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Remember 3D printing? That revolutionary technological innovation that once held our collective attention and imagination before AI took over the news feeds? Well, it's doing just fine. AI might be able to make you a cool playlist or faux painting, but 3D printing can make you a pair of form-fitting, one-of-a-kind, custom ski goggles. That's the premise behind Smith's Imprint 3D collection, which turns face scans into one-of-a-kind eyewear and recently expanded to include the Squad Imprint 3D. Curious to see just how well the technology works, I had Smith make me a pair ahead of the 2024 ski season.
Smith has been fiddling around with this 3D-printed concept since 2021 when it launched Imprint 3D with a customizable version of the I/O Mag. With nearly every brand having brought quick-change magnetic lenses into their lines, custom seemed like the next big step in snow eyewear. But the launch was limited, and the goggles $450, making it all feel a little unattainable.
Ordering Custom 3D-Printed Goggles
The new Squad Imprint 3D is $250, right in line with other top-end ski gogs. Once you save up enough scratch, getting a pair ordered is as easy as picking your strap color and lens tint and checking out, just like any other online purchase.
Then comes the fun part: making a scan of your face. It's surprisingly easy, too. Smith sends you a code to link your purchase inside an iOS app that performs this little technological feat. Though one of the downsides of Imprint 3D is that you can only scan your face using an Apple device that has Face ID. It's a one-time thing, so you can borrow your friend's phone if you have to (or go to the local Apple store).
The app directs you to line your face up with an oval and rotate it. Then you get to see the resulting 3D model and confirm everything looks good, as in, like you. It's a tad disturbing how quickly it can get an accurate scan; a digital plaster mask that takes seconds to make instead of hours in a chair breathing through straws. The one flaw I could see was that it turned my sideburns into little fins that call to mind a Guillermo del Toro creature.
What It's Like to Wear Custom Ski Goggles
Two weeks later, the goggles arrived. Smith used my face scan to 3D print the frame of the goggles, and then their team assembled it with the foam, lens, etc., just like other goggles. But Imprint 3D goggles are plainly different. For one, there's a lot less face-contact foam, and for two, the 3D printed frame that was extruded out of an HP Multi Jet Fusion printer somewhere doesn't have that same plastic-y smooth sheen; instead, it looks almost fibrous, like suede.
It also seems a little wonky. Then I realize I'm just seeing the reversed contours of my face. Sure enough, when I put them up against my forehead and cheeks, it's a perfect fit, like two puzzle pieces lining up. It actually feels a little odd how perfectly the goggles fit my face. Because I don't have to squash down the foam to get a good seal, they seem almost delicate.
But up on the hill, that notion evaporates. They're just like any other quality pair of goggles—they help me see. Until trying a pair made specifically for my face, I never realized how much feeling my goggles pressed against my face was a trademark of the skiing experience. Like my boots squeezing my jammed toes together until they cramp, or my fingers getting so cold I have to curl them into a ball inside the palm of my glove on the chairlift. Skiing isn't a sport of comfort; but when your idea of fun is sliding around all day outside in the bitter cold, you adjust the bounds of that word.
Implications for All Skiers & Snowboarders
Imprint tech means anybody can have their own precisely unique experience (provided they can wrangle $250). Considering most snow goggles have long been designed with a single face type in mind—representing the white twenty-something male archetype of snow sport enthusiasts, one could wager—it's exciting to view customizability as a step towards inclusivity. It's a step forward for comfort in general, AND for anyone with fit concerns like low nose bridges, pronounced cheekbones, a narrow or wide face, or huge sideburns/fish fins for that matter. Spending time in extreme weather is uncomfortable; anything our gear can do to make spending time outside less so is worth some consideration. Especially when it comes to seeing what you're doing.
On the other hand, it's important to note that my experience with the Squad Imprint 3D is entirely singular. This pair of goggles won't fit any other person the way they do me—not even my brother, who was visiting from Montana when they arrived.
Pros: Easy process, can still get extra lenses, comes with a great case, approachable price
Cons: App only works with Apple devices that have Face ID
By bringing the Squad into its Imprint 3D line, Smith has made custom gear approachable for the snowbound masses. While there's a minor speedbump in that you need to have an Apple device to use it, the facial scanning process is easy and its results are accurate enough to make you realize your face isn't as symmetrical as you thought it was. The goggles come with two lenses, a hard case, and a soft lens cover, and you can buy replacement lenses as you would with any normal pair.