Costume designer creates textile print block with ShopBot

Design file used to recreate the design used on an antique wooden printing block

Design file used to recreate the design used on an antique wooden textile printing block.


Theatrical costume designer Katie Keener is a graduate student in technical theatre at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the theatre in residence is Playmakers Repertory Company. As part of her studies, Katie recently developed a project entitled: Digitally Driven Replicas of an Antique Textile Printing Block.

ShopBot’s Randy Johnson, Thea Eck and I met Katie this summer when she was displaying her work at the USITT Special Exhibition at UNC. Katie described the project, “My textile printing project includes an antique, wood-carved printing block in need of repair, and the process of creating a new print block using two methods: in the form of 3-D printed plastic, and a new carved-wood block made on a CNC machine (a ShopBot Desktop).”

Katie explained, “The project covers the process of printing with a traditional block, creating a 2-D file, translating it to a 3-D file, and the printing process of the repaired blocks. The study also includes printing pros and cons with new blocks versus the antique block.”

Here is a series which shows how the antique wooden block prints the pattern, then the pattern as printed by a 3-D printed block, a CNC’d block, and finally how it looks when printed by Spoonflower, a digital fabric printing company.

Printed using the antique wooden block

Printed using the antique wooden block

Pattern printed using a 3D printed block

Pattern printed using a 3D printed block

Printing using a ShopBot CNC'd wooden block

Printing using a ShopBot CNC’d wooden block

Pattern as printed by Spoonflower

Pattern as printed by Spoonflower

Here are Katie’s write-ups of her processes:

3D Printed Textile Block Replica

  • The work was done in the makerspace at UNC, which is part of the University Libraries’ Research Hub initiative. Its purpose is to enable UNC students, staff and faculty to explore emerging technologies and foster a creative community of makers and making.
  • After submitting the print request, library staff facilitated the print job and process.
  • The JPEG was traced and saved as a 2-D Vector format, SVG.
  • The SVG file was then translated into a 3-D format, STL File.
  • After the file was reformatted, it was sent to print on the U Print machine using ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene).
  • 3D printers render a physical object from a digital model by the process of fused filament fabrication.
  • Plastic filament is fed through a heated nozzle that the computer moves, building layer upon layer from the base of the item upward.
  • The base of the block was printed in a honeycomb pattern to save on product and fill large areas.

CNC Printed Textile Block Replica

  • ShopBot Tools is a company that makes CNC machines. The end product can be referred to as machined, carved, or printed. Materials that can be printed are wood, plastic, metal, ceiling tiles, and more.
  • ShopBot staff member Sallye Coyle advised and facilitated the process of learning new software, operating a ShopBot, and printing an intricate textile block replica.
  • Corel Draw was used to convert a 2D file into a 3D file by tracing the image’s edges and saving it as a Vector file.
  • The Vector file was uploaded into V-Carve Pro and edited to clean up points, size, and test simulation.
  • A 60 degree V-Bit was selected to execute the fine detail and depth of the antique textile block design. The bit was set to carve at 12,000 rpm.
  • The carve depth is how deep the bit will plunge into the material without losing the integrity of the design.
  • A flat depth levels off at a set depth. No flat depth allows the bit to plunge into the material as deep as possible.
  • A simulation shows the machine’s path to print the block.
  • Editing and troubleshooting after viewing the simulation allowed for a smooth, and successful print.
  • Estimated print time: 9 minutes
  • Actual print time: 19 minutes

Katie told me that the presentation at USITT Special Exhibition was a success. “From presenting at UNC, I was awarded registration funding for the national conference in Salt Lake City (March 2016). I plan on presenting there to continue the conversation.”



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