• Nike is fast-tracking the future of running.
  • The firm has developed its first 3D-printed textile upper in performance footwear.
  • Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint is 11g lighter than the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% with a more breathable upper that boasts almost zero water retention.
A close-up of the Nike Flyprint process

A close-up of the Nike Flyprint process

US sporting goods giant Nike has developed what it claims is the first 3D-printed textile upper in performance footwear.

The footwear design team at Nike has been using 3D printing as a tool to help visualise and create rapid prototypes, but the company has now produced its first final product in the form of the new Nike Flyprint uppers used in the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint created for marathon runner Eluid Kipchoge.

At its most basic level, Nike Flyprint uppers are produced through solid deposit modelling (SDM); a process whereby a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) filament is unwound from a coil, melted and laid down in layers. According to Nike this allows designers to translate athlete data into new textile geometries. 

The process to develop the Flyprint uppers begins by capturing athlete data, from which the ideal composition of the material is calculated. Through performance printing, Nike says prototyping is 16-times quicker than in any previous manufacturing method.

The firm adds that a benefit of 3D textiles over traditional 2D fabrics is the increased dynamism made possible by adding an interconnection beyond a warp and weft; an advantage of Flyprint textiles comes in the fused nature of the material.

For example, whereas in a knit or woven textile there is frictional resistance between the interlaced (warp and weft) yarns, in a printed textile, due to its fused intersections, there is greater potential for precision-tuned containment. It is also lighter and more breathable than the company's previously employed textiles.

In terms of design pace, specific lines of the material can be adjusted locally while preserving the global construction; and rapid iteration means testing and revision cycle times are trimmed significantly. 

The textile also works seamlessly with many other materials – such as Flyknit yarns – to provide an optimal balance of fit and structure. The Flyknit yarns can even be engineered to thermally bond with the Flyprint textile, eliminating any need for glue or stitching.

The Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint will make its debut at the London Marathon this weekend where they will be worn by Kipchoge.