an increased understanding of the garment before a garment is actually made, replacing the physical garment with something better.

The process should help to create a garment that can be analysed more effectively than in real life, and can be easily modified and corrected, while reducing the lengthy physical approval process.

It should give the sales team something they can travel with and promote, and give merchandising a head start in deciding the season's line - ultimately meaning an edge on the competition.

Does it offer multiple uses for my company?

When a company replaces a physical analog process with a digital process it often affects multiple areas of a business. For example, with CAD-based pattern making, not only are patterns being made more easily and accurately, but those patterns can be also used for pre-production block development, costing for the merchandising processes, and marker making for production.

So, another key feature of a 3D prototyping system is the ability to share the sample in a range of output formats like jpeg images or .mov movie files, allowing it to be viewed in a variety of platforms by multiple people.

Additionally, the software should work in 3D during the entire production process to provide a realistic visualisation of the end product.

Working in 3D from beginning to end in garment production allows the software to accurately predict size and fit, since it is the most true-to-life representation of the clothing before it is made. A flexible 3D system will offer several areas of potential for making your business more efficient and able to grow.

How does it fit into my existing process?

3D prototyping should not just be an addition to your process; it should also replace and improve upon the less efficient parts of your process.

Customers in product development who use 3D systems find they reduce the number of physical samples, make patterns more accurate with fewer revisions and shorten the approval process by making fit sessions "virtual".

In the merchandising stage, colourways can be decided on and chosen or rejected without making pre-production samples. For sales, whole catalogues are being done with virtual garments, eliminating expensive photo shoots and print runs. Certain 3D systems even have the animation capacity to have virtual fashion shows with the garments.

Most importantly, 3D prototyping should fit into your existing pipeline to ensure consistency and accuracy in fit. High level 3D systems use avatars to create a custom look for your brand with body scanning and draping methods for creating outfits.

When looking for 3D software it is important to determine your company's needs and do extensive research first. Not all 3D prototyping systems are created equally, so you will want to know what you are buying.

A company who wants to use 3D prototyping should evaluate how it fits and what it can do within the process, not just what it can add to it. The software should create virtual cohesion and save you time and money throughout the product development process.

Ram Sareen is the CEO-founder of Tukatech Inc, a leading provider of apparel industry software, including the TUKA3D virtual sample-making system. Tukatech also provides pattern making, grading and marker making software, web-based product development services, PDM/PLM systems, and manufacturing equipment supported by brick and mortar centres strategically located in garment hubs worldwide.