We have witnessed an explosion of beauty and fashion orientated 3D printers and 3D printing applications over the past few years. Way back in 2011, TIME Magazine named Iris van Herpen’s 3D printed dress one of the 50 Best Inventions of the year.Fast forward to the present day and we have seen experimental ways of 3D printing textiles from NERVOUS SYSTEM, Laura Martinez and many more. Much 3D printed jewellery and accessories abound too. Also 3D printed swimsuits, 3D printed shoes, even 3D printed tattoos. Now, we may be able to add 3D printed cosmetics to the list…

Over in New York right now, the TechCrunch Disrupt 2014 conference is in full swing. Over the past few days start-ups with radical ideas that may disrupt existing ways of doing things have been pitching their ideas to a panel and an audience. There have been some cool concepts, such as a mini-machine that tunes a guitar by itself. Grace Choi, who describes herself as a serial inventor, has presented what may be the most radical and disruptive of the lot, with her 3D Makeup Printer. Her 3D printer is called The Mink, which is designed to print a range of foundations, eye shadows and powders, which in time will be joined by lipsticks, creams and so forth.

The printer and its software allows the user to select a colour from a digital photograph, such as the selfie you just snapped, your friend’s makeup, a tropical flower, whatever you wish, and print that colour in makeup. Choi suggests that the printer is aimed at invoking new ways of colour picking, colour sharing and social interactions for the digital age. The substrates come from the same exact sources that trusted makeup brands use, and are all FDA approved.

With a specific younger audience in mind, Choi suggests the 13-21 age group to Tech Crunch, she is thinking tech savvy, and targeting young people who are still experimenting and who have yet to fall into set habits and brand consumption. She suggests that all too often beauty products are made by the same old companies in the same old colours sold at the same old shops, at the same old prices, making beauty just another mass produced product. Here, the Mink Makeup Printer offers the chance to break the cage with breakthrough technology.

Like any new idea it could sink or swim, ride the crest of a wave to become part of the lifestyles of a billion people, or just end up a washed out idea that doesn’t catch on — but in terms of the market that may be potentially disrupted to whatever degree, the global beauty care products industry is forecast by Lucintel to reach around USD$265 billion by 2017. The EU cosmetics market was worth EUR 67 billion ($93 billion) at retail sales price in 2010 – representing one-third of the global cosmetics market, a little more than the US and Japanese markets combined. More than 4000 companies operate in the EU cosmetics industry, two-thirds of which are small and medium-sized enterprises. [1]

“In the overall health and beauty care market, makeup margins tend to be the highest (as much as 38%), followed by skin care (as much as 35%). Hair care — satisfying the most basic beauty needs — lags at up to 33%.” The markup margin for face makeup (foundation, blush, etc.) is 31%-36%, Lipstick/lip gloss is 29%-34%, and Eye makeup (liner, shadow, etc.) is 28%-33%.

How does it all work and what advantages does it offer? To quote Choi:

”The inkjet handles the pigment, and the same raw material substrates can create any type of makeup, from powders to cream to lipstick. Implementing this ability on the Mink is not hard to do, it’s actually more of a business decision.

What we’re doing is taking out the bull shit. Big makeup companies take the pigment and the substrates and mix them together and then jack the price. We do the same thing and let you get the makeup right in your own house.”

The Mink will cost less than $200, with plans to launch the printer later in the year.

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