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How Universities Are Driving the Future of Apparel Design

October 24, 2019 by Bruce Wright

Virtual reality has re-imagined the art of apparel and footwear design. 3D design programs like MODO, KeyShot, CLO, Browzwear, Optitex, and Lectra augment the creativity of color and material designers to virtually construct patterns and render realistic 3D garments. 

This is exciting technology for brands that want to reduce waste for a greener footprint and accelerate design to keep up with fast fashion. However, designers are notoriously tactile. They need to touch, feel, and gain an emotional connection to understand how fabrics will work in a design. Many are struggling to imagine how a textile will react to changes in environment and lighting from a virtual rendering on a computer screen.  

It’s a challenge that has prompted design schools to look for ways to help students retain tactile creativity while designing footwear and apparel in the digital world.

How Universities Are Driving the Future of Apparel Design

Bridging the Gap Between Digital and Physical Design

The Ullman School of Design in Cincinnati, OH and PENSOLE Design Academy and the MLab in Portland, OR have installed X-Rite’s Total Appearance Capture (TAC) Ecosystem to fully immerse college design students and industry professionals in 3D footwear and functional apparel design. 

Using TAC, designers can select physical textile samples based on touch and feel, scan them into a virtual material library, then “sew” them onto renderings to see how the fabric will respond in different environmental and lighting conditions. These virtual samples can be reused across multiple virtual prototyping, pre-fitting and e-commerce platforms for realistic, accurate and consistent appearance throughout the product lifecycle.

How TAC Works

X-Rite’s Total Appearance Capture bridges the gap between tactility and virtual design using these four components: 

  • TAC7 is a physical material scanner. It captures color, texture, gloss, and other surface conditions from physical material samples to produce highly accurate digital material definitions. These materials will display correctly in any combination of lighting or surrounding scene conditions.
  • Appearance Exchange File (AxF) is a vendor neutral file format that saves and shares this data for use in most major Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Computer-Aided Design (CAD), and state-of-the art rendering applications. 
  • PANTORA Material Hub is a desktop application for designers to store, edit, and share their AxF files across all PLM and CAD systems applications for consistent material renderings.
  • Virtual Light Booth (VLB) offers an incredibly accurate way to compare physical and digital material samples under the exact same perceptual conditions, from illumination to contextual to observational factors, so designers can make informed material selections. 

Tac family 

TAC delivers significant savings by eliminating the time and cost associated with physical prototypes and manual adjustments. It also streamlines approvals and makes it easy for brands to digitally communicate technical color and appearance specifications with suppliers in other locations, like China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam for faster production with less color miscommunication and rework. 

Educating Current and Future Designers with TAC

Here’s how the Ullman School of Design and PENSOLE Academy are offering their students the tools and education to be successful in the increasingly digital world of fashion design. 


In 2018, MLab at PENSOLE Academy became the world’s first educational institution to employ 3D material scanning technology when they installed TAC. Suzette Henry, Director of Color and Materials, evolved the MLab to be a unique, dedicated 3D space for students to virtualize footwear and apparel product creation using color technology and material innovation. 

By introducing TAC at the college level, Henry’s goal is to foster, mentor, and elevate the next generation of creative design talent. PENSOLE Design Academy offers a customized annual calendar of Master, Brand-Sponsored, and 9-week Design Intensive classes to students from all over the world. Over 400 graduates have already joined the global workforce in 2D, 3D color and material, and functional apparel design for global brands like Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Columbia, Snap Design, Google, Apple, and others.

How Universities Are Driving the Future of Apparel Design X-Rite Blog

The class teaches how to design and create products using TAC, and students find it very exciting to carry their designs through color and materials. MLab continuously strives to incorporate both seasonal and future learnings from a variety of industries to bridge communication and connect the threads of design. Through vendor partnerships and a culture of creative transparency, MLab has become a global talent pool for color and material design through its curriculum, professional development and mentoring. Learn more in this MLab video.

How Universities Are Driving the Future of Apparel Design X-Rite Blog

“We will add a layer of expertise to the TAC ecosystem with color and material finishing,” says Henry. “The MLab will also offer brand 3D scanning services to empower creatives to learn by doing. All in all, our world grows more colorful and tactile but now through a 3D lens.”

The Myron E. Ullman, Jr. School of Design

The University of Cincinnati’s Ullman School of Design is re-envisioning the future with two state-of-the-art R&D centers that offer the latest design technologies. Both of these centers are interconnected and they share know-how and technology. 

The Fashion Technology Center houses labs focused on Textile Innovation, Wearable Futures, Apparel Production, and Digital Patternmaking. These labs enable the school to excel in textile development, including automated embroidery, knitting, weaving, and fabric printing. In addition to this, students can create and cut patterns digitally instead of pin to paper, sew it onto a virtual body form, and visualize how applied scanned textiles will move and drape over the model.

How Universities Are Driving the Future of Apparel Design X-Rite BlogHow Universities Are Driving the Future of Apparel Design X-Rite Blog

The Future Mobility Center houses labs that focus on VR Automotive Design, Advanced Communications, Generative Design, Color Technology, and Digital Patternmaking. Similar to fashion, students make patterns for car seats and automotive interiors and virtually sew them onto the rendered form to see textures and surface treatments react. 

How Universities Are Driving the Future of Apparel Design X-Rite Blog

Using TAC, students can apply scanned textiles to their rendered models for realistic 3D virtual designs. The goal is to create a repository of virtual materials for use across disciplines by all design students, not just in apparel. 


To prepare students for the future workforce, the school offers a five year Cooperative Education Program. Starting sophomore year, they alternate semesters learning at the university and working at a global partner company as a paid intern, for a total of five co-op experiences. The students graduate with two years of industry experience embedded in their degrees. This is an excellent way to build up their portfolios and share their cutting-edge virtual design knowledge throughout textile and automotive design worlds. 


The Fashion Program at the Ullman School of Design offers both online and in-person trainings for design students in the Fashion Technology Center’s lab spaces. They offer for-credit courses for both 2D and 3D software platforms that can be used across both Industrial Design and Fashion Design disciplines for apparel, footwear, soft goods and other textile based product design applications. 


The Future of 3D Design

These programs are a win-win. For brands, creating a talent pool of students who are strong in virtual tactility and 3D material knowledge will help them continue to reduce approval times and waste, improve product quality, and accelerate time to market. For designers, learning the skills sought after by major sportswear companies and famous fashion brands helps them win top jobs and prepares them to take on future innovations in the fashion design world.


Learn More 

For more information on the Ullman School of Design or to arrange a visit, contact the School Director Dr. Gjoko Muratovski at muratogo@ucmail.uc.edu. For specific information about the Future Mobility Center, contact J. Antonio Islas Munoz at islasmja@ucmail.uc.edu. For specific information about the Fashion Technology Center, contact Ashley Kubley at kubleyay@ucmail.uc.edu. You can also follow their official Instagram account.


To learn more about Pensole Design Academy or MLab, reach out to them at info@pensole.com.


To learn more about X-Rite’s Total Appearance Capture (TAC) ecosystem, get in touch to speak with an expert.  

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