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3D printed shoes: How 3D printing revolutionizes the footwear industry


3D printing can be used in every field and fashion is not an exception. We are going to focus on an interesting trend: 3D printed shoes. You may not know it but Additive Manufacturing can be useful in the footwear market. It is possible to create 3D printed shoes with original designs, insoles, to do rapid prototyping and try new manufacturing processes. Once again, everything is possible thanks to the 3D printing technology.

We will go through all the advantages of additive manufacturing for this sector, and see what the latest innovations and evolutions are regarding 3D printed garments!  

Designers and 3D printing

As we saw with the Virus Collection 3D printing allows designers to create clothes. But its utility in the fashion tech doesn’t end here because it’s also possible to create shoes with astonishing designs.

For example, Zoe Jia-Yu Dai, a designer based in Taiwan and specialised in footwear, created “Breaking the 3D Mould”, a shoes collection with 3D printed parts. This technology allows designers to go further with the design structures. It is a way to change the manufacturing process. It’s easier to create organic structures with additive manufacturing, than with a traditional process.

It is obviously a good way to create prototypes to work on the design of any shoe. Some designers only focus on the design of the shoes. Melissa’s shoes are a great example of the possibilities offered by the 3D printing technology when it comes to design. Check out our blogpost about Melissa’s footwear experiments.

3D printed shoes

Silvia Fado, a spanish footwear designer, uses 3D printing and laser cutting to do rapid prototyping. Inspired by engineering and architecture, Silvia Fado focusses on style but not only since she’s also interested in the movement of the body, the wearability of the shoes, and the comfort elements that are part of the shoes. She works on the aesthetic and on the functional value of footwear.

3D printed footwear: a good way to try a new manufacturing process and new materials

Rethink your production

Like in other sectors, 3D printing can be used to develop new manufacturing processes. It can give more possibilities and opportunities to any company. For example: Feetz. It is an American startup run by Lucy Beard. They make custom shoes, easy to wear and with a nice style. On top of that, Feetz is also committed to protect the environment.

They developed their own 3D printer, using a Fused Filament Fabrication technique, and their own 3D printing material: a patented polymer. They wanted to rethink the whole manufacturing process, in order to make it more sustainable. Feetz uses recycled and recyclable materials, no water and reduced by 60% their carbon footprint. Moreover there is no material waste because with 3D printing you only use the quantity that you need.

Their use of 3D printing in their manufacturing process shows that it is possible to change the way the shoes industry affects the environment.

Try out high performance 3D printing materials

New high-performance materials are now available on the market and particularly adapted to the creation of shoe parts, such as midsoles.

The perfect example for that is TPU. Indeed, objects printed with Thermoplastic Polyurethane are offering advanced properties, which is perfect to get durablestrong, and flexible parts. With Sculpteo’s online 3D printing service, you will have the choice between two different TPU options for the creation of shoes or midsoles: Ultrasint® TPU 88A and Ultrasint® TPU01 a perfect 3D printing material choice if you need to produce parts requiring shock absorption, high elasticity, and energy return. For flexible lattices and complex parts, this TPU material is ideal.

High Performance materials

Are 3D printed shoes for everybody?

It’s easy to get a pair of 3D printed shoes made with a 3D printing technology. For instance, Feetz collaborated with the designer Seth Aaron to launch a shoe line together, inspired by a Japanese, 1960s mid-century modern look. You can buy those shoes on their website.

But you can also get custom made shoes, as they are offering different models from slides and sneakers for men and women, to wedges with a lattice design. To get your 3D printed shoes, you have to download their app to 3D scan your feet in order to get a 3D model. Then, you just have to choose the shoes among the different models that Feetz offers. They will make you a ready-to-wear pair of shoes based on the 3D model of your feet.

Continuum Fashion also launched ready-to-wear pairs of shoes, created thanks to 3D printing. With Additive Manufacturing, it is possible to give life to organic forms. The project shows that 3D printing shoes actually make sense to create ready-to-wear. Moreover, you can produce them faster than with traditional manufacturing.

3D printed sneakers

A running shoe can now be partially created with 3D printing technology. Actually, the midsoles of running shoes are particularly suitable for 3D printing. Big shoe manufacturers are using additive manufacturing. For example, brands like Adidas, Nike, New Balance and Under Armor have already printed sneakers. You can already customize your shoes thanks to Adidas, by choosing the look and the color of it, but you will soon be able to go further. Adidas already made a limited edition of FutureCraft 3D, using 3D printing. The brand now unveiled FutureCraft 4D, a footwear with a midsole created in partnership with Carbon 3D, using a new process called Digital Light Synthesis (formerly known as CLIP)Thanks to digital light projection, oxygen-permeable optics and liquid resin, this process can produce a durable and resistant polymeric goods.  These Futurcraft 4D shoes will offer a personalized support for athletes and are allowing mass customization. New Balance Zante Generate is another similar project, these sneakers have a partially 3D printed midsole. It is a pair of running shoes with a flexible midsole that offers a good support. Nike also uses 3D printing a lot for prototyping and they are proud to say that they use Selective Laser Sintering to create their prototypes. Indeed, you can work and rework on a shoe design very easily thanks to rapid prototyping. They made a partnership with HP, who released the HP Multi Jet Fusion, and will certainly work on new projects soon.

Rethinking the manufacturing process

Nike also uses 3D printing a lot for prototyping and they are proud to say that they use Selective Laser Sintering to create their prototypes. Indeed, you can work and rework on a shoe design very easily thanks to rapid prototyping. They made a partnership with HP, who released the HP Multi Jet Fusion, and will certainly work on new projects soon. Indeed, Nike, is using additive manufacturing to prototype its products, and in 2017, their use of 3D printing was estimated to provide a 10% cost efficiency. With their partnership with HP, mass production could be on its way with the use of these powerful 3D printers. These big leaders of the footwear industry have to start using additive manufacturing in order to keep on being competitive and improve their processes on a different level: it can be for product development, customization, or mass-production. 

Fully 3D printed shoes?

There is still a lot of work to get the fully 3D printed shoe. Nevertheless, some product developments are going in this direction: Olivier Van Herpt is using 3D scans and 3D printing to create new shoe structures, making them unique, lightweight and quite resistant. These 3D printed shoes have a unique style but are custom-made, meaning that they guarantee you the perfect fit. But Olivier Van Herpt is not the only person working on fully 3D printed shoes. Some other creators like Nicholas Unis are starting their footwear business with fully 3D printed products.

What about the future of 3D printed footwear?

3D printed footwear can easily be integrated to your daily life, for example Phits, with their 3D printed insoles, are a good example. Some projects are really accessible to anybody, and could be developed more widely. Personalized pairs of shoes are now accessible to everybody and mass customisation will gain ground in the upcoming years.

Indeed, 3D printing is a great way to get shoes perfectly adapted to your feet. Big brands are making partnerships with major actors of Additive Manufacturing such as HP, and are including the 3D printing process in the production of some of their models. 3D printed shoes, thanks to brands like Nike or Adidas are now entering the mass production era.

Designers will continue to work with 3D printing as it allows to create incredible designs with a lot of freedom. For example, Zoe Jia-Yu Dai is definitely not going to stop working with 3D printing. As she’s interested in men and children’s footwear, new projects could be launched really soon.

The footwear industry is more linked to 3D printing than you might think. All these examples show that there are different ways to create shoes. It can be to push design boundaries or to change manufacturing methods by finding an ecological way to produce, or even to get shoes or insoles made to measure for more comfort. Reasons to create 3D printed shoes are numerous, and it could be pushed further in the upcoming years!

Do you want to start your 3D printing business in the footwear industry? Well, here is our first advice: Choose the right 3D software. Getting the perfect shoe design software will help you start your best project. 

You have a 3D model and you want to prototype a pair of shoes, or anything else? You can upload a model on our online 3D printing service.

You want more news about the latest innovations in the 3D printing industry? Don’t hesitate to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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