You Gotta Have Sole

Image result for flyprint
(via TechCrunch)

In the last blog post I tried to give a sort of overview of the concept and the existing ideas around 3D-printing footwear.  So in this post I want to address how I’m travelling with the project, and do a bit of a deeper dive into the research and literature surrounding the topic.

How is the project coming along?

When I first laid out my ideas for the project I think I too heavily leaned on the process of me attempting to make a 3D-printed shoe sole, while neglecting the more interesting things like the existing technology and its implications for the future of footwear.

For me, learning how this technology can be made viable for wider implementation is the most interesting part.  I love all aspects of footwear, having worked in the industry at a retail and now corporate level.  So I can definitely appreciate the effects that this technology will have on a grand scale.

My big question is about how we going to see it come to fruition commercially.  Of course, as I spoke about in the last post there are major footwear brands starting to incorporate printing tech into their products.  But what I want to know is how this will impact footwear going forward, are we going to see an era of mass personalisation?

Currently we are seeing these 3D-printed designs release in small numbers and higher price points.  But as the industry continues to move with this tech we are no doubt going to see an increase in accessibility and decrease in cost for the average consumer.

However, I feel that this approach would be to the detriment of 3D-printing.  Bringing its use in-line with existing manufacturing techniques feels gimmicky. Honestly, if you’re just going to substitute the foam midsoles that the market is familiar with to with 3D-printed versions that offer no added personalisation then I would think it’s safe to say it’s a waste.


What has already been published about it?

When I looked into what has already been published on this subject, I found my searches came up pretty bare.  There seems to be very little published at an academic level.  I think the reason for this is two-fold; the application of 3D-printing in the footwear/ textile industry is very new/ pretty experimental, and because it has been traditionally used in more ‘technical’ industries for prototyping/ construction.

However, articles outside of the scholarly space are plentiful.  Due to footwear (more specifically sneakers) being part of the cultural zeitgeist, there are many publications writing about the latest styles and technological advances.

So what have I found?

  • Anna Perry(2017) 3D-printed apparel and 3D-printer: exploring advantages, concerns, and purchases, International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 11:1, 95-103, DOI: 1080/17543266.2017.1306118

This article examines the perceptions a group of study participants had to 3D-printed apparel and technology.  The results indicated that the advantages (customisation and fit) were not the main drives to purchase, but the concerns (perceived comfortability and little ease of motion) were the dominant reasons for not buying.

  • Corral, Laura C. and Walker, Kaitlyn J., “Exploring the Abilities of 3D Printing and its Viability for Consumption in the Fashion Industry” (2017). Apparel Merchandising and Product Development Undergraduate Honors Theses. 1.

This thesis first explores the process and applications of 3D-printing in a fashion context.  The authors then explore the viability of 3D printed garments by making their own wear-test sample and measuring consumer response.  The found overall perceptions to be positive, and concluded that further study and testing of its capabilities was warranted.

***I found that this paper really resonated with what I’m attempting to do but with textiles.  They did the research and then tried to design and produce samples to further investigate.***


I found AndresVH’s CAD files on Thingiverse and it is definitely the best example of what I’m trying to replicate.  He create a modular version of the ‘FutureCraft’ sole design, and although it isn’t to the same standard of printed using the same material, it is a very decent at home attempt.

(Above is the finished product combining the Adidas UltraBoost with the modular printed sole unit)


This is what really put printed footwear technology on the map.  Adidas had been on a roll with releases and were having their best financial period ever when they announced Futurecraft.  It started out as a regularly 3D-printed sole unit, but once the German giants linked-up with the Silicon Valley based tech firm Carbon, Futurecraft 4D was born.  Utilising Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis technology, the 4D was dubbed the “world’s first high performance footwear midsoles crafted with light and oxygen,” designed to provide a controlled return of energy due to its lattice design.

If you have a few $$$ to blow you can purchase the Futurecraft 4D here and here.



As I spoke about in the last post, there has been a push in the last couple of years for the bigger brands to incorporate 3D-printing into their designs.  While for a long time it was only prototypes being shown to the public, the last couple of years have seen commercially available models release from the likes of Adidas, New Balance, and Under Armour.

While the other big names in footwear have focused their efforts on printing soles.  It’s only this week that Nike has announced their new Flyprint technology.  Nike Flyprint is the first time we have seen a 3D-printed textile upper in the performance space.  As a basic overview, Flyprint consists of a TPU filament that is unwound froma coil, melted and printed into specific layers.  This printing method revolutionises the way in which performance footwear can be personalised.  Flyprint starts with performance data collected from the athlete which is translated into the most beneficial Flyprint design.  Nike have also engineered the process to bond with their existing Flyknit upper material, meaning enhanced flexibility and stretch in the design.

Thankfully, this breakthrough means I’ll soon be able to buy a pair of 3D-printed sneakers from my beloved Nike.


These are just a few examples of the information that’s out there about 3D-printing in the footwear industry.  It’s fun to search through different 3D-printing CAD sites like Thingiverse to see some of the designs people have made.  There’s also tonnes more information from the various footwear blogs, magazines and websites (here’s a good start).



As for my own 3D-printed creation I mentioned earlier progress has slowed.  I haven’t found time to get a really good feel of how some of the CAD software like Blender work.  One idea I have had however is to try and modify the design by AndresVH that I spoke about above.  It gives me a basis to work up from rather than designing the lattice etc. from scratch.


Footwear for the Future

Image result for adidas lattice
(via Carbon)

I wasn’t sure about which way to go with this Digital Artefact.  I’ve done a few DIGC subjects previously, but always taken the easier routes of doing essays or videos.  But it’s my very last semester, so I wanted to create something a bit more involved/ challenging.


The ‘Future Cultures’ concept could go so many ways, so I wasn’t quite sure where to look for inspiration.  Then an Instagram post caught my attention.  It was a photo set from Adidas’ VP & Creative Director Marc Dolce.  The post contained a few archive Adidas models in a monochromatic colourway, but one thing stood out.  Each of the shoes had their soles re-done using the ‘Futurecraft 4D’ technology that the Three Stripes is developing with Silicon Valley-based 3D-printing company Carbon.

The ‘Futurecraft’ tech has been knocking around for a few years now, with limited releases here and there, but what drew me in was the application to existing styles rather than new silhouettes.

(Adidas’ original 3D printed sneaker via HighSnob)

Now, Adidas aren’t the only ones looking at 3D printing as the future of footwear.  All the major brands have spoken about implementing the process going forward.  Under Armour and New Balance have also released models incorporating 3D printing, however it is Adidas that really has the market excited.

(via Under Armour)


New Balance partners with Nervous System to 3D-print personalised soles
(via Dezeen)

The futures applications for 3D printed footwear is incredible.  Just imagine going into a store, walking on one of those test things they have in The Athletes Foot, they take some measurements, and then print you custom footwear.  Shoes that are specifically made for you in every way.  It is insane.


Brand like SOLS are already sending selling 3D printed insoles, which must be a massive innovation in the Podiatry industry.  But that’s just one small element of the shoe.


The big problem with Adidas’ innovations in the 3D printing field is that I hate Adidas with a passion.  I understand that brand loyalty is silly and people should just buy the most impactful/efficient/effective products on the market, but I’m a Nike man.


So, because I don’t want to support those Bavarian bastards by buying their 3D printed shoes but I reeeeeeeeally want a pair, I’ll have to design and print my own.


The other week, Chris was speaking about the fact that we use things like shoes or glasses or phones or hearing aids makes us cyborgs.  I guess in that context it isn’t something that I had ever really considered.  But they are obviously items that innovate and extend the human body and mind.  So I think that is the something to investigate deeper.  We will no doubt be wearing some form of footwear a long way into the future, so how can we do it with the most personalisation and least waste.


As for the 3D printing my own shoes part.  There are some things that I’ll need to consider;


  • For obvious reasons it won’t be the whole shoe (duh), but the midsole.
  • I’ll be learning to model using the CAD tool Blender as it seems to be the most widely used free software (and because there are a tonne of videos and tutorial posts about how to navigate your way around the process).
  • This will be modelled from some initial sketches I’ll do. Not quite sure on a certain style of sole to design, but I guess something with a more contemporary edge.
  • As someone with very little interest in maths or engineering I’ll have to navigate my way the physics of a 3D printed sole. Where do I reinforce?  How do I combat rolling?  How do I maintain flexibility while maintaining support?


I want to live in a future where the shoes I obsess over can be custom tuned to my specifications.  It is a process that I want to see become commercially viable on a grand-scale, and I know that it is edging closer to that every single day.


As I said, it’s my last semester so I think it would be wise to explore something that I’m passionate about through a process I’m not comfortable with.  I also want to make use of that Maker Space that we’ve all paid for.