How Wetsuits Are Made
How Wetsuits Are Made
Wetsuits are essential to many sports and recreational activities centered around water, but how are wetsuits made? What goes into creating them? There are many steps wetsuit makers take to ensure that we’ll be warm and comfy in the water.
To explain how wetsuits are made, let’s first start with the basics. Wetsuits are made of neoprene, which is a type of petroleum-based rubber filled with millions of tiny balloon-like cells. Those cells are filled with air or gas, which gives the rubber more flexibility and elasticity and acts as insulation to help hold heat in. Neoprene was developed in the ’30s and is still evolving to this day.
How Does a Wetsuit Keep You Warm?
Before diving into the process of how wetsuits are made, let’s quickly explain how wetsuits work. If you’ve ever tried on a wetsuit or seen someone in one, you’ll immediately notice that it fits tightly to the skin. The tightness allows a thin layer of water between the wetsuit and your skin. Your body temperature heats up that layer of water, which then warms you up.
On top of that, the neoprene itself keeps you warm because it is an incredibly efficient insulator. That’s why the thicker the wetsuit is, the warmer you will be. In turn, if you get a loose-fitting wetsuit that lets too much water in, you won’t be warm at all.
How Wetsuits Are Made – Making Neoprene
Neoprene starts as a liquid that contains different additives that are used to increase or decrease the elasticity of the fabric. Wetsuits need a lot of flexibility. So additional agents that promote elasticity are added to the neoprene used in the suits.
Once the perfect mix is found, the liquid is poured into a form and baked, kinda like a loaf of bread. After it is turned into a solid, the neoprene is then sliced into different thicknesses, depending on what it is being used for. For wetsuits, the neoprene is sliced into sheets that generally run from 1mm to 7mm. Neoprene manufacturers distribute the various sizes of neoprene in sheets or on large rolls, depending on their customer’s needs.
Wetsuits aren’t solely made of neoprene. The closed-cell rubber is lined with a thin layer of softer fabric like fleece or polyester that is more comfortable on the skin. It also adds another layer of insulation and makes the wetsuit easier to put on. The liners also function to keep less water against your skin which will allow you to stay warmer for longer.
A majority of wetsuit companies buy their neoprene with the liner material already attached to the rubber itself. That’s because it is much easier for the neoprene companies to add. If not, it would take a lot of work for a wetsuit company to physically glue or sew a thin layer of fabric to the rubber itself.
Almost all wetsuits have a lining material on both sides of the wetsuit. However, on wetsuits made for surfing, the lining on the outside of the suit will often be very thin and almost unnoticeable. The lining on the outside of a wetsuit made for SCUBA diving or spearfishing can often be a thick lining.
Measuring & Cutting
Once the lined neoprene arrives at the manufacturer and the thickness of the torso and the limbs has been decided, the material is measured and cut into various pieces called panels that will then be used to fashion the wetsuit.
Wetsuit thicknesses are usually shown in one or two numbers and measured millimeters. For instance, a 2mm wetsuit will have a 2mm neoprene thickness all the way around. A 4/3mm wetsuit will have a 4mm thick torso area and a 3mm thickness in the arms and legs.
Depending on the wetsuit brand, most wetsuits will contain between 15 and 30 neoprene panels. All of which strategically fit together to comfortably fit a human body.
Gluing, Stitching, & Taping Seams
Next up, stitching is added. There are generally two types of stitching used on wetsuits, flatlock stitching, and blind stitching. Flatlock stitching is very strong and inexpensive but less efficient because it leaves tiny surface holes on the wetsuit that allow water in.
On the other hand, blind stitching is stronger but more expensive to produce. It’s called a blind stitch because the thread only penetrates into about a quarter of the neoprene’s depth. To create a blind stitch, a special curved needle runs threading around the seam under the surface to help reinforce the glue.
Seams that use a blind stitch can also be taped along the seam to add to the strength of the joint. Because the tape is usually made of high-strength nylon and attached using hot glue, it makes the seams less stretchy. Which helps preserve their lifespan. When your body moves and shifts in the water, the seams bear much of the stress. So taping the seams is key when it comes to a high-quality wetsuit that is meant to last for years.
This is part of the finishing touches in terms of how wetsuits are made. Zippers are added with strategic stitching to make your wetsuit easy to get on or off. However, some wetsuits are zipperless, which makes them even more efficient. That’s because zippers tend to be the part of the wetsuit where the most water is able to seep in. Zippers are usually installed in the back of the wetsuit or near one of the front shoulders.
The logo of the wetsuit brand is stamped onto it, but it varies on when in the process it is added. Some companies may elect to stamp a logo on the chest while it is still in the form of a panel. Other companies may wait til the wetsuit is fully assembled to add the logo. Other things like sizing tags, key loops, or anything else of this nature are also more likely to be added at the final stages of production.
In general, It takes anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours to fully assemble a wetsuit, depending on the quality of the suit and the intricacy of the stitching. Every company is different and has developed its own process for how wetsuits are made. But this article should give you a general idea of the steps involved in making a wetsuit from start to finish.