Jenna Witzleben

Pointe, Printed

Pointe, Printed

How can we use 3D Printing and Scanning to improve ballet shoe design?


Cornell Creative Machines Lab


3D Scanning and Printing, 3D Modeling, Materials Study, Product Design, User Testing

In this project I revisited the design of ballet pointe shoes via 3D printing and scanning technologies. Ballet shoe design has remained virtually unchanged for centuries. But we now have technology that allows us to address the customization and fit issues that cause toe deformation and injury.

The project began with a study to control the flexibility of the entire shoe by 3D printing a ballet "sandal" with cellular structural patterning. With the current state of 3D printed materials, such a shoe is subject to fracture and will not withstand the fatigue of ballet dancing. Thus a more successful route proved to be 3D printing customized inserts that fill the space underneath the toes inside a traditional shoe, exactly to the dancer's dimensions.


Two methods were tested in developing the inserts, the "clay mold" method and the "digital subtraction" method. The first method entailed creating a clay mold of the space between the feet and the point shoe, scanning the mold with a CT scanner, and then converting the scan into a STL file for printing. Final inserts were printed in a combination of hard and soft plastics.

For the digital subtraction method, the original plan was to obtain scans of the point shoe and foot separately and subtract the two volumes digitally to obtain the insert. However, uncompressed, the foot extends past the walls of the shoe, and such a subtraction could not be obtained. Instead, a new pointe shoe box could be designed around the foot scan, but this route was not further explored as the goal of this project was a more readily implementable solution, such as the results of the clay mold method.

A custom pair of inserts using the clay mold method were also created for ballet dancer, Alexandra Lindsey. Ms. Lindsey found them to be "surprisingly comfortable" and believed they would be very successful at removing discomfort if they could be iterated one time after the initial fitting, making a few minor adjustments to the digital file and reprinting.