Textile Visualization for Furniture
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Textile Visualization for Furniture

By Ronald D Gordon, SVP of Technology, MicroD

Ronald D Gordon, SVP of Technology, MicroD

When one considers applications for textiles, the Apparel industry comes to mind first. The visualization of textiles used in apparel is done by almost every online retailer. However, the most sophisticated application of textile visualization is actually within the Home Furnishings industry where consumers and interior designers actively participate in the design process and directly drive manufacturing.

“A “2 ½ D” model can be prepared for a sofa in a few hours by a graphics specialist with an eye for perspective, some training, and practical experience”

Within apparel manufacturers typically offer the same garment in a handful of different fabrications or color ways. This makes it feasible to photograph each manufactured variation. The images are then maintained in a database so that the consumer can easily select each available variation for viewing and ordering. The process is straight forward and cost effective due to the limited number of variations that are offered. The resulting visualization is absolutely realistic and may be presented using very high-resolution imagery.

Figure 1: An example of the same garment presented in three different textiles. Each manufactured variation is photographed individually.

The same solution may be applied to furniture. When the number of variations are small, each manufactured variation may be individually photographed after manufacturing . This is generally possible only when there are a limited number of variations and all variations are actually constructed.

Figure 2: An example of a chair offered in 3 fabrications. Each is photographed individually.

This approach has the same overall benefits. The visualization is absolutely accurate and very high-resolution images may be obtained. In practice, to obtain similar views between each fabrication, the camera is fixed on a tripod and marks on the studio floor enable each piece to be placed in the same perspective. This approach, however, quickly becomes prohibitive as the number of variations increases.

As Millennials and Gen X establish and furnish their households, they generally look for furniture that is distinctly their own. The ability to uniquely customize furniture to match their personality, taste in fashion, and surroundings is very important. Manufacturers and retailers recognize this and offer truly customizable furniture to meet this customer expectation.

Today, the Furniture Industry can offer an item in several hun­dred or a few thousand different fabrics. With so many fabrics to choose from it is simply im­possible to manu­facture and photo­graph each variation. In addition, individual areas of the item can be offered in different fabrics. Contrasting welt and coordinated pillow fabrics are very common variations. Some manufac­turers go much further by offering alter­nate fabric choices for the back or arms. The resulting combinations quickly grow exponentially!

While consumers have a real appetite for such design flexibility, even when aid­ed by a knowledgeable interior designer or sales advisor, there is justifiable reluctance on the part of the consumer to complete the sale unless they can see an accurate visual representation of the custom upholstered item. This is where computer generated visualization can assist.

Although one may consider building a true 3D computer model of the furni­ture item and then using traditional texture mapping methods to render the textile onto the model, this is less cost-effective than utilizing what is referred to as a “2 ½ D” computer simulation. The process works like this. A photograph of the furniture item in one fabrication is taken. If the item is not manufactured in a non-patterned muslin type fabric, a tool like Adobe Photoshop is used to remove the pattern and color from the image. The graphic artist does this while retaining the shading that resulted from wrinkles, creases, and tufting. The result is a gray-scale image of the item, de­void of a specific fabric pattern.

Next, a tool is used to prepare contoured surfaces that are used during the rendering process to map the consumer’s chosen fabrics onto the different areas.

Areas that will receive the same fabric are logically grouped together. Areas on the furniture that may receive alternative fabric selections are grouped into separate regions.

An important consideration in the manufacture of custom upholstery is matching. Fabrics which have large patterns such as flowers, animals, stripes, plaids, or other geometric patterns are often applied by the manufacturer so that the individual fabric covered areas will appear to flow in a visually pleasing and consistent manner across adjacent cushions, over arms, and down the front of the furniture. This intentional application of fabric to the upholstered piece to achieve a pleasing flow-matching of the fabric across the item requires additional fabric since some material must be sacrificed to obtain the desired matching. Lower priced furniture typically foregoes flow-matching.

To accommodate this, different matching rules and centering points are recorded in the digital model so that flow-matching may be accommodated as different textiles are applied. These rules, in addition to the contoured surfaces that are created, enable the digital model to accurately reflect the upholstering application that the manufacturer will perform.

Not only may fabrics be selected and applied, but the computer simulation also supports the application of wood finishes. Literally millions of variations are possible and may be visualized in a second or two.

A “2 ½ D” model can be prepared for a sofa in a few hours by a graphics special­ist with an eye for perspective, some train­ing, and practical experience. The results are quite realistic and accurate with regard to matching, even though the furniture has never been manufactured with the selected fabrics.

This approach also permits the consumer to select different arm styles, alternative bases, and variations in the back of the piece. This is accomplished by dynamically building a composite model from the individual options that may be chosen by the consumer. These choices modify the design or shape of the model according to the options that the manufacturer is willing to construct. It is not uncommon for a manufacturer to offer six different arm styles, back styles, and bases, yielding 6 * 6 * 6 = 216 different shape variations to which a few thousand textiles may be applied.

This “Design-Your-Own” rendering technology permits the consumer to select their preferred arm, back, and base style and then apply any of thousands of textiles to create a unique product that is truly their own. Visualization enables the consumer to better appreciate the design that they have created, and helps increase their confidence in the resulting custom-built product.

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