Geek Chic: Design-it-yourself shoes

Online service Zazzle basically prints on anything. Want a one-off t-shirt or mug? They got it. It’s somewhat like Ponoko or Shapeways, you either generate your own design or choose from one of theirs, and then add-to-cart and the item is manufactured and gets mailed to you. Which is not necessarily all that interesting — countless services will provide that service.

Enter the printable, customizable shoe.

Zazzle offers design-your-own Keds, hi-tops, lo-tops or slip-ons with prices ranging from $50-65. Recently I had the opportunity to try out the process. The lo-tops I created (above) featured four printable surfaces (inside, outside, tongue, heel) each able to accommodate multiple graphics files, text, and background colors. You have your choice of eyelet, lace, rubber, stitching and lining color.

For my design I created the art in Photoshop, sizing the image to be about 100% of a size-11 shoe at 300dpi. I ended up creating three variants of my artwork, one for the outside, one for the inside, and the third for the tongue and heel. At one point I accidentally loaded two overlapping images onto the side, which confused me for a bit. However, I appreciated the flexibility — I may want to have several items overlapping.

The interface for loading your files and selecting options is uber intuitive, and if your browser crashes or you stop working on it, your design is waiting for you when you log back in. You could literally build your unique shoe in ten minutes and order a pair. (It takes a couple of weeks to manufacture and ship, so I haven’t got mine yet.)

My only negative impression of the process is that the shoes are printed and assembled in Asia. As someone trying to consume fewer overseas-manufactured products, I’d have preferred for the shoes to have been created in the US.

What do you think, readers? Is this product worthy of makers’ creativity? Does the freedom to design your own shoe outweigh any negative social and environmental effects of having it fedexed over from who-knows-where? Share your thoughts in comments.


My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal

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