Sneaker Parts and Proportions


words & images_Mark Kokavec

Welcome to my initial post on Sole Collector, and as for myself, I'm currently a footwear designer at Under Armour. I'm looking forward to sharing my design experiences and advice with you. I wanted to start with the basic understanding of shoe terms and proportions, what makes up a shoe and the common terms used by designers in the industry.  If you're interested in becoming a footwear designer, then you need to familiarize yourself with these key terms and understand the subtleties of correct proportions. Otherwise, your designs and sketches will never look or feel right.




1. LAST: The 'last' is a biomechanically engineered form which simulates the foot. Every shoe that is manufactured is built around a last.  They tend not to look like a real foot due to the fact that material and foam allowances are built into the overall shape.  Areas that will be getting a lot of foam (like in the heel area) are pretty narrow in shape to allow for the extra thicknesses.  The industry standard measurements for sample prototypes are based on a men's size 9 foot.

2. UPPER:  This is the name for the unit that makes up the top part of a shoe.  Generally comprised of various materials and components such as leather, synthetics, meshes, foams, plastic welds, laces, components, hardware, etc.  The upper is attached to a 'Strobel'.

STROBEL:  The way in which the upper unit is attached to a base material that is the exact shape of the 'last' bottom.  This area will be cemented to the 'bottom' unit.

3: TOE CAP:  The front of the shoe typically made from natural or synthetic leathers. Its main purpose is to protect the toes from abrasion.

4: VAMP: The area just above the toes which connect to the bottom of the throat.  This area needs to be free of multiple seams or overlays due the high frequency of flexing.

5: EYESTAY:  Portion of the shoe that is adjustable and allows for foot entry.  Lacing and strap systems occurs along this area.  The backside of this area must be reinforced due to extreme tension from lacing otherwise the lace may tear through.  The area between lateral and medial eyestays is called the 'THROAT'.

6: TONGUE:  Provides adequate padding and protection from lace pressure.  Usually stitched down at the base of the 'throat'.

7: COLLAR:  Depending on the height, collars can be functionally supportive and padded for comfort and protection against lateral movements.   Some collars assist in the prevention of ankle injuries.

8: HEEL COUNTER:  A molded plastic form found inside the upper sandwiched between the lining and outer materials.  This form can be molded or diecut from sheet stock plastic.  It follows the natural curvature of the heel and acts as a heel lock, which prevents the heel from slipping during use.

9: TOESPRING:  Occurs in the area between the forefoot flex zone all the way to the toe.  The amount of toe spring depends on the sport and function.  Basketball shoes tend to have lower toe springs while running shoes are much higher.

10. ARCH:  Located under the foot on the medial side midfoot area.  Typically sculpted to remove un-necessary midsole weight.  By removing material from this crucial area plastic components made from TPU must be added to strengthen and stabilize this area to prevent collapse.




11: MIDSOLE: Made mostly from EVA foams, this is the platform which the foot sits ontop.  It must have adequate cushioning properties but provide support as well.  The midsole sidewalls should wrap up 5.0mm to allow for bonding margin to the upper.  Notice the design line just above the lower part of the last.

12. OUTSOLE: The portion of shoe that contacts the ground and provides traction. Rubber is the common material of choice.  Although there are some compounds that combine foam and rubber, creating an outsole grade EVA.  Nike 'Free' product uses this material.  This material picks up dust and slips on parquet wood floors, so its not used on Basketball product!  The Midsole and Outsoles make up the tooling unit.

13: FLEX ZONE:  The major flex zone is found just in front of the metatarsal heads (bones).  The standard formula for locating this area is 65% of the total length on the Lateral side and 75% of the total length on the Medial side.

14: FOREFOOT: The area located from the toe to the midfoot.  The pivot point, flex zone and toe-off all make up this area.  Extreme lateral sheering forces occur in this area of basketball shoes. The midsole forefoot height is around 12.0mm

15. PIVOT POINT: This term is used in most court sports where the athlete needs to change direction quickly, thus rotating the foot inward on a common point (the ball of the foot).  This happens during a golf swing, tennis stroke, and basketball cutting moves.

16. INSTEP:  This area is typically supported internally through the use of a molded sockliner or in some extreme situations a doctors prescribed orthodic.

17. HEEL: Landing zone during the running motion.  The standard midsole heel height is around 24.0mm due to the extreme impact forces which occur during landing.


Now that you've mastered the key terms and lingo of shoe designers, you need to understand the proportions.  I'll use a basketball shoe to explain the key aspects of setting up your drawing and general rules of thumb when designing.  These are general rules that can be broken from time-to-time.


I hope you enjoyed this post and look forward to posting more about shoes and footwear design in the future.  See you soon!

If you're interested in learning more about Render Demo design rendering tutorials, please visit www.renderdemo.com
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