Products and Design

3D Printed Shoes, Huh?

Today’s opinion piece takes on the white-hot trend of 3D printed footwear. Is it really hot, or not?


OMG, shoes. Actually, 3D printed shoes.

Lately the sneaker world just can’t get enough of the latest trend — 3D printing everything. There are several recent examples of this: New Balance Zante Generate, Under Armour’s Architech Futurist and now the lasted addition Adidas’ Futurecraft 4D. But, despite the hype, there are a few obvious challenges that, as a designer, I can’t quite get around. Inevitably the wearer will step in gum (or something worse) and never be able to get the soles fully clean. But aside from having a wad of mystery substance epically lodged in said hole-riddled future shoes, I can’t detect many other features that put these designs above other more traditional designs. In general, the reviews of these styles are not revealing them to be an upgrade in comfort. Plus, I just don’t think the look will age well.

Courtesy adidas’ YouTube channel

Why all the hype? Well, these tech-driven designs do represent a big innovation in manufacturing. I’m just not clear on why the customer should care.

According to, the revolution is in reducing the need for machining of lasts: “Lasts are required to produce shoes. One last for each shoe size, for both left and right feet are needed. A full size grade for normal shoe production requires 14 sizes and  you’ll need about 750 in total to support mass production of 1500 pairs per day in assembly.” The Adidas shoe design pairs these innovative soles with 3D knitted uppers, so there’s virtually no factory machining. This concept of the patterns existing virtually in the software gives sneaker companies interesting options to offer customized designs on the fly. In this customization game, I think New Balance wins. Their custom soles are generated using data on the shape and motion of your foot to create an optimized sole for your running style.

Once the sexy freshness of this 3D printed street style wears off, where will that leave these designs? What do you think, rad fad or just #SAD?

Opinions expressed here are the author’s own.

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