For many people, eyeglasses are a necessity, but they’re also a functional fashion accessory. Choosing the right pair of frames is a big task; after all, your glasses are going to be on your face pretty much at all times, so you want something reasonably stylish. Like other accessories and apparel, glasses frames are subject to changing fashion trends, but they’re also pricey, so you want to settle on something that you’ll be happy with for a long time.
If you happen to break your frames and don’t have the extra money to replace them – well, back in my day that meant you’d have to be the weird kid with the Scotch-taped glasses. Now, though, there are much cheaper, easier, and cooler ways to replace your broken glasses. The idea for SpeX 3D printed eyeglass frames came to founder Chris Nieves by accident and out of need – as many product ideas do.
“The Eyewear themselves came from a cool light bulb moment. I had just graduated as an engineer and I had broke my warrantied pair. I didn’t have any money, but had access to a 3D printer. I actually challenged myself (squinting a lot) to design and produce the eyewear,” he tells 3DPrint.com. “Another cool thing is that I actually didn’t realize what I had created at the time. I kept getting compliments on my eyewear for a solid 6 months and was working on a completely different project I wanted to market before someone actually came up to me and wanted to buy a pair. Only then did I realize that other people could actually use what I had created.”
There is actually a pretty serious monopoly on the eyewear industry, Nieves explains, which is why frames are so expensive – but luckily, eyewear is a product that lends itself perfectly to 3D printing. Once Nieves realized that the glasses he had printed for himself appealed to so many people, he decided to turn his idea into a business. SpeX Eyewear launched this week with a Kickstarter campaign that aims to raise $5,100 by September 14. Made from aerospace-quality urethane plastic and created from 3D printed molds, SpeX are strong and durable, yet flexible and lightweight – and they’re really cool-looking, too.
The Kickstarter is starting out with six different frame styles, but more will be coming on a regular basis, and multiple interchangeable pieces allow for easy customization – particularly because all parts just snap together without the need for screws or tools.
“At launch there will be a total of 225 different combinations available,” Nieves tells us. “Even if you swapped through a set every hour it would take over 9 days to actually cover all of the possibilities.”
Currently there are five color choices available, with astronomical names such as midnight blue, star yellow, solar red, plasma clear and galaxy black. The SpeX team has partnered with lens manufacturer EyeGlass People, which will provide prescription lenses along with the frames if you choose – just scan your prescription to them along with any special features you want (scratch-resistant, anti-glare, etc.) and they’ll create your lenses, put them in your chosen frame, and ship them out to you.
For a contribution of $90, backers will receive an early bird special on a full pair of eyewear, complete with prescription lenses – for non-early birds, the pledge level for the same is $100. Lower pledge amounts offer extra pieces for your glasses – for a contribution of $30, you’ll get an extra pair of temples, or earpieces, and for $60, you’ll get an extra frame. You can get two full pairs of eyewear for an early bird price of $175 or regular price of $190. $425 will get you five pairs, while $800 will get you 10 so you can mix and match like crazy.
Although his small, individual project has turned into a full business, Nieves has kept his strong maker spirit throughout the formation of SpeX.
“We actually use 3D printing in the design process, testing process, and manufacturing process. Each process requires a totally different printer and totally different material,” he tells us. “We actually source everything from American small businesses, from the Eurathane molds, to the designers, Rx lenses, to the actual manufacturers. Everything is small local businesses that give back to their respective communities. Nothing is outsourced.”
And that’s how it’s going to stay. You can learn more in the Kickstarter video below, and discuss the topic further over in the SpeX 3D Printed Eyeglasses forum at 3DPB.com.