Jon Seeks a Service

By on September 15th, 2009 in blog


Fabbaloo reader Jon writes:

I have a pair of orthotic shoe inserts that are maybe a foot long and 4 inches wide. They are made out of a hard plastic. Do you think they can be scanned and “printed” in a softer, more rubbery plastic? … I switched health insurance companies and my new provider doesn’t cover orthotics. Podiatrist says it costs $550!

Our immediate thoughts were:

  • You’d need access to a 3D scanner, 3D modeling software and 3D printer. For a one-time consumer like Jon, a service would be a far better option than purchasing
  • The printer must have a fairly large build chamber, due to the size of the object and because it should be in one piece rather than assembled from multiple pieces
  • The 3D printer must be able to print a “soft rubbery material”
  • The print resolution would not have to be terribly precise, because the object is going to be hidden in Jon’s shoe. It just has to be smoothish
  • The “soft material” would have to be fairly robust, as it’s going to be trodden upon by Jon every day

Now what? We issue a challenge to Fabbaloo readers: what is the best combination of services (scan, tweak and print) that can do the job for Jon? Is this possible to do at all (we’re wondering most about the rubbery material)? Or is it possible but not for less than US$550?

Please post your answer in the comments.

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!


  1. I agree with Bradley. There is no need to spend $500 replicating a physical object that Jon Kalish already possesses.

    This isn't a titanium hip-joint or a custom dental implant.

    1920's technology will do just fine.

    Life-casting kits start at around $20. Soft silicone mold-making kits start around $50.

    If he has kids, he might consider turning it into a weekend craft-project.


  2. Actually one trick would be to get the rough specification (a 3d scan wouldn't really be needed) then print some basic molds. Someone with a makerbot could print off the mold in two parts (the outside edge would have a screw to attach two parts of each side. Then fill it with medical grade silicon which is a few dozen dollars a kilo, but you could make dozens with a kilo of the stuff.

  3. Why not make molds (say, from a few blocks of wood or hard foam in a CNC mill), and cast it with supplies from TAP plastics?

    I'll bet that would be cheaper than a 3D Print. Plus, one would then have molds to make more.

    I own a roland CNC machine, and it's great for this kinda stuff.
    (it also has a scanner tip)

  4. Clearly, agreeing with previous post: molding materials and silicon rubber + hardener are sold in every hobby store, this would be a simple and relatively inexpensive option. For $550 you'll have enough to train on the process, try a few times to get the right softness, and make replacements if it wears on the long run (yes, pun intended).

    Good luck Jon !

  5. Completely possible, but not for less than $550.

    First of all you need to scan them. I'm going to assume there will need to be TWO scans one for the left and one for the right insert. That is going to be several hundred dollars at a non pro shop (probably someone with a Next Engine)

    I just sent out a quote for watch straps run on Polyjet. $120 for one set, $400 for four sets…

    Since this is a simple thing. I'd suggest doing a soft mold.

    Go buy some Oomoo and silicone rubber resin and mold your own.

  6. The Objet device can print soft stuff, it's really amazing.

    You can mix 2 materials, and one can be hard and one soft, so you can create any hardness you want between them by blending the two together. You can even make a hard object with a soft-touch surface by making a thin layer of the soft stuff. You can make hinges too.

    Check out“ rel=”nofollow”>

    There are a bunch of 3D printing services, including Shapeways, that have the Objet printer. I would imagine you could print these for far less than $550.

    The larger issue is whether you are legally in the clear coping objects like this. Can one copyright physical objects? Is it a copyright infringement to copy an object like this?

    I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, just my opinion and possibly incorrect knowledge.

    I know you can patent mechanisms, but I also know you can make your own copies for personal use (not sale). I think someone could patent the idea of an orthotic, but not your exact design. You could certainly get a design patent, but again, I don't think that prohibits personal copies. Unlike copyright, though, patents have to be applied for and are expensive, so individual custom items like this would not be feasible to patent.

    On the other hand, copyright (which is free to obtain) does not allow personal copies of "works" — but this usually means stuff like books and movies. Does sculpture count? Do custom, measured orthodics count?

    Now, if you scanned the bottom of your foot instead of the existing orthodics, you'd be clear, in any case, because you own that. How were your original orthotics measured? Do you walk through some clay and then they scan that? You could do the same thing. You'll need calibrated clay though (just the right consistency) to get the right amount of foot deformation. Fortunately, you can compare measurements to the orthotics you already have, unless they came with a license that prohibits reverse engineering.

    Wow, you 3D scanning and printing folks like pushing the envelope, don't you?

    Me, I would just scan the ones I have and print them out. Either nothing will happen or I'll be involved in a groundbreaking, precedent setting legal case. Either way, a win.

    Do you remember the days before everyone had nice color printers and when you brought something into Kinko's they'd not make a copy if they thought it was copyrighted? I hear that high-end copiers have code that detects money and won't copy it. Maybe someday 3D scanners and printers will be like that — when you scan something they'll compare against a database of prohibited objects and refuse to create the output file. I sure hope not.


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