How 3D customization is changing the game for pro and everyday athletes

When it comes to peak performance, mass production can’t compete with 3D printing’s precision, customization, and comfort.

By Jackie Snow — February 22, 2023

When gearing up for the Olympics in 2016, Italian rower Sara Bertolasi struggled with what could have been a career-ending injury. She had developed intense pain and inflammation in her pelvis from the many hours she spent training. 

But a fairly new innovation kept her from considering retirement: a custom-made seat, made by Italy’s Elmec 3D, using HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology. The seat enabled a custom fit for her bone structure and accounted for the different phases of her rowing stroke. It made a huge difference in her ability to keep training with less pain, she told the Sports Business Journal.

An athlete’s most important piece of equipment is, of course, their finely conditioned body. Second to that is the gear that they use. Comfort and a custom fit can shave off time to reach a new world record or just a personal best. And for professionals and everyday athletes alike, the right equipment can mean less risk of getting hurt and more fun.

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3D-printed sports gear gives athletes the precision and personalization they need to perform their best and even prevent injuries in some cases. For manufacturers, 3D printing offers the ability to create new designs quickly, more sustainably and on-demand, reducing costs.

“The benefits of 3D printing are the speed and agility around product development and the freedom in the design process,” says Didier Deltort, president and global head of personalization and 3D printing at HP. "It offers many possibilities around personalization and new ideas."

From goggles to golf putters, here are a few examples of how HP’s 3D printing tech is transforming athletes’ experience, improving safety, and speeding up innovation in creating better-fitting, better-performing gear.

A snowboarder holding a board equipped with 3D-printed  bindings from the Union Binding Company, left. The snowboarder loading his personalized snowboard onto a vehicle, right.

The Union Binding Company

The Union Binding Company uses HP Multi Jet Fusion technology to develop reliable prototypes for same-day terrain testing.

Terrain-tested snowboard bindings

Snowboard bindings — the piece that links the rider’s boots to the snowboard — are critical for both control and comfort. To get the best fit possible for every type of rider, Union Binding Company equipped its in-house 3D Advanced Prototype Lab with an HP Multi Jet Fusion printer that lets them test bindings for all types of riding, ability levels, and price points. The company can print a prototype in three hours, and with headquarters in the Italian Alps, snowboarders can take quick trips up to the mountains to test it the same day.

“It's amazing to be able to test so many new parts, so quickly," says Gigi Ruf, a professional snowboarder who has tested bindings for the company.

All Union snowboard bindings are developed, produced, and shipped from their headquarters, which keeps costs down for consumers. Union estimates it saves up to 50% of the costs associated with prototype binding molds and modifications, and can complete projects in 12 months, down from the 20 months it took with traditional manufacturing.

A rock climber tying 3D printed ATHOS climbing shoes, left.  A  rock climber scaling the walls wearing  ATHOS' climbing shoes, left.


The world's first customized, 3D-printed shoes from ATHOS made with HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology.

More comfortable climbing shoes

Rock climbers often have to balance on precarious edges less than an inch wide. To feel as stable as possible, climbers will buy shoes that are two, three, or even four sizes smaller than their usual. That tight fit provides a better grip, but can be painful and lead to foot injuries. 3D printing offers a step in a more comfortable direction. Barcelona-based startup ATHOS created the world’s first customized, 3D-printed shoes to provide the perfect fit and allow for nimble moves with less stress on the feet. Climbers start by getting a scan at one of ATHOS' partner sites around Barcelona and answering a questionnaire to select custom details such as color and pattern. The company is looking to expand its reach beyond Spain and is testing an app to enable climbers to scan their feet from anywhere.

With the HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer, ATHOS uses up to 70% less material than traditional manufacturing processes. ATHOS's shoes also rely on fully recyclable materials — thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) for the casing, polyester for the laces, and Vibram rubber for the soles. The TPU won’t rub skin raw and doesn’t stretch, keeping the shoes comfortable and agile climb after climb.

“3D printing offers customization at all levels — per sport, per athlete, and even per injury if needed.”

— Didier Deltort, Global Head of Personalization and 3D printing, HP Inc.

Better-fitting bike seats

Most cyclists experience discomfort sitting in their saddle for long stretches, and finding the right seat can be a process. Czech startup Posedla offers an alternative to off-the-shelf gear with the Joyseat, a 3D-printed, fully customizable saddle tailored to each rider's anatomy. The company just became the official supplier of this year's L'Etape Czech Republic, a bike race created by the organizers of the Tour de France.

Posedla asks cyclists a few questions about how much riding they do, their riding style, and how flexible they are. Then, the company sends a kit to their home that measures the rider's sit bone width and how they distribute their weight distribution. Posedla uses an algorithm model to create a personalized saddle shape with full carbon rails, a lightweight carbon shell over custom padding that is appropriate for on or off-road riding. With this process, the company shrunk production time from 10 weeks to three.

A cyclist using Posedla’s customizable Joyseat, left. A row of 3D-printed saddles being hung up on a rack, right.


Posedla’s Joyseat, the world’s first fully customized 3D-printed saddle, accommodates to cyclists’ individual needs and sit bones.

Shock-absorbing hiking backpacks

Carrying even a light backpack for miles can be tough on a hiker's body if the proper support isn't built in. German company OECHSLER uses 3D printing to create a shock-absorbing mesh material for a hiking backpack's back pads and hip fins, the sections of the bag that wrap around the body's midsection.

OECHSLER swapped out conventional foam-based back pads with 3D-printed options, making the pieces lighter while creating a more ergonomic fit. The open-cell structure of the 3D printing also helps ventilation, reducing the relative humidity and heat on the back. An added bonus — OECHSLER’s method uses TPU and an elastomeric material, both of which are 100% recyclable, something every outdoors-enthusiast can appreciate.

The OECHSLER Backpack, featuring 3D printed lumbar pad, hip fins and shoulder pads, left. A closeup of the backpack's printed shoulder pad with cushioning, top right. Hip Fins with different hardening zones and rigid elements, bottom right.


The OECHSLER Backpack, featuring 3D printed lumbar pad, hip fins and shoulder pads, received the Red Dot Award Winner in 2022, left. The backpack’s printed shoulder pad with cushioning function and improved ventilation., top right. Hip Fins with different hardening zones and rigid elements to improve stability and comfort, bottom right.

Perfecting the putt

The putter is the most-used club in a golfer’s bag and gets the ball in the hole when it matters the most. California-based Cobra Golf turned to 3D printing for quicker prototyping, testing, and creating new putters precisely weighted for stability and consistency. 

One Cobra putter, ​​the Grandsport-35, relies on a nylon lattice structure amid sections that use steel, aluminum, and tungsten. When hitting the ball, the lattice section helps reduce noise and vibration. The design also saves weight from the center of the head, redistributing it to improve the club’s forgiveness and stability.

A golfer using the Grandsport-35 putter from Cobra Golf, left. A close-up of the Grandsport-35 and its nylon lattice structure, right..

Cobra Golf

HP Metal Jet 3D printing enables the production of personalized products at scale, such as Cobra’s 3D putter, which is ushering in a new era for the golf and sporting equipment industries at large.

Injury-predicting smart insoles from Podoactiva.


Injury-predicting smart insoles from Podoactiva.

Smart insoles to predict and prevent injury

Changes in a person’s walking patterns could reveal serious physical, physiological, and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis. Spanish company Podoactiva developed 3D-printed smart insoles that can track these changes, allowing doctors to spot symptoms earlier, correct foot positions, and predict potential injuries.

Podoactiva creates custom smart soles for each user based on the unique shape of their feet, equipped with sensors and electronics to measure 500 data points per second in real time. The smart insoles can help anyone from athletes to neurological patients, patients in physical therapy, senior citizens, and employees who walk a lot on the job. Eventually, anonymized data contributed by users could be used to further science and understanding of how to prevent injury.

Goggles to fit all faces

An ill-fitting pair of goggles can fog up and leave skiers busy cleaning their eyewear instead of bombing the slopes. Named one of Time’s “Best Inventions of 2022,” 3D-printed snow goggles from Oregon-based eyewear company Smith offer skiers a clearer view by eliminating light leaks, air gaps, and hot spots.

Custom shaped snow goggles from Smith.


Custom shaped snow goggles from Smith.

The custom shape keeps the goggles comfortable for even the longest sessions, and skiers with Smith snow helmets can integrate the two for a seamless combo. To get a pair, snow sports enthusiasts scan their face using Smith’s smartphone app, choose lens and strap colors for an even more personalized look, and then their custom-fit goggles are shipped within 14 business days.

For every athlete, from pro to casual, getting custom pieces with a better fit, form, and function can mean not only improving performance, but also enhancing safety and enjoyment from their chosen sport.

“Athletes require gear that can adapt to their particular needs,” says HP’s Deltort. “3D printing offers customization at all levels — per sport, per athlete, and even per injury if needed. The opportunities are endless.”


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