Difference between Technical Textile and Smart Textile

This post is written by Sayak Nandi. 


The Technical Textile sector has been one of the most rapidly developing sectors in textile. The rapid industrialization and growth of each and every sector has majorly contributed to the growth of this sector. A textile material provides certain unique characteristics like high strength with flexibility, which makes it desirable in other sectors. As a result, the application of textile material in various sectors has grown significantly in the years.

However, the term “Technical Textile” is often associated with “Smart Textile”. Over the years, several smart textile materials have been implemented in the Technical textile sector; for instance the application of E-Textile in medical, sport, military, green energy production. Due to these applications, questions often arise whether the two terms are the same, or are different. In the technical field, this confusion is quite apparent, while I was surfing through the internet, I stumbled upon this particular question in ResearchGate. So, I took to writing this article.

Related: Difference Between Electronic Textiles, Smart Textiles/Garments and Wearable Technology

Smart Textile

smart textile
Image: Smart Textile | Source: www.schoeller-textiles.com

The definition of the smart textile as provided in literature is “textiles that can sense react to environmental conditions or stimuli from mechanical, thermal, chemical or magnetic sources”. So if I break it down it is a textile material which has some additional functionality and is not limited to apparel and fashion. Now, this functionality is generally due to certain substances that may or may not be textile material. However, they are integrated into a textile material, which need not necessarily be wearable apparel. The smart textile can be classified into passive smart textile, active smart textile and very smart textile depending on their functional activity.

Smart textiles are often said to be E-textile, or even certain times smart textile is referred to as a subgroup of E-textile. However, this conception is very wrong several other materials are also used for achieving functionality in smart textile.

Shape Memory Polymer is one such material, a shape memory polymer is a stimuli-responsive polymer. These materials can return back to their original shape from a deformed if certain external stimuli like heat, light, humidity, pH, current, magnetic field, etc are applied to it. Shape Memory polymer has several applications in the medical sector; it is also used in apparels for functional applications.

Thermochromic and Photochromic are other such stimuli-responsive substances. Thermochromic changes its colour with the change in temperature and Photochromic changes its colour with the change in intensity of light. Over the years these substances have been integrated into textile and have found its applications in medical, sports sectors, functional apparel, it can also be used for military camouflage applications.

Similarly, any kind of functional finish like anti-microbial finish, anti-static finish and fragrance finish textiles can be referred to as smart textiles. Due to the fact certain functionality is added to the textile material. To be more specific these are part of Passive smart textile.

Technical Textile

Technical textiles is a multidisciplinary sector, where a textile product is designed specifically as per the necessities of the technical end-use, and rather than conventional aesthetic end-use. From the very name, it is quite apparent that more emphasis is on technical aspects and applications of textile materials than on aesthetics.

To explain technical textile, let’s consider the example of polyester fibre; a polyester fibre is generally blended with cotton, wool and several other fibres to reduce the cost of apparel. Now the same polyester has wicking properties, UV resistance properties, electrostatic charges, can be turned into nonwoven (spun-bonded, melt blown, SMS fabrics) that can be used for filtration properties; due to these characteristics polyester fibre can be used for technical applications as well.

There is a very thin line difference between Technical Textile and Smart Textile, which can be explained by the above example. Polyester fibre has certain inherent properties which can be used for technical applications. However polyester doesn’t have any special functionality which reacts to environmental stimuli. Similarly, fibres like Cotton, Silk, Viscose, Linen and Wool are commonly used for Apparel uses, however, due to certain inherent properties; they are used for certain technical applications.

There are 12 classes of technical textile Agrotech, Buildtech, Clothtech, Geotech, Hometech, Indutech, Meditech, Mobitech, Sporttech, Packtech, Protech and Oekotech. The textile materials are designed specifically depending on the requirements of these 12 sectors. 


To sum up “All Smart textiles are not technical textiles but some are and vice versa”. 

In a smart textile, generally, an external functionality is added like electronic components, special polymeric substances, special finishing. In technical textile, textile materials are designed in specific ways (nonwovens, wovens, braiding, composites, etc) such that it can be used for a specific technical application. Certain smart textile material can be used for certain technical applications, however, at the core they are different.


About the author: 
Sayak Nandi is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Textile Technology from GCETTS. His area of interest includes Technical textile, Weaving, Nonwovens, and sustainability in Textiles.

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