Futuristic Kicks: 3D-Printed Sneakers Are Tailor-Made to Your Feet

Adidas' 3D printed shoe.
Adidas' new running shoe has a 3D printed midsole. (Image credit: Adidas)

Imagine walking into a store, running on a treadmill for a few minutes and then purchasing a pair of shoes tailored precisely to the contours of your feet. That's the future of sneaker buying, according to Adidas.

The shoe and clothing company recently unveiled its Futurecraft 3D sneaker — a running shoe with a 3D-printed midsole (the part between the inner sole that touches your foot and the outer sole that touches the ground). Adidas said the midsole can be tailored to fit the "cushioning needs" of your feet, whatever those may be.

To get the measurements needed to 3D print a custom shoe part, sneaker lovers will first have to run on a specially equipped treadmill. Embedded with foot-scanning technologies, the treadmill track will relay information to a computer that creates a design for the personalized midsole. The design file can then be sent to a 3D printer and, voilà — you get a custom-made pair of running shoes that matches the "exact contours and pressure points" of your feet, according to Adidas. [The 10 Weirdest Things Created by 3D Printing]

Adidas showed off its new product in a recent YouTube video, which gives an up-close view of selective laser sintering, or SLS, the 3D printing process used to create the shoe. In SLS, a laser fuses together powdered materials — in this case, thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU — to form a solid object. The fused-together midsole rises like a phoenix from the bed of powder. Then, it's dusted off and enclosed in a sneaker. Adidas worked with the 3D-printing company Materialise to refine the process.

Though the 3D-printed sneakers in Adidas' video are made for runners, the new manufacturing technique can "meet the needs of any athlete," Eric Liedtke, executive board member at Adidas, said in a statement.

The 3D printed midsole was created using selective laser sintering. (Image credit: Adidas)

And it's a good thing Adidas is looking to expand upon this technology, because one of its toughest competitors is already making 3D-printed shoes for nonrunners: Nike unveiled its Vapor Ultimate football cleat last year, which is made using both 3D printing and another digital manufacturing process — 3D knitting. In 3D knitting, a machine turns a computer file into a seamless article of clothing or, in Nike's case, a seamless shoe that fits the wearer like a sock.

Other shoe brands are also using 3D printing to create custom kicks for everyday wear. United Nude, a British design company, makes some pretty futuristic-looking high heels using 3D printing. And then there's Feetz, the "digital cobbler" that creates custom 3D-printed shoes that look like something out of a sci-fi flick.

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Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.