Can 3D printing replace traditional upholstery?

Dutch designer claims 3D-printing can replace traditional upholstery techniques to produce spongy-surfaced furniture.

Lilian van Daal, who recently graduated from The Hague’s Royal Academy of Art, has created a conceptual chair unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Inspired by plant cells which are capable of performing several different tasks, the Dutch designer has sought out to make soft seating more sustainable through 3D printing. In fact, she hopes that the next-gen technology can one day replace traditional upholstery techniques to produce spongy-surfaced furniture altogether.

“In nature a material grows in different structures and this is how functions are created. 3D printing is also a way to ‘grow’ material, so I’ve used this solution to create a new way of soft seating with several different functions in one material,” van Daal explains.


The designer developed her “Biomimicry: 3D-printed soft seat” as an alternative to conventional upholstered furniture, which typically requires various materials and processes in order to create the frame, padding and covers. The chair is comprised of nylon, allowing for different zones of flexibility yet with a rigid base.

“3D printing however does make it possible to reproduce complex structures. In this way a product can be created from one material in one factory, although it has the properties of various materials. Pollution caused by transport can be minimized and the product is completely recyclable,” she adds. “I was testing the flexibility and the stiffness you can get from one material by 3D-printing various structures.”


“Soft seating usually consists of several different materials [and] it’s all glued together, which is a problem for the recyclability of a product,” she explained in a recent Dezeen documentary. “You need five or six different factories [to produce conventional upholstered furniture]. But with 3D printing you can produce very locally and you don’t have material waste in the production process; you only use the material you need.”

Reducing the density of the material would create more flexible areas for seating, while the amount of material could be increased where greater structural strength is required. The shape of the chair was modeled manually using 3D computer modeling software, but the designer highlighted that there is more sophisticated optimization and stress analysis software available that could enable her to create forms that distribute material in the most efficient way.


While she had devised a series of prototype structures printed from polyamide, van Daal is currently researching the potential of using biological materials that would be more sustainable.

Intrigued? Watch the clip from Dezeen below!

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