Do shoe designer use CAD?

not really. a pullover is a first prototype sample that is made of the correct materials, but not the correct colors, to check the pattern. it is called a pullover because it is lasted (pulled over the last).

check this, and you’ll understand better.


If I’m making in Europe them we make maquettes for outsoles and we work with a heelmaker to make a prototype heel from wood before makng a mould. The heelmaker can work from a basic sketch, the maquette maker can work from a basic technical drawing.

The maquette makers produce models for all kind of objects, my best maquette maker even makes models for this company

  • they give him a polaroid of a real house and her makes the model for the porcelain moulds!

But he also worked solidly for Clarks for several years, you really have to work with a maquette maker who completely understands footwear and how to model a maqutte to fit the last that you give him and how to pitch it, otherwise you could end up giving your customers injuries!

The we come onto lasts… I often not only have to spec the soles, I have to design and spec the last. This means a trip to the lastmaker, a long discussion and a good look in the last library to find anything similar. I usually borrow a few lasts and make a spec which is a combination of a few different lasts, which the last maker will use for reference when making my last. Fashion toe shapes can really affect the fit, so the finished last goes to the technologist for fitting and invariably will end up being adjusted again so it fits true to size.

Fitting is absolutely key in footwear - that’s why we are so desperate to get the prototype - sometimes it’s just not gonna work once it’s on a foot!

If I’m working in China or India, I develop the last or heel in the UK - they are great at copying lasts and heels but not at developing from scratch. I generally don’t do maquettes in China, I provide a tech spec, they send me a blueprint, I check that and make any adjustments then we just got straight to metal.

Thanks for the link R, your site is very informative.

The process involved in the development of shoes really fascinates me. My mom was a clothing designer and pattern maker growing up and I would earn money after school sewing prototypes for her.

It seems that the process is very hands on compared to working in the built environment.

I think it was Bata who mechanised the footwear industry into a production line in the early 20th century. Before that a shoe was made soley by one person from start to finish.

I haven’t really seen any change in working practise and only a little change in technology in 17 years in the trade.

No one has yet figured out how to make a machine that cuts patterns better than a human, some masking tape and a last! Nor have they found a way of stitching mocassins apart from by hand. Shoemaking to me is quite emotional and personal to whoever is doing it.

I remember as a student, having difficulty springing a pattern for a boot upper (springing is the art of cutting a pattern so that you don’t get any creases around the front ankle/upper foot area, when making an upper for a high heeled boot or high vamp shoe).

I asked five people and I got five different answers. So I decided to figure out my own way to do it!

Shoenista is totally right.

I worked 7years as a pattern maker before jumped into design.

I remember fitting lasts from italian designers,with 3/4’s illustrations.
It´s really difficult to make the patterns as the drawnigs from perspectives.

If you want to go fast,designs should be in 2D with real dimensions of lasts,just for cutting the pieces on the design and sticks out onto the last for fitting,that´s the easy way for everybody,reducing execution time in design and pattern makers.

really good stuff here. I’ve been following for sometime now. I see some exceptions mentioned like the sole of the shoe for tooling complex shapes. And to boot, (pun intended) I recently modeled a ski boot using parametric surfaces in Pro/E… The intention is/was to wrap carbon fiber around the tooling. Next there will be different sizes where we will use Non proportional scale in Pro/E (another modeling technique I teach)

I’m not disagreeing with my comments, I’m just trying to add to the conversation…

In the past we have seen some sinuous shaped plastic self skinning polypro sandals modeled in Maya. It really blew our maya instructors head. We also had some shoe designers come from London who learned Alias Studio. We got them to model the basic form of the shoe, they could refit or make a significant iteration in under an hour complete with hi-rez render. one shoe in four hrs and a new iteration each hour. Thats five in a day. Then in day two the users could conceivably pump out eight new shoes with basically the same form in a day.

Some years back Design-engine experimented some in maya unfolding an image map for flat patterns using Photoshop. We used this technique with deeplabs to create bags for home depot where the chines using the render can get closer on the first try and avoid all that back and forth photoshop communication that can be so annoying. Talk about time. I’ve seen where the Chinese shop blow 3 weeks or more going back and forth. Or worse when the buyers don’t have the integrity such as the designer and the factory will give back some crap that actually makes it to the shelf without getting passed thru the designer. A render (plus illustrator control drawing) communicates much and can save on that back and forth.

I don’t think it would take much to modify a future release of Maya or any other software program for unfolding surfaces appropriately. The trick would be a good relationship with the software manufacturer and educating the software vendor some on how you want usability to function…

its not that “unfolding” 3d designs cant be done in CAD, but there is more than just the layout of the flat materials to take into account, which is where the skill of a pattern maker comes into play. different materials will stretch different ways in lasting (ie. leather, or mesh with a directional weave, or synthetics, plus the lasting type and materials all behave differently (even different types of leather ie. cow, kangaroo, goat, different thicknesses, skins, etc.). im sure its not impossible to somehow program into a CAD app, but given that you can have a skilled pattern maker create a pattern from scratch with only a 2d drawing in less than an hour at minimal cost in asia, i don;t see it happening any time soon…


a look at these yield using rhinoceros 3d

If your a footwear designer and can’t look at a Blueprint and see an accurate 3D model in your head… you need to get a new job.

No one has yet figured out how to make a machine that cuts patterns better than a human, some masking tape and a last!

Are you talking prototype or production? I have some serious disagreements if its the latter and I’ve only been in one shoe factory. Ironically enough, it was a BATA shoe factory in Colombia.

While I’m at it…

I’ve seen the entire system in action and wished (out loud) that I could afford a CNC fabric cutter. These machines cut materials that make leather look like silk (Kevlar & Nomex). The design is translated from 3D to 2D plottings; graded and customizable on the fly.

I think the original quote is about pattern making/cutting. Not material cutting. Two different things. For cutting, yes, machines are used with cutting dies.


Ahh… makes sense.