Any time we come across a new product that’s got the phrase “3D printed” in the title, it’s hard not to be a bit leery. Don’t get us wrong; additive manufacturing is definitely a revolutionary technology, and it’s getting better with each passing year — but there are still certain things that just aren’t meant to be made out of plastic.
Take 3D-printed shoes, for example. They’re cool, no doubt, but arguably nowhere near as durable or comfortable as a nice pair of leather kicks. At least so far, 3D-printed products are more often than not about hype than they are about practicality.
But eyewear is different. Glasses frames are generally made out of plastic as it is, so 3D-printed spectacles actually make sense — especially if they’re bespoke. Custom frames are often too expensive for the average Joe, so most people tend to stick with the mass-produced, standard-size frames that may or may not fit their faces properly.
Thankfully, Amsterdam-based startup Boulton Eyewear has cooked up a solution. These guys know that our heads, noses, ears, and personal style preferences are unique, and they’ve developed a manufacturing process that takes all that into account. The company uses a combination of facial scanning software and advanced 3D printing technology to make custom-tailored eyewear that’s both cheap and durable.
The process basically goes like this: Instead of dropping by an eyewear boutique, you start by simply snapping a few pictures of your face and uploading them to the company’s website. From this series of photos, Boulton is able to extract hundreds of data points, and create a detailed digital replica of your mug. Advanced algorithms will then generate a set of frames that are perfectly designed to accommodate your unique nose bridge, eye width, and overall facial structure. Check out the video to get a better idea of how it works:
Once the design is finalized, it’s sent to a 3D printer for manufacture. But these guys don’t use just any old 3D printer — Boulton prints frames using industrial grade DLP-SLA printers, which are capable of producing incredibly high-resolution, high-durability parts. The company even hand-finishes each set of frames, and you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart from a set of shades manufactured through traditional means.
“For us 3D printing is the obvious choice,” Boulton Eyewear co-founder Merijn Horck told us in an email. “The technique gives us a lot of freedom designer-wise. But it also lowers the costs to manufacture just about anything because of reducing product development cycles. It hugely increases our time to market without us having to spend lots of money on equipment and inventory.” And Horck’s praise for the new technique didn’t stop there. He added that, “3D printing – in many cases combined with other techniques (in our case the digital tailoring process) – makes the whole production process much more efficient while still totally offering us the possibility to manufacture to any specification, any individual wish or demand.”
To get the shades off the ground, Boulton has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, where the firm hopes to raise just over $39K. Back the project now during the early stages, and you can get your hands on a set of customized frames for a pledge of about $263 — a fraction of the typical bespoke price tag. And if you’d rather print them off yourself, you can get your hands on a printable file for just $95.
If all goes as planned, the creators expect to begin shipping sometime around October of this year.