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3D Printed Shoes: An Overview

Picture of Max Gicklhorn
by Max Gicklhorn
Aug 3, 2017

3D printed shoes, as it seems, are standing on firm ground (pun intended). Here‘s an overview of the business and models of 3D printed shoes.

In the past decade, additive manufacturing has greatly influenced most industries – that also applies to the shoe industry. While 3D printing is perfect for manufacturing prototypes, it’s not the best choice if companies want to go to production for several thousand pairs. So, when it comes to 3D printing shoes, there a big gap between mass production and individually 3D printed shoes.

Still, as 3D printing technology advances, big corporations such as Nike, Adidas, and New Balance are striving to advance to mass production of 3D printed shoes. With the help of innovative, industry-focused 3D printing companies like HP and Carbon, they are getting more and more successful.  Individual design companies, on the other hand, use 3D printing to create unique pairs of individual 3D printed shoes. They also can iterate their models faster than before.

As of today, 3D printed shoes can be found in the sectors of athlete’s shoes, sneakers, and custom-made haute couture shoes – and that‘s how this article is broken down.

1. 3D Printed Shoes: Athlete’s Shoes 

Athlete’s sports shoes have enormous requirements: optimal foot control, excellent stability, durability. This is achieved both by sophisticated design, but also by the right choice of materials – one of the core strengths of 3D printing.

In addition, with the help of 3D scanners, it is already possible to produce custom fitted shoes for professional sportsmen. This not only increases the control on the field but also allows shoes constantly be adjusted. Large manufacturers of sports articles have realized that they can thus drastically shorten the development time of their shoes and still give the wearer an even better feeling. Whether it’s simply printing a part of the shoe, or producing it in one piece, the response from professionals is very positive.

The main competitors in the development of 3D printed shoes are Nike, New Balance, and Adidas. Currently, the following concepts are in the interests of athletes:

1. 3D Printed Shoes: Nike and Proways

3d printed shoes

In cooperation with French 3D printing company Proways, Nike has developed a prototype of 3D printed shoes specifically for the soccer field. They are made of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). Their ambition is to not only reduce the costs but also the production time.

Nike has already printed 5000 so-called ScientiFeet insoles. Dig deeper in this article.

2. 3D Printed Shoes: New Balance 3D Printed Plate

3D printed shoes

Corey Kluber, the pitcher of the Cleveland Indians, received individually made plates for the season opener in April. This makes him the first baseball player to wear partially 3D printed shoes in an American League game. Through the accurate study of his pitching motion, New Balance was able to produce a shoe that could meet his requirements. The shoe should mainly stabilize Klubers’ heel during his windup and then anchor his front foot firmly in the ground.

Bryan Gothie, Manager of Cleated Innovation Division at New Balance says:

We really concentrated on getting the spikes aligned in a way that when he lands with that front foot, it’s not going to move at all. Again, that’s consistency and movement for him, knowing that every time he’s going to pitch, he’ll have the same exact experience.

Obviously, the goal of New Balance was achieved since Kluber gave the following statement about his new 3D printed shoe plates:

We’ve addressed a lot of variables so that now I have more stability, more traction, and just a better feel for where my body is.

Looking at this example, you can see what technological advances 3D printed shoes can offer. Imagine the entire shoe is customized as the plates of the Star Kluber.

3. 3D Printed Shoes: Future Sneaker by Peak Sport

The Chinese manufacturer Peak Sport tries to profile itself in the competition for 3D printed footwear with China’s first commercial 3D printed shoe. The company had already used 3D printing for the shoe of NBA Star Dwight Howard. It is a major concern of this rapidly growing company that these technologies are continuously developed in the future in order to be able to produce 3D printed footwear for the normal consumer.

The general manager of Peak Xu Zhihua said:

The Future sneakers are the newest achievement brought by Peak Sport’s innovative strategy. Our target is to build Peak Sport into the most international, professional, and innovative sports brand in China.”

3D Printed Shoes: Sneakers

Sneakers aren’t just shoes – for most, they are part of their lifestyle. Whether it’s a Kanye West shoes, Yohji Yamamoto, or ‘only’ New Balance, all these shoes have one thing in common: they differ from conventional shoes on the market.

Producing shoes with the 3D printing process offers the possibility to design, individualize, and eventually visualize the most unusual structures.

1. 3D Printed Shoes: Adidas and Carbon Futurecraft

3D printed shoes

The German sports manufacturer Adidas partnered with Silicon Valley 3D printing startup Carbon to produce 100,000 pairs of 3D printed shoes by the end of 2018. Adidas has noticed that with the help of 3D printing, shoes with increasingly customized designs can be made. The sports giant has recognized the potential 3D printing can have on their footwear and with the Futurecraft 4D they will bring mass production within sight.

If you would like to know more about these 3D printed shoes, click here. 

2. 3D Printed Shoes: Adidas and Carbon “Birdsnest”

3D printed shoes

Another very cool project that Adidas is doing in collaboration with Carbon: 3D printed shoes designed by architect and designer Nathan Kiakulpiboone, also called “KXIV”. The design is inspired by the famous Olympic stadium of 2008 in Beijing, built by the star architects Herzog & de Meuron and envisioned by the great Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The upper part of the shoe is made of abrasive-resistant polyurethane fused to a lycra base. The 3D double-loop cinches give the UltraBoost a nice touch. The design of the stadium in all black combined with the light blue tone really looks slick.

3. 3D Printed Shoes: EasyJet GPS Shoe

3D printed shoes

Last year, airline EasyJet launched a shoe that, with the help of integrated vibrations, could point the wearer’s direction. The partially 3D printed shoe could thus replace annoying searches on a map and focus more on the environment than on your mobile phone, especially while exploring a new city. The cover of the Arduino clone, in which the navigation tool (powered by Google Maps) is installed, was printed in 3D. Unfortunately, there is no more news from easyJet. And since the shoe is so far only a prototype, it is questionable when and whether one could actually buy this shoe. Until then you can only wait for further news, also regarding the comfort and battery life of the proposed 3D printed shoes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdS4S9zg_ac

3D Printed Shoes: Haute Couture

1. 3D Printed Shoes: Kathrien Herdewyn

3D printed shoes

A few years ago there was a big boom in the fashion industry regarding 3D printed shoes. The Belgian designer Kathrien Herdewyn, whose passion is the design of shoes founded the footwear company Elegnano, which combines traditional craftsmanship with modern 3D printing.

Together with i.materialize, she realized some very interesting 3D  printed shoes and tried to design as individual heels as possible.

Kathrien Herdewyn, whos not scared of new technology, is, unfortunately, an exception.

2. 3D Printed Shoes: Iris Van Herpen 

3D printed shoes

The designer Iris Van Herpen is known for her 3D printed fashion creations. In 2013, she presented very exquisitely designed 3D printed shoes. However, Van Herpen has since stopped to produce 3D printed shoes. We will see what the future brings.

3. 3D Printed Shoes: CONTINUUM

3D printed shoes

American studio Continuum seems to be the only one out there seriously working on the design of individual 3D printed shoes. Their ‘strvct’ high heel is made of nylon and can keep the delicate structure while remaining light and stable – all thanks to 3D manufacturing.

In addition, the shoes have a synthetic rubber on the bottom to provide traction. Since the designs are digital, an infinite number of variation of the shoe are possible.

printed shoes

Another project designed by the Continuum is the ‘Myth’ collection. Each shoe design can be created for the most part on a conventional 3D printer that fits on any desk. It was particularly important for the studio to reduce manual finishing to a minimum, in order to meet the goal of having an almost finished shoe out of the printer.

This is a really great advance. They say on their website on 3D printed shoes:

There is a definite feeling of magic when pulling out a complete shoe from a glowing box.

The Studio Continuum seems to have very interesting designs and deserves attention accordingly. Nevertheless, there is currently no shoe to buy and it remains only the wait.

It’s a pity that the interest has diminished in the last years. Reasons for the fact that the fashion industry is still afraid to push the development of 3D printed shoes to the end, can only be guessed. Therefore the development of 3D printed shoes remains for the most part in the hands of large sports manufacturers. This doesn’t mean they produce terrible shoes, as you can see in some great examples above. But the creative design, which constitutes the exclusiveness of the fashion industry, is limited due to the reservations of new manufacturing processes.

However, one must also say that there is nevertheless progress in the right direction, as one can see in the studio above. If this kind of conceptual designing continues to be promoted, 3D printing will become part of the fashion industry.

License: The text of "3D Printed Shoes: An Overview" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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