3D Printed Shoes: What’s Available on the Market Today?
In August 2020, research firm SmarTech Analysis unveiled its second study on the 3D printing and footwear market. According to the report, this industry is expected to generate more than $8 billion in profits by 2030. And it must be said that additive manufacturing offers a number of benefits in footwear production, perhaps the most important being the ability to customize the final product. Consumers are looking for differentiation and uniqueness, and 3D technologies can meet that need. They are also able to offer custom-made products with complex designs, perfectly adapted to each individual’s morphology. Thus, thanks to 3D scanning and 3D printing, companies are imagining more efficient sneakers, futuristic shoes for high fashion or comfortable and durable soles. Yes, it should be noted that it is not always the entire shoe that is 3D printed – which is actually quite rare – but rather the upper or the sole for example. In any case, 3D printing and footwear go hand in hand, and the market certainly is showing a lot of promise! For that reason, we wanted to introduce you to a few of the most impressive 3D printed shoes currently available, whether for sports, going to the beach or just going to work.
Adidas’ Range of 3D Printed Shoes
When it comes to 3D printed shoes, we would be remiss if we do not mention the offerings from famed shoe manufacturer, adidas. The company has been using 3D printing since 2017 when it entered into a partnership with Carbon to create new shoes, starting in 2018 with Futurecraft 4D 3D printed shoes, which are still being sold. Since then, they have continued to use additive manufacturing to create unique, sustainable footwear. For example, just last year the company released two new 3D printed sneakers, the 4D Fusion and the adidas 4DFWD, the latter of which was specifically created to improve athlete performance. According to the company 3D printing adds performance thanks to the lattice structure as well as adding a lot of flexibility to its activities, from reducing lead times to offering a shoe that could be completely customized at a reasonable price.
Liquid Speed from Reebok
Reebok is one of the largest and most recognized companies in the footwear industry. That’s why, a few years ago, they decided to use additive manufacturing technologies to create soles for one of their athletic shoe collections. While the rest of the shoe was made using traditional methods, the Liquid Speed incorporates a maximum fit sole. Reebok partnered with chemical company BASF, who used a liquid polyurethane material. They used a programmed robot to create the successive layers, bringing the sole to life. In addition to offering better performance and durability, the Liquid Speed has a very original design.
New Balance Incorporates a 3D Midsole
In a similar vein, New Balance has collaborated with 3D Systems to develop 3D printed midsoles. DuraForm Flex are insoles created with SLS technology from a thermoplastic elastomer material. They combine strength and flexibility and provide maximum comfort for the sports shoe. The 3D printing technology allows the production of complex structures that optimize shock absorption while making the shoe lighter. Since then, the American brand has been working with Formlabs and its stereolithography technology on the development of a Triple Cell platform to produce the FuelCell Echo.
ECCO and its customizable midsoles
ECCO is a Danish shoe manufacturer with many years of experience in the industry. In 2019, the company launched its Quant-U service aimed at customizing shoes through 3D printing. Using a 3D scanning process of the feet, it is possible to determine the orthopedic fit required for each person. With this device, ECCO designs 3D printed insoles tailored to the needs of its customers. This part is made from silicone, a material that provides stability as well as an adequate degree of cushioning. In addition, the company says the insoles are easily interchangeable and can be put in the washing machine.
Wiivv Goes for Customization
Wiivv is a young Canadian company that specializes in the production of 3D printed soles and flip-flops, entirely adapted to the wearer’s morphology. Thanks to a Smartphone application, the user can directly scan his or her foot, send their data to the company and receive a customized solution a few weeks later. Take flip-flops for example: thanks to 3D printing, Wiivv can customize certain elements of the shoe such as the straps or the vertical strap. The objective is of course to offer more comfort to the user. The company is equipped with a machine park in San Diego and the product is made using SLS technology.
Sustainable 3D Printed Shoes
How can you best combine fashionable footwear with a responsible environmental conscience? By using additive manufacturing! Chris Margetts, founder of The Sole Theory and fashion brand Humans Are Vain, uses recycled textiles to make his 3D printed shoes. He explains, “There is a strong demand for more sustainable products. There is no doubt that there will be consumers who want to buy this type of footwear when we launch it on the market.” He is deliberately using the fibers from clothing he once loved to turn into composite materials. This way, they can be used as material for 3D printing to create new shoes. The fibers are ground up and turned into filament for ZYYX Labs’ 3D printer.
HERON01, the Fully 3D Printed Sneaker
Attention sneaker fans: the 3D printed HERON01 is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. This shoe was made entirely by additive manufacturing by the American company Heron Preston, named after its founder Heron Preston Johnson. For this model, the founder of Heron01 is particularly focused on the theme of sustainability, as no glue or toxic materials were used in the production process. It was also possible to dispense with the use of seams, which means that the shoe can be completely recycled. The scraps and waste can eventually be used to make a new product. The design idea that goes beyond traditional shoe making is also reflected in the shoe’s features: low ankle cutouts, printed scales and textures, and the bird’s foot pattern on the sole.
Natives Shoes and its 3D Printed Shoes
Canadian manufacturer Native Shoes launched the Liquid Printed Natives project with the intention of developing everyday objects using advanced methods such as additive manufacturing. As part of this, the company used liquid rubber to 3D print shoes. The manufacturer says it used a 50% recycled ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) material to achieve greater flexibility and a more rubbery appearance. What stands out about Native Shoes’ project is the speed of production, with the company explaining that 3D technologies have significantly reduced manufacturing time compared to traditional methods. They also offer consumers a high level of customization.
We continue in this trend of 3D printed sandals with the Organic collection, imagined by a young student in fashion design, Lucie Trejtnarová. In collaboration with the material manufacturer Fillamentum, she 3D printed the outer sole of the sandal on which she sewed several organic fabrics made from fibers extracted from pineapple or coconut leaves. The printed sole had to be strong enough to support this fabric, so Lucie chose a TPU that was flexible enough but resistant to abrasion and wear. It also has a recyclable character, a key component for the young woman.
Mycelium Shoe, Futuristic Shoes
Imagined by the design studio Ica and Kostika, the Mycelium Shoe pair is entirely 3D printed on an SLS machine. Rather imposing by its shape, its size and its design, it does not go unnoticed in the street – besides, only 5 pairs were created. Its designers claim that these 3D printed shoes are very comfortable because they are entirely customized to the person’s feet: the 3D file is made from scanned data. It remains to be seen if walking in them is fun!
Hilos, The Sustainable 3D Printed Shoe
Portland-based startup Hilos was founded in 2019 and wants to transform the way shoes are made, combining technology and craft. Through additive manufacturing, the company hopes to address environmental issues, while providing quality footwear. Recyclable, this shoe is made through selective laser sintering and is designed from TPU, because of its flexibility and strength. The company confides that, with the help of 3D printing, it is able to bring new product lines to market in just two weeks, compared to the industry average of 12 to 15 months.
ATHOS, 3D Printed Climbing Shoes
Developed by a group of students in Barcelona, ATHOS climbing shoes are gaining in popularity. Also known as “climbing shoes”, this type of shoe must fit the athlete’s foot perfectly to improve grip and prevent slipping. Usually, to make sure they have a good fit, athletes wear climbing shoes that are smaller than theirs, which causes pain and deformity of the foot. This is why the team behind ATHOS wanted to create custom-made climbing shoes that meet the needs of each climber. To do this, they use HP’s MultiJet Fusion 3D printing technology and BASF’s TPU material. The process to get the ATHOS shoes is very simple: just scan your feet with 3 photos, customize the shoes to your liking, and once you get them home, you can start climbing!
Pleko, the Carbon Fiber Shoe for Running
The brainchild of Italian middle-distance runner Miro Buroni and the Diadora company, the Pleko is a shoe made up of many 3D printed components. The 3D printed parts include the insole, outsole, spikes and ribs. Designed from composite materials, carbon fiber to be precise, and with the help of the powder sintering process, these different elements have made it possible to manufacture a shoe that is flexible, resistant to wear and tear and above all customizable. Indeed, thanks to 3D scanning and software that simulates the movements during a race, the teams behind the shoe are able to offer a durable and comfortable solution to athletes.
A 3D Printed Shoe for Dance
The Purmundus Challenge 2021 competition was won by Act’ble, a start-up company that collaborated with top athletes to develop a new pointe shoe. Intended for classical ballet and contemporary dance, the shoe is called “New Pointe Shoe Sole”. Expected to last five times longer than traditional pointe shoes, the shoe was designed to significantly reduce the physical pain dancers experience during ballet. To make the shoe, the team 3D printed the sole, but did not specify what process they used or the materials that make up the shoe.
The Parametriks Print 001, a Shoe Entirely Printed from a Single Material
Earlier this year, designer Nathan Smith unveiled the Parametriks Print 001 sneaker, a 3D printed shoe designed using parametric design. This method, using design and material science to engineer parts, resulted in a shoe that stands out from the crowd for its comfort. To develop the Parametriks Print 001, Nathan Smith says he used Grasshopper, a plug-in included in Rhinoceros 3D modeling software. As for the manufacturing of the shoe, the designer explains that he relied on SLA machines and used TPU.
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