3D printer now makes cosmetics

A model displays make-up done by cosmetic professional Brynn Thomas. Cosmetics can now be printed from a 3D printer called the Mink. (Christy Cropper)
A model displays make-up done by cosmetic professional Brynn Thomas. Cosmetics can now be printed from a 3D printer called the Mink. (Christy Cropper)

Jennifer Heilpern admits it may be “a bit weird” to print out her lipstick, but she could easily get over it if it meant having a personal beauty department in her home.

Entrepreneur and inventor Grace Choi took to the TechCrunch Disrupt stage on May 5 to show what may be the future of 3D printing: makeup.

A Harvard Business School graduate, Choi describes herself as a “serial inventor” wanting to create beauty products. Her research found that the cosmetic industry is established on deception. According to Choi, cosmetics are made using inexpensive raw materials, and when customers shop at stores like Sephora they are paying a higher price for color — something the Internet can provide for free.

Her product, the Mink printer, uses 3D printing technology to combine grocery store cosmetics’ prices and convenience with the prestige of cosmetic stores’ color selections. The printer, which is expected to retail later this year for about $300, simply mixes cosmetic dye with raw materials to create the makeup.

“We are giving you the selection of the Internet, and we are beating the convenience of mass because we are giving you the convenience of your own house,” Choi said during her TechCruch presentation.

The demo product shown at TechCrunch Disrupt only printed eyeshadow, but Choi expects that the final machine will make a variety of products, from foundation, to lipstick, to blush.

If it works as promised, this remarkable machine could have the potential to turn the makeup industry upside down.

The first step in making cosmetics with the Mink is selecting a color. The client can select any color they see on the Internet with a “color picker tool” then copy the color’s hex code. The hex code is then pasted into a printing program, like Microsoft Word or Photoshop. From there the color can be printed straight onto the mineral substrate to make the cosmetic.

Heilpern, an English student from Huntersville, North Carolina, said if she had the Mink she would use it “all of the time.” The machine offers a level of convenience that has previously been unattainable.

“I think that it’s really cool and improves shopping,” Heilpern said. “You don’t have to go to the store … you can just print your makeup.”

Another major selling point of the product is the color variety it offers. Even Heilpern, who is quick to admit she is not adventurous with makeup, would be willing to try new shades with the Mink.

Some cosmetics specialists are concerned with the quality of the cosmetics produced by the printer despite the convenience and color variety it offers.

Brynn Thomas, a professional makeup artist living in Salt Lake City, thinks the concept behind the Mink is a good idea but the product itself is flawed.

Thomas disagrees with Choi’s statement that color selection is the only factor setting expensive brand-name cosmetics apart from makeup that can be bought in grocery stores.

“In the beauty world you get what you pay for,” Thomas said. “You aren’t just paying for color … you’re paying for ingredients, quality formulas and high-end applicators. Color is pretty far down the list of what drives up prices.”

Another potential problem for the Mink is formula variety. It would be difficult to create a single foundation formula that would work for all customers because there are different skin types and preferences regarding coverage and consistency.

“Everyone is always going to want different formulas,” Thomas said. “It depends on the buyer … there are so many different people with different preferences.”

Despite her concerns with the product, Thomas sees the potential for success this product could have, especially among users who want to own every color.

Even if the final Mink printer is not able to meet makeup artists’ high standards, it will certainly shake up the market.

“The definition of beauty is something that they (young women) should be able to control — not our corporations,” Choi said. “To me, that’s the most important thing.”

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