From Design Idea To Prototype: How To Draw A Shoe

How to draw a shoe

Many people ask how we produce our design ideas here at Cross Sword. One of the common questions is ‘what is the process of getting your ideas from the designers’ head to a finished prototype’? So, I thought I would write a short blog about the whole process so you can see what we do and how we do it.


After being inspired the first thing we do is to photograph the last from the side. We take our time to make sure that the last is exactly at 90 degrees to the camera. This is possibly one of the most important stages of the whole process because if it is not done correctly then the end drawing or ‘rendering’ as we call it will be in the incorrect proportions.  This could mean the difference between a design getting accepted or rejected.

shoe design initial idea 

Once we have an accurate picture of the last we transfer it to a computer program that works with vectors. We use Adobe Illustrator but there are other programs. In this program we rotate the picture so that the toe spring and heel spring are correct for the height of the heel.


An outline of the entire last is traced and set which gives us our base shape to work with.  The next stage is to take into account the thickness of the materials. If we were to use the shape directly the end drawing would look less realistic as the proportions would be incorrect. I’ll explain what I mean.


The shoe is made up from a number of different components and these must be taken into consideration when designing the shoe.  The shoe has a toe puff and a heel counter that have a thickness as well as the lining, inner lining and leather.


I trace an offset line around the last line, which is the same thickness as the lining material. Then where the toe puff and heel counter are, I also add an offset line which has the same distance as the thickness of  the heel counter and toe puff. Once this has been done I can add the offset for the outer leather material too. Any bumps between the transition of the heel counter/toe puff and the top layer of leather need to be smoothed out as would be in the production of the real shoe.


Now we are ready to start drawing the actual designs onto the shape. Depending on the design technique that I used I will transfer the lines directly onto the shape. Sometimes I design directly onto the last using the masking tape method and sometimes I make drawings in the traditional way. Either way I slowly start to draw the lines on. There are a few restrictions that you need to be aware of like the height of the side of the shoe and how high the heel are should be but after these have been entered then I am free to draw as I wish.

shoe design outline

Once I am happy with the end result I copy the lines to Photoshop.  Using layers I start to divide the different areas of the shoes up and give each layer a material that I have scanned in or photographed. This process produces a very flat picture of the shoe but starts to give you an immediate idea of what it might start to look like. Using shading and highlights I go through section-by-section trying to add as much detail as possible as the end result will depend a lot on this stage.

 shoe design layer 1shoe design layer 3

Finally I add shading to the background to make the picture look a little more three-dimensional.  The image is then used to discuss with the factory manager as well as to decide on which model we want to invest our energies into next.  The benefits of doing such a process are a quick turn around of ideas and it is a huge cost saving to produce a rendering compared to an actual prototype based on a sketch that could go wrong at many stages.

 shoe design renderingshoe design rendering

I hope you have got a little insight into the process. Of course this is a very brief and superficial glimpse of what really goes on in the whole process but I hope you start to build a picture.


Let us know if you have requests for other snippets of info about shoe making and designing for our company.