Adidas and Carbon say the process lets them create more complex geometric structures than other 3D-printing methods, allowing for better performance, since the midsoles can be designed to cushion and respond differently to specific areas of the foot. It’s faster, too—between 25 and 100 times faster than traditional 3D printers, according to Carbon CEO and cofounder Joseph DeSimone.

The final product has a smooth surface and looks like one piece, rather than the rough, layered look produced by other printers. It’s an important detail when you’re selling consumer products that double as fashion.

Close up of the midsole on the Futurecraft 4D
Adidas says Carbon’s 3D-printing method is faster—and looks better—than the competition’s.
Image: Adidas.

(Full disclosure: Adidas provided me and the other attendees of its April 6 unveiling event in New York with sample pairs to test. The sneaker is comfortable, though I haven’t noticed a significant difference in feel from some of the technologies already on the market. But I haven’t been able to run in it or do much more than walk a few steps in my apartment.)

Adidas has been experimenting with 3D printing for a few years now, but for Manz, the Futurecraft 4D marks a personal milestone. “I’m an engineer,” he says. “My thesis I wrote in ’97 about additive-manufacturing technologies. I’ve been driving so hard to get to the point to make this commercially, and that’s what we’re now achieving, 20 years later.”

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