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For those aching feet, 3-D-printed shoes could be the answer

Saturday, 15 Feb 2014 | 5:00 PM ET
New Balance 3-D-printed customized running shoes.
Yoon S. Byun | The Boston Globe | Getty Images
New Balance 3-D-printed customized running shoes.

Could shopping for shoes possibly become a thing of the past? Perhaps, if more consumers start choosing to get their footwear 3-D printed.

Feetz, a San Diego start-up, is working to make it possible for people to buy customized footwear by printing shoes based on their specifications.

(Read more: 3-D printers and the cool stuff they make)

The plan is for a customer to snap three pictures of each foot from different angles and send the images to Feetz. The company would enter the images into specialized software that would allow a shoe for each foot to be printed. The customer would receive the shoes in seven days.

Shoemaking is perfect for the technology because printing shoes allows for extreme customization, according to Lucy Beard, the founder and CEO of Feetz.

(Read more: How this $99 3-D-printed drone could change the toy industry)

"So many people have problems because one foot is bigger than the other or the shoes just don't fit right," she said at the Inside 3-D Printing Conference in New York. "But if you print a shoe just for that foot, it's going to be so comfortable, you're not going to want to take it off."

Beard said her short-term target consumers are those with orthopedic problems, who would benefit the most from customized shoes.

"I want to solve that need and that pain for those people," she said. "Three-D-printing shoes for them is really a simple solution that could solve a lot of their problems."

In the consumer market, 3-D printing has mostly been used to create small objects: trinkets, phone cases and jewelry. But as printers become capable of using more materials, she said, the machines can print a wider variety of products.

The technology has already started to be adopted by some in the shoe industry, according to Beard.

Nike uses a 3-D system to create the cleat for its Flyknit shoes, introduced early last year. Adidas has used it, too, and a few smaller companies are printing parts of shoes.

(Read more: 3-D printing is next computing revolution: Beltway Insider )

But to print a whole shoe is a different ballgame, Beard said.

"There's a lot of progress in the industry, but it's still early on," she said. "There are more materials to print with, but we're still limited."

Beard expects Feetz to begin taking orders by year-end. Material will be limited to a rubber-like substance at first, she said, but within the next two years she expects more options, which will enable her to offer more designs.

By CNBC's Cadie Thompson. Follow her on Twitter @CadieThompson.

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  • Matt Hunter is the senior technology editor at CNBC.com.

  • Cadie Thompson is a tech reporter for the Enterprise Team for CNBC.com.

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.

  • Jon Fortt is an on-air editor. He covers the companies, start-ups, and trends that are driving innovation in the industry.

  • Lipton is CNBC's technology correspondent, working from CNBC's Silicon Valley bureau.

  • Mark is CNBC's Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bureau Chief covering technology and digital media.