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See the 2024 3D printed eyewear collections on display at MIDO

The mass market remains far but on-demand production, mass customization and unique designs are well within reach

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Every year, some of the leading eyewear manufacturers that use 3D printing, along with some of the most innovative eyewear startups start their new season in Milan, at the MIDO 2024 Eyewear show, presenting the latest models. VoxelMatters was there to bring you the latest.

Setting the stage a the MIDO Eyewear show

Milan’s international eyewear trade show, which occupied 7 pavilions of the exhibition area and counted more than 1,200 exhibitors, recorded around 40 thousand visitors in the 3 days of the show, marking a +11% increase compared to last year. The increase was distributed equally between Italians and foreigners, with visitors arriving from 160 countries around the world, including Asia, the US and all of Europe.

See the 2024 3D printed eyewear collections on display at MIDO as on-demand production and mass customization are within reach
3D printed eyewear by ROLF won the CSE Award. In the photo above, a pair of metal 3D printed eyewear frames from Hoet, also highlighted by MIDO organizers.

MIDO serves as a hub for global industry players, facilitating crucial business deals and networking opportunities. Beyond commerce, the show fosters cultural exchange and dialogue about the sector’s future. Notably, the CSE program promotes sustainable eyewear, while the Empowering Optical Women Leadership Program emphasizes inclusivity. Additionally, discussions on medical topics like myopia and presbyopia highlight industry advancements. In addition, the MIDO AWARDS recognize outstanding contributions to the eyewear field, reinforcing a dedication to excellence. Here we started to see some 3D printing, with Austrian company ROLF receiving one of the CSE AWARD – Certified Sustainable Eyewear, assigned by an international jury to those products that best leverage recycling materials, reduce consumption in the production and distribution processes, enhance the supply chain, eliminate waste, and use renewable energy sources.

Making the eyewear

First things first, a look at the printers. For the first time, but we expect this will increase in the future, two companies were at the show presenting 3D printers that can be used to make eyewear products. One was Sisma, an Italian manufacturer of laser hardware for the jewelry industry and producer of the laser powder bed fusion MySint 3D printers. As an Italian company Sisma participated in previous editions of the show as well.

See the 2024 3D printed eyewear collections on display at MIDO as on-demand production and mass customization are within reach

The MySint 100, which has a cylindrical printing volume of 10 cm in diameter by 10 cm in height, is ideal for producing single designer frames (and prototypes). These are very high-end, jewelry-like products but the possibilities of direct metal printing are endless. To demonstrate them, Sisma presented a pair of titanium frames that are empty inside. This makes them so light that they float in water (first picture on the left in the gallery above).

Another company was GENERA, an Austrian manufacturer of high-speed, highly automated DLP 3D printers (which received investment from Stratasys). GENERA worked with material company Henkel to develop the “Mission Eyewear” LOCTITE material specifically for the serial production of eyewear frames. This material has similar mechanical properties to acetate and it can be used with the GENERA G2 F2 industrial system to produce multiple eyewear frames in one run or with the G1 F1 desktop system for in-shop eyewear production.

In addition, since the GENERA systems offer a repeatable highly automated workflow with printing washing and post-curing, the frames come out almost “pret-a-porter”.

But before we get into how frames can be additively manufactured (SLS by EOS and other smaller companies or MJF by HP are also valid options, although the companies were not present at the show), let’s take a look at the tools that can be used to create frames that can fully exploit AM’s capabilities for customization.

The most advanced option available today, as seen at the MIDO 2024 Eywear show, comes from AM service provider Materialise. By integrating Materialise’s Eyewear Fitting Suite into their offering, eyewear shops can now deliver a new dimension of personalized service. The in-store platform scans the customer’s face and creates an anatomically exact 3D model. We got to test the app at the booth that Materialise shared with Arkema (which supplies the biosourced PA11 materials for the 3D printed frames).

After you get your head 3D scanned in just a few seconds, you just select a frame design from the digital catalog and can see on the screen how they, fit from all directions. You can select the exact size and order the model you want, to be produced on-demand. It was an ultra-smooth, very much market-ready experience that should soon scale globally.

Exploring new possibilities

Now that we got the mass production possibilities out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the more artistic and stylish design opportunities that 3D printing creates. While the largest majority of the eyewear market – we are talking about hundreds of millions of pairs produced yearly – is still firmly in the hands of Luxottica and a few other smaller companies dominating the market, what 3D printing does is offer designers a way to reach niche users who are looking for ways to stand out. Today it is possible to buy unique, artistic eyewear designs at prices that rival high-end and even mid-level mass-produced frames.

See the 2024 3D printed eyewear collections on display at MIDO as on-demand production and mass customization are within reach
3D printed sunglasses from Parasite Design

Most of these unique frame designs were displayed at the MIDO 2024 Eyewear show in the large Start-up and Academy areas. With its truly unique style, Parisite Design is one of these companies. The brand was created in 2002 by Designer Hugo Martin who wanted to start a revolution in eyewear. From sunglasses (2003), RX frames (2004), designer’s brand Noego (2006), and Mono models (2008), to Astero ski goggles (2010), Parasite made its products evolve from conceptual design to mass market products. Today the brand is present globally with both 3D printed and non-3D printed designs. However, the 3D printed ones keep on pushing boundaries.

 

Another eyewear design studio that has been pushing the limits of eyewear design for years is Hoet. Bieke Hoet was the first to introduce commercial 3D printed eyewear frames and is to this day the only one that offers metal 3D printed designs. These titanium frames are extremely light and present shapes that cannot be created in any other way. The business continued to grow however its scale is still limited by cost. In her search for alternative AM production methods, Bieke also went as far as considering metal binder jetting (she revealed that the first example of metal binder jetted frames was presented at MIDO by a Chinese company) but the technology seems to be still a bit too immature for truly high-end products.

Participating for the first time, Rolf, which won one of MIDO’s 2024 CSE Awards, is an eyewear brand that leverages bio-sourced materials to create innovative, unconventional, and emotional eyewear frames. Rolf eyewear is designed, developed and handcrafted in Weißenbach, Austria, and shipped to selected opticians in more than 50 countries around the world. Not all of its frames are 3D printed. The selection includes wooden glasses, stone glasses, “bean” glasses (these are the 3D printed ones, made using PA11 castor bean and SLS technology), making them sustainable by nature.

See the 2024 3D printed eyewear collections on display at MIDO as on-demand production and mass customization are within reach

V & M L’Atelier, on the other hand, targets and specifically promotes its 3D printing capabilities, describing its products as “3D Haute-Couture Glasses”. But it wasn’t always so. The studio was created by Vanessa & Mehdi (V & M) back in 2003 and had the opportunity to collaborate with designers such as Alain Mikli, Philippe Starck and Jean-Paul Gaultier, to present their first optical collection which received 2 Silmo d’Or in 2007.

Today V & M L’Atelier differentiates itself even more than for simple 3D printing by incorporating a unique and patented insert system: the LINOTEC insert holder. This method offers the possibility of optimally tailored morphological adaptation and superior nasal comfort.

See the 2024 3D printed eyewear collections on display at MIDO as on-demand production and mass customization are within reach

Based in Luxemburg and working with Materialise as an AM production partner, IMPRESSIO pushes the technical limits and questions volumes through its collections. The brand founded by Emmanuel Andrivet and Guillaume Boisson revisits volumes and codes thanks to a 3D printing technology in an effort to “clear the pre-established”. In its designs, curves and reliefs reflect both naturalistic and art nouveau inspirations and modern architecture: eyewear becomes a playground that combines new technologies and timeless know-how.

These designs are often realized using mathematical algorithms, representing a Flowery Vortex type profile that wraps around the lens, forming an almost flowery infinity sign. Through their movement, these models represent the complexity of the infinitely simple. The face is made of polyamide polished and tinted to give a smooth, close-to-leather look.

One company that combines larger batch production capabilities and unique designs is Tech Print Industries (TPI). The Dutch-based company told us last year that they are using modified HP MJF full-color technology for their products. This technology has since been discontinued (or put on hold) by HP however TPI conitnues to grow. The booth this year was much larger than in previous years, with many more models including special designer products from Josep Munoz Villar and Riccardo Cervo.

TPI’s advanced 3D printing technology offers designers flexibility, speed, and sustainability. With full-color printing capabilities, new eyewear models can come to life in vibrant hues and intricate textures, enabling designers to stay ahead of rapidly changing trends. TPI’s ‘design on demand’ approach allows for rapid production, eliminating excess inventory and waste while ensuring timely adaptation to market demands.

By bypassing traditional manufacturing tools and minimum order quantities, TPI reduces environmental impact, making sustainable eyewear collections a reality. Their proprietary software enables the creation of intricate designs with high precision, whether for a single custom piece or multiple styles in a single print run. By leveraging 3D printing in a competitive market, TPI offers limitless design possibilities and unmatched speed of production.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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