December 14, 2023

A 3D-Printed Tennis Racket Merges Art with Athletics

By Protolabs

Industrial design and branding studio, All Design Lab partnered with us to manufacture Hìtëkw, a custom designed tennis racket concept that’s not only practical, but beautiful. The racket’s frame was conceptualized to break the mold of traditional design and brought to life with direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) 3D printing.  

In chatting with Andrew Lim and Anthony Lopez, All Design Lab’s co-founders, they discuss their process for their product concepts, which aren’t always physical, tangible products, but often exist as a design or idea. “We concentrate a lot on stories. How is this design going to be significant? How can the world benefit from this product,” said Lopez.

Tennis racket with blue background

Disrupting Status Quo While Honoring Tradition 

Having never created a concept for sporting equipment, the duo drew its inspiration from the 2022 US Open tennis tournament taking place less than 15 miles from their studio. The Hìtëkw design was an ode to the Lenape Native American tribe, whose members stretched across the Northeastern United States during the 16th and 17th centuries.  

“We were inspired by the people that belonged to that region and imagery of products they used to make out of trees and natural materials native to the land,” Lopez explained.  

Hìtëkw’s intricate curling branch-inspired design on the racket’s handle was initially conceptualized with the help of AI and generative design, but Lopez iterated different variations of it from there. “We wanted Hìtëkw to disrupt the imagery of the traditional tennis racket.” 

Tennis racket on a tennis court next to a net

A Lightweight Design Brought to Life with DMLS 

Aside from aesthetics, practicality had to come into play for the concept. After all, someone would have to be able to easily hold and play with the tennis racket. The sheer concept and design of Hìtëkw was garnering a lot of media interest, so Lim and Lopez decided to turn to 3D printing to bring it into reality. “We wanted to be able to touch it and see if it would actually work and be functional,” said Lim.  

As the idea was developing, it became clear that it would be nearly impossible to bring Hìtëkw to life via CNC machining or injection molding, due to the design’s intricate and complex nature. Protolabs’ metal 3D printing service became the clear technology of choice best suited to bring its organic geometry to life.  

“Your team guided us from beginning to end and the communication was great, so that was a big help”

As someone who works with customers to realize the potential of DMLS, Vollaro agreed the project was an ideal showcase for the technology.  

“This design is a great fit for additive because of the complexity and organic shapes; it would be very difficult to make this part using subtractive methods. You see similar design elements in lightweight components for automotive or aerospace where the design is intentional about adding material only where it’s absolutely needed and using branch-like shapes to get the best performance out the part,” Vollaro explained. 

With a height of more than 26 inches, the Hìtëkw is on the larger end for a DMLS-printed part. Fortunately, Protolabs utilizes two GE Additive X Line capable of printing metal parts at a large scale in either aluminum in Inconel. The All Design Lab team opted for lightweight aluminum for a similar feel to today’s standard tennis racket. 

Vollaro is most excited to showcase the capabilities of metal additive to an audience that may be largely unfamiliar with it. “Who knows who else will be inspired into incorporating this type of design into their field or how this will spark an interest in additive manufacturing,” Vollaro said.  

Game, Set, Match: Hìtëkw’s 2024 World Tour 

Now that the racket is a tangible prototype, it’s got some seriously exciting plans next year to show off its good looks within the international tennis community, both in Europe and the U.S.   

We were excited to work with All Design Lab in bringing Hìtëkw to life with the help of metal 3D printing. If you have a unique application and would like to talk through your design, reach out to a member of our design team to get started! 

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