3D-printed eyewear is coming on strong, with a number of frame manufacturers offering both off-the-shelf and bespoke options.
At first used to fast track the production of prototypes of new frame styles, 3D printing has quickly graduated to producing finished eyewear, both ready-to-wear and customized. Within the few short years that the technology has been available, there are already a number of frame manufacturers offering finished product through optical shops throughout the country. Many of these frame manufacturers are profiled in this special VCPN section on 3D-Printed Eyewear.
“It’s where the eyewear market meets the tech sector,” optician Perry Brill of Brill Eye Center in Mission, KS, told VCPN. An early adopter, he offers 3D-printed frames from Monoqool, Götti and Roger Bacon.
Overall, 3D-printed eyewear can be organized into two general groups — ready-to-wear and customized. Ready-to-wear 3D-printed frames exhibit the features and benefits that come along with this manufacturing process. They are sustainably manufactured, lightweight yet durable, but they are sold off optical dispensary boards just like traditional frames.
Customized 3D-printed frames take full advantage of the technology by being individually printed based on the unique measurements of the specific patient for whom they are being manufactured. After the patient’s measurements are determined by an optician using a tablet to take a 360-degree image of the patient’s head, they are then sent to the 3D printer to create a truly bespoke, one-of-a-kind frame that should fit with digitized precision.
BENEFITS OF 3D PRINTING
Both ready-to-wear and customized 3D-printed frames share similar benefits, while the custom-fit versions offer some additional ones. Because the printing process is additive, meaning that the frame is built up by subsequent layering of the material of which it is composed, there is little waste, making the overall process more sustainable than typical frame manufacturing. (See “The 3D Printing Process,” page 37.)
Because each frame is individually printed, on-demand production is another benefit when compared with traditional frame manufacturing, which enables both the manufacturer as well as the optical shop to greatly reduce its inventory. Also, the materials used in the 3D-printing process result in extremely lightweight frames.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing for our industry to offer unusual color and texture with lightweight durability,” said optician Daren Gray, ABO, who offers icBerlin and Blac+ 3D-printed frames at Sunglass Optic Studio in Summerlin, NV.
A CUSTOMIZED FIT
For frames that are 3D printed based on the patient’s unique facial measurements, additional benefits of this manufacturing process include personalized shapes customized for made-to-measure fitting.
Brill feels that customization is one of the biggest draws of 3D-printed eyewear. Comparing the product to craft beer and the Build-A-Bear Workshop, where customers create their own, one-of-a-kind teddy bear, he said, “People want commodities that suit their individual palettes, so show something that’s not off-the-shelf. The independent eyewear market is hot right now. While the big brands will always have their core users, people want to connect with brands that resonate with them through customization.”
This made-to-measure feature has led those opticians who have begun offering 3D-printed eyewear to cite its ability to please hard-to-fit patients as one reason for offering this type of product.
Ryan Horne of Spex by Ryan in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, carries 3D-printed eyewear from both Specsy and Blac+, and he agreed that the custom fit is an attraction. “The main reason I brought it in was mostly because there is still a lack of extra large eyewear options for people with very large heads,” he said. “Sometimes I only have one or two frames that will fit those who need extra large eyewear. I’m excited that we can now fill that niche.”
Optician Barry Santini, ABOM, of Long Island Opticians in Seaford, NY, prefers to play up the technology of 3D-printed eyewear rather than the custom fit aspect. “Nobody walks in saying, ‘I really want a pair of glasses that fits properly.’ They expect it to fit,” he said. “I am known as an early adopter of technology,” he added, explaining that is why he started carrying Eyenavision’s Roger Bacon Eyewear. He recommends having the entire staff wear the product to help promote it.
THE FUTURE OF 3D
Where is 3D-printed eyewear headed? Those eyecare professionals already offering it to their patients are positive about its future. “It’s still a small segment of inventory and sales, but as prices come down with more production, as with most products, it will definitely be more accessible,” said Gray. “As an optician looking into the future, it helps set us apart. I’m not seeing a lot of this product in the chains or the large boxes at this point. It’s really a boutique product.”
Brill agreed that offering 3D-printed eyewear sets his practice apart. “We all try to differentiate ourselves and have unique selling propositions in our practices,” he said. “It’s the 3D facial scan and truly bespoke fit that patients will remember and come back because the optician did something different.”
Eileen D. Mielcarek, COE, of Media Eye Works Ltd. in Media, PA, told VCPN, “We’re always looking for new products to generate optical business and be at a high level of performance.” After “investigating for three years” she just installed Eyenavision’s Roger Bacon customized system. “I’m really excited,” she added; “3D printing is here to stay; it’s not going away.”
EYENAVISION ROGER BACON
Using precise measurements of each individual patient’s unique facial structure, Roger Bacon uses a 3D printer to produce a pair of custom-made frames. The process begins with a 3D biometric scan of the patient, starting with the bridge, then following the contours of the nose and finally around each temple.
From there, an optician assists the patient to choose from three collections of eyewear to find the perfect style. Once a patient has chosen a frame, frame designers adjust key features by integrating the unique 3D scan data into the eyewear, ensuring a perfect fit. When the order is placed, the finished scan and design is sent to the 3D printer, which uses selective laser sintering additive manufacturing that allows for specific, subtle shapes and contours in a way that is not possible with acetate and metal customization. After the frame has been created, a hypoallergenic dye and coating create the desired color and the frame is ready to ship.
“We’re always looking for new products to generate business and be at a high level of performance,” said Eileen D. Mielcarek, COE, of Media Eye Works Ltd. in Media, PA. She set up the system in the practice she shares with her daughter Lacey M. Mielcarek, ABO, MS, a couple of months ago. The installation was “pretty easy,” she explained, just a matter of “setting up a TV where you can project the scans to show the patient and having the opticians be comfortable doing the biometric scan,” which takes about 30 seconds to complete, she said. “We then brought in our VIP customers to help us check out the new technology to practice scanning on them.”
To promote the line, Media Eye Works has embarked on some guerrilla social media marketing by writing #WhoIsRogerBacon in chalk around town to generate interest among the locals.
Adding her take on the benefits of scanning a patient for Roger Bacon 3D-printed eyewear, Lacey Mielcarek said, “Rather than taking plastic or metal frames from the rack, now we have time to have deeper conversations, discuss lifestyle and talk about eye health along with their frames. 3D is here; it’s not going away.”
A new collection of customizable and ready-to-wear 3D-printed eyewear and sunglasses, Clear3D is made with proprietary software called Scan2Print, a platform used for scanning, selection, customization and virtual try-on. Using a technology that offers endless opportunities to adjust shape and fit, Clear3D frames are each composed of a PA12 nylon-based material. The first ready-to-wear collection will be showcased at Vision Expo West. The brand will later introduce a number of sub-collections under the Clear3D umbrella.
Scan2Print is a cloud-based application offered by subscription that enables eyecare professionals the opportunity to create customized eyewear without software installation. Scan2Print is currently in beta testing and will be available to select practices beginning in the fall of 2018. The Scan2Print system was developed by TechPrint Industries (TPI), a global technology and supply chain management business specializing in additive manufacturing of eyewear and sunglasses. TPI was founded in 2016 by Peter and David Friedfeld, co-owners of ClearVision Optical; optometrist, inventor and designer, Marc Notenboom; owner of Applied Matter Systems, David Inderias; and Klaas Nienhuis, described as a “3D wizard” who joined the company in 2017.
“The 3D printed conversation is very compelling for the consumer and has a major cool factor,” Notenboom told VCPN. “The product is very robust, and maintenance is very low. It’s lightweight, strong and offers a number of different designs. The benefit is that is that you can order bespoke eyewear and a single print. The digital production file will always stay available so that after a long time the exact same style can be printed again. No issues with ‘out of production’ or ‘out of stock.’ It is stronger than traditional products, and the environmental aspect is very important for us. It is the opposite of traditional subtractive production where you have a lot of waste when cutting the frame out of metal or acetate. When printing the eyewear out of nylon powder almost everything is used. Because you can print one style at a time and don’t need to order thousands of frames per style, we want the technology and our knowledge to become available for smaller designers and eyewear companies.”
Using Specsy’s augmented reality and 3D-scanning technologies, opticians can create custom frames that are then manufactured through 3D printing. Introduced in the U.S. at Vision Expo East 2018, Specsy provides eyecare professionals with a retail-ready app that uses 3D facial scans to enable patients to design frames on a live image of their face. Working with the optician, custom glasses are tailored to the patient’s aesthetic preferences and technical requirements.
Based in Ontario, Canada, Specsy 3D prints plastic resin into a precisely fitted frame for each individual patient. Each frame takes approximately four hours to print and is comprised of 1,400 layers of UV light-cured plastic resin. The printing process is followed by 72 hours of tumbling, polishing and hand assembly. The company is working on offering custom metal frames later this year.
Specsy’s first retailer in Canada, Ryan Horne of Spex by Ryan in Regina, Saskatchewan, told VCPN that he started selling Specsy’s 3D-printed eyewear for two reasons. One, to fit hard-to-fit patients, and two, to create highly personalized designs. “The main reason I brought it in is because there is still a lack of extra large eyewear options for people with very large heads,” he said, telling the story of a gentleman who came in looking for eyeglasses for his wife, never expecting to find any for himself because he had always had trouble fitting his large head. Ryan told him, “We can change that now.” The customer “loved the fact that he could sit at our computer and help design his own frames,” Horne said.
To illustrate the customization niche that he also expects Specsy to fill, Horne described a sports fanatic customer who ordered a highly specialized pair of frames. “We have a team here in the Canadian Football League [Saskatchewan Roughriders] people are passionate about. One woman could never find a cat eye to fit, so we designed her one in the team colors with a football on it, and she’s excited to have something nobody else will have. What’s really exciting is we can make any design in any color; the possibilities are endless!”
Specsy 855.463.6793 Specsy.com
Combining a frame front created using 3D-printed polyamide powder and temples made of Sandvik stainless steel from Sweden, the Götti Dimension collection offers lightness and flexibility to the wearer. The company describes the frame line as “an expression of urban lifestyle” that combines “refined front sections” with “delicately fine eyelass temples.” The frames are constructed completely without screws or glue.
The tactile structure is created during the 3D printing process, giving the designer the freedom to develop structures that cannot be realized with other methods of production. Layer by layer, a fine nylon powder is melted using a precise laser, resulting in a flexible and light material with a semi-matte finish. The color palette for the sunglasses ranges from light sand and gray tones to the deep-dark nuances of blue and violet.
“Götti is thinking outside of the box by making customization simple,” said optician Perry Brill of Brill Eye Center in Mission, KS. “Each frame comes in three different eye sizes, and Götti developed a bridge that allows opticians to choose from three different bridge sizes.”
Further customization is achieved by allowing for a variety of temple lengths. “Using a simple tool that looks almost like a PD stick you can measure from the eyewire to the back of the ear to make the perfect temple length,” Brill told VCPN. “With four frame styles, eight colors, a custom bridge and a custom temple length, you have so many options.”
Since its launch two years ago in June 2016, neubau eyewear has combined a youthful spirit with longstanding expertise. Now, the offshoot of the Austrian Silhouette International group is setting new standards in the field of frame manufacturing with 3D printing.
The shapes produced for its 3D collection—Sarah, Manu, Erwin and Felix—are a new take on the successful “The Wire” range launched earlier this year. They are distinguished by fine details and textures that appear as engravings and shapes that range from the classic to the extravagant, all of which would be hard to achieve using conventional manufacturing. Befitting the company’s SEE & DO GOOD credo, the 3D printing process is especially sustainable because it leaves behind almost no wasted material.
Printing all the parts of one pair of glasses takes a full twelve hours. Layer by layer, the laser beam melts and molds a highly refined super-light synthetic powder, and then the applications have to cool down for another twelve hours. As they emerge from the printer, the frames are all as white as their source material. A subsequent process allows for its color finishes, which are then combined with stainless steel such as glorious gold, eclectic silver, silky rose, black ink, mint and roasted berry.
The 3D-printed models from neubau eyewear have been available in select optical shops since May 2018.
neubau eyewear 800.223.0180 neubau-eyewear.com
IC! BERLIN URBAN. COLLECTION
Influenced by the architecture of Berlin, ic! berlin’s Urban Collection is “3D-printed eyewear inspired by summer in the city,” according to the company, which describes the line as follows: “At street level the city is busy and messy; look up, and you will see Berlin for what it really is: a beautiful mishmash of old and new. Look up, and you will see awe-inspiring architecture. Look up, and you will see patterns and textures. Look up, and see the beauty in the details.”
The company released its first 3D-printed frame in 2014. The frames are created using the selective laser sintering additive manufacturing technique using 3D plotting and printing technology. Plotic is a hypoallergenic plastic in the polyamide 12 group and has a molecular structure similar to natural silk, according to the company, which said. “It is extremely strong, lightweight and robust. 3D printing allows us to create bigger and bolder shapes while still maintaining the lightness that ic! berlin frames have become loved for.”
Clearvue Vision Center in Kent, WA, offers ic! berlin’s 3D-printed Urban Collection, and lab manager Brian Gouvea said, “The one thing that really stands out is they are able to create texture that is very precise and one of those things that you have to point out to patients. They use hypoallergenic plastic that is light, flexible and allows for precision.” He added that the ic! berlin brand in general is among ClearVue’s top sellers. “Last year it was our number one selling brand,” he told VCPN.
ic! berlin America 866.634.8990 ic-berlin.de
Mykita offers a range of 3D-printed eyewear lines, all made with the additive manufacturing technique known as selective laser sintering that uses a laser as the power source to sinter powdered material. Light and durable, MYLON is made from fine polyamide powder fused layer by layer into solid objects according to a digital data set, allowing for design freedom. Shapes range from “discreet to defiant,” and despite its high-tech origins, the pigmented, matte surface has an organic quality.
For the HYBRID line, stainless steel joins the laser-sintered MYLON via click-in connections. The BLOC line gives off a confident masculine air with its flat top and voluminous build. Lenses are mounted in front of the frame, leaving a silhouette of the rims visible behind the shades. Sunglass model THUNDER features circular lenses with a pronounced keyhole bridge and accentuated side-pieces for a modern, geometric look.
Using the 3D technology to achieve the thinnest possible cross-section on the frame front, HAZE demonstrates the flexibility and stability of the MYLON material. The rounded, sanded appearance of the material is accentuated in a new taupe gray color. A loop temple end reimagined in flat stainless steel completes the reduced yet iconoclastic design of this HYBRID model. PEPPER joins the family of HYBRID shields, mimicking an aviator model via the addition of a MYLON clip in front of the shield lens.
BELLINGER HOUSE BLAC+
A series of Blac frames with a 3D-printed front, Blac+ eyewear combines a laser-printed PP22 polyamide front with carbon fiber temples and custom made titanium hinges for a lightweight result. Since 2008, Blac has been using selective laser sintering (SLS) additive manufacturing to create durable functional prototypes. “We have finally found a material that meets our high requirements of strength, lightness, stiffness, excellent long-term behavior and various finishing possibilities.”
All Blac and Blac+ frames are 100% made in Denmark. After frames are designed in 3D, the Blac+ process continues with SLS, which uses a laser to melt the PP22 powdered material in three dimensions. As the laser contacts the powder bed, it raises the material to its sintering temperature, repeating the process one thin layer (0.1mm.) at a time. After the laser process is finished, the fronts are peeled from the leftover powder, which is reused to make sure that nothing is wasted. The frames are then tumbled and polished by hand. Color is then added.
Optician Daren Gray, ABO, of Sunglass Optic Studio in Summerlin, NV, has been selling Blac+ 3D-printed eyewear for several years now. “It’s very lightweight, and the texture is a little more unusual than some of the other materials,” he said about the final product that results from the SLS process using PP22 polyamide. He added that Blac+ frames also feature inset nosepads in different thicknesses that “you can adjust for optical center and seg heights.”
Bellinger House USA LLC 888.804.9627 Blac.dk US@BellingerHouse.com