Traditional Japanese Crafts & 3D Printers: Indigo Dyeing

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Some things are very near and familiar, others are distant and unknown. We were interested in combining these two extremes. For example, 3D printers still seem like something out of a science fiction movie for most people. We thought, what if we could fuse this new technology with familiar, traditional techniques to create a product with a unique story? Our products are the first-ever attempt in the world to make use of 3D printing infused with traditional Japanese crafting techniques. As the first of these endeavors, mOment undertook the development of products based on the theme of "KUMO," meaning "Clouds," for about two months. This time, we're showing you that production process.

 Product page here:

First, in order to find familiar, traditional techniques from everyday life, we narrowed our search down to "fashion," the genre with the most affinity with current 3D printers, and started experimenting.

May 20th, 2014: Learning From Jeans, the Most Famous of World Fashions

"What comes to mind when you think of the most familiar of world fashions?"
Many people intuitively answer, "Jeans." We set our sights on indigo, the dye used to color them, and headed to the birthplace of Japanese jeans: the Kojima industrial dyeing district in Okayama Prefecture. There we started the development process which would span about two months.

Okayama Prefecture's Kojima district is located near the entrance to the Great Seto Bridge. The red marker points to Kojima Station.

A beautiful district commanding a view of the Seto Inland Sea. It's also a district with a prosperous textile industry.

May 31st, 2014: Meeting the People of Urakami Dye Shop

Mr. Yokkoi, rinkak's industrial designer, enlisted the help of his good friend since college, Mr. Takemasa, who was knowledgeable about cooperation between product design & development and local industry. Together with Mr. Takemasa from the beginning, we searched for a manufacturer to carry out our experiments. And so, we began our trial runs with the Urakami Dye Shop, which readily took on the job despite our having dropped in unannounced.

Mr. Urakami, who went along with us in development even though we had made such a sudden request. He told us the Urakami Dye Shop isn't suited to mass production; rather, its main focus is on things like prototype development for companies that need Urakami's specialized dyeing techniques.

The color samples we had sent in advance from Tokyo for assessment. The chubby, acorn-shaped object is made of polyamide (nylon). The process of indigo dyeing is said to "stain" a pale color, and the most beautiful results are achieved by dyeing to the deepest shade possible. So, we analyzed how to dye those parts to which the pigment wouldn't take.

June 19th, 2014: Start of the Design Phase

Once we decided on using indigo dyeing, we started sketching some designs. The nature of indigo and its cool color offered a good segue from the previous series, AME ("Rain"), so this time the theme is KUMO, Clouds.

We adjusted the styling, comparing ideas for the artistic direction, by taking into account the peculiarities of 3D printing, and what shapes can be made solely through this process. From this point in the design stage, we added two more revisions, and came to a concrete artistic direction.

3D printing will always leave layer-like traces of the printing process on the objects created, but we came up with a way to hide those traces, and made bold designs. We did trial runs of the manufacturing process about three times, adjusting the shape.

Trying the Indigo Dye On the Actual Products

Jeans are generally submitted to the dyeing process as many as 30 times, but the raw materials we were working with this time were polyamide (nylon) and acrylic resin, not fabric. First, we dyed these over 10 times, washed them, then dried them. While Mr. Urakami has experience making test pieces for various kinds of merchandise, it was the first time he had ever applied his indigo dyeing process to objects made with 3D printers.

The hand-dyeing trials were done in a small, kitchen-like space.

This is indigo dye.

The powdered indigo is boiled until it melts, then the product is soaked in the resulting liquid.

The pieces are washed using a special detergent.

Until it dries, the indigo dye appears yellow. It turns indigo blue through oxidation. The color takes by repeating this process over and over.

Finished Products!

A Sampling of the Finished Products

Adding 0.5 mm spaces, this piece ingeniously captures light and shadow.

Here, you can see the complexity of indigo coloring. With wear and with time, you can expect it to express a richer shade. :)

 Limited time only! The items we made through this process are on sale here through September 30th:


The staff of Urakami Dye Shop

A big THANK YOU from all of us here at kabuku Inc.


kabuku Inc. いろいろやる系のEngineer / 工作と妄想と唐揚がスキ。3Dプリンタとの出会いと共に、改めてものづくりの面白さに目覚め、カブクに参加。思わず使ってみたくなるような、欲しくなるようなプロダクトを作っていきたいです。


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Traditional Japanese Crafts & 3D Printers: Indigo Dyeing