By David

August 17, 2020 at 10:36 am

Sneakers are big business. Huge business in fact. Here’s just one example of a college grad making $10k a month flipping sneakers and that’s just a tiny portion of the second hand market. If you have creativity, talent and drive, you could tap into wider shoe market and carve out a very lucrative niche for yourself! But where to start?

If you have an idea for a shoe design, there are a number of questions that might be running around in your head:

  • What are the steps to designing a sneaker?
  • How do I get a prototype for a sneaker made?
  • How much is a shoe prototype?
  • What is good software for a beginner shoe designer?
  • Where can I go to have a prototype made for a shoe design I’d like to make?
  • Can I create custom shoes with 3D printing?
  • How much does it cost to manufacture a sneaker?
  • and probably even more!

We frequently work with people who want help to design and prototype their sneaker and shoe ideas, so in this article we’ll give you a brief rundown on the process and answer some of those questions for you.

What are the steps to designing a sneaker?

If you’re brand new to sneaker design, and want a visual overview of the process, have a quick watch of these two videos and then come back:

Designing a sneaker from scratch

Custom sneakers from the sole up

The basic steps are as follows:

  1. Dream up your design: This step involves pulling together a lot of sources of design inspiration, from other kicks, but also just from the world around you. Once you’re feeling inspired (make sure not to take anyone else’s ideas!), put pen to paper and start sketching. This can start in black and white, and could eventually move to designing in colour. If you prefer seeing things in 3D, you may also like to make a model, for instance mocking up the shoe design in cardboard or clay.

    Pro tip: It’s possible to get pre-fabricated soles for your shoe designs. This simplifies the process, as then you only need to design the sneaker uppers.

  2. CAD design of your sneaker: Once you have an initial concept, and know what materials you would like the shoes to be constructed from, the design needs to be formalized. This is known as creating a “technical (or tech) map” and a “material map”. Basically these are technical drawings that you can give to a factory that show exactly what your design looks like and what materials they should use, in order that they can create a prototype for you.
  3. Once you have your CAD drawings, you can send these off to a shoe factory to do a once-off shoe prototype for you. As an alternative to this, you can also get your CAD designs 3D printed by a professional, or print them yourself on a home 3d printer. While this will not give you an exact sense of the planned sneaker as they will be rigid, they will help you see the design clearly in 3D, and can save you time and money by helping you pick up on design flaws before your sneaker is sent off to a shoe factory for mass production.

There’s a lot more that goes into making sneakers, but the above steps are all you really need to get started.

The best part is that you don’t even need to be that good at drawing! We have amazing CAD designers who can translate your rough sketches into picture perfect 3D designs to create your shoe sample from.

How do I get a prototype for a sneaker made / where can I go to have a prototype made for a shoe design I’d like to make?

Getting a prototype / mockup of a shoe design is an important part of the process, as it will let you come as close as possible to seeing what the shoe will be like in real life before mass manufacturing. There can be a big difference between imagining the perfect shoe and seeing whether it’s actually going to work in the real world.

If you want to go with 3D printing an initial prototype, then we can help! Here at JCAD — Inc. We do both CAD design and 3D printed prototyping. This means we can cut out any confusion that can sometimes be created by having to work with multiple separate contractors for CAD design and prototyping.

If you want a pullover prototype made (a prototype that is made from the final materials you have planned for the shoes, formed by pulling the materials over a shoe last), then you’ll need to source a specialty shoe manufacturer. They may use lower quality materials (eg. seconds) than the final would be made in, but it will give you a good approximation of what the final shoe will be like.

If you’re serious about designing a shoe to be manufactured and sold around the world, we suggest you consider both types of prototyping at different times in the production process.

How much is a shoe prototype / shoe sample?

The typical cost for a prototype is materials + construction + shipping. Depending on how fancy your sneaker design is, the materials you would like to use and the location of the shoe factory you use, a sample can cost can range greatly.

However, once you have your CAD designs done, to 3d print a prototype will usually be less than a few hundred dollars.

What is good software to use for a beginner shoe designer?

There are lots of good 3D programs out there that you could use if you wanted to take the DIY route, but honestly, we don’t recommend it. CAD drawings can be surprisingly affordable when done by professionals, and there are a LOT of hidden costs (software cost, time to learn, making mistakes that you don’t realize are there because you don’t do this for a living etc.) when you try to do it yourself.

Save yourself a lot of time and headache, and hire a professional instead. This is especially helpful because you can draw on the expertise and years of experience we have here at JCAD, rather than having to work things all out on your own.

Can I create custom shoes with 3D printing?

3D printing has come a long way, and is increasingly being used in the shoe production and prototyping process, but it is still rare to make a full sneaker using 3D printing technologies.

Where 3D printing has often been used in the past is the creation of custom shoes that do not have a need for flexibility. 3D printing has often used when creating shoes that lean more towards being pieces of art for example, that are wearable, but probably not comfortable for an extended period of time due to their rigidity. This is changing though as more and more big shoe brands use innovative 3D printing approaches in their shoe manufacturing processes.

How much does it cost to manufacture a sneaker?

It’s important to think of all your production and sales costs when it comes to starting up a shoe business. Don’t think that because a shoe sells for $100 you’re going to keep all that money. For example, the Sneaker Factory give a good breakdown here of just what it costs to manufacture and sell a sneaker. They estimate that for a shoe that costs $75 at retail price, the brand selling the shoes is likely to only make around $15 after all materials, manufacturing and other sales related costs are taken into consideration.

Do you have a shoe design in mind?

If you have a sneaker idea you’d like to have designed in CAD or prototyped through 3D printing we’d love to hear from you!

Give us a call on 1.888.202.2052 or get in touch through our quote form and let us know what you’re thinking.

To keep your idea protected, we’re more than happy to send you an NDA before we start working together.


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