Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Discussion: The Mink 3D Printer Will Print Any Colour Cosmetic and Disrupt the Cosmetic Industry

This is a post I started on a whim but I just read an article and watched the corresponding video of Grace Choi, a Harvard woman who has designed a 3D printer that will print 3D, fully usable makeup in any colour straight from your home computer, phone, tablet or camera; pretty much any device that can be hooked up to a printer.

Read the article and watch the video here and see what you think! Let's have a little discussion on it~

I like Grace; she's very straightforward, cuts to the chase, isn't afraid to say that most premium cosmetic markup is bullshit and you can see she's a bit nervous in an adorable way by the way she accidentally changes one slide too many and messes up her words. The demo of the Mink is very good and she's very good at answering tough questions the judges pose to her (unfortunately there's a question at the end I really wanted to know the answer to but they ran out of time).

When the Mink is fully functional and on the market, it will be able to print any cosmetic type in any colour for you, right at home from your computer. Foundation, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, lipstick, blush, cream formulations - essentially you can make any product you'd ever need in cream, liquid, powder, gel and probably more forms. Don't like powder eyeshadows? Make yourself a cream one, honey. Try a gel foundation or concealer. With the Mink printer, you could actually make any liquid, cream, gel or powder pigment for any use. There's a reason premium brands like Illamasqua just call them 'Cream Pigment' - because the uses are limitless; use 'pigments' on your eyes, as contour & highlighting products, on your lips, whatever. Some items I'd make for sure would be a super pale, natural looking foundation, a greyish-brown cream contour product and more lipstick/lipgloss shades than I'd know what to do with.

The Mink looks so awesome and I'd definitely love to see it demonstrated fully and even buy one if they were distributed in the UK (the concept retail price for a Mink printer is $300 with the ink refills/accessories sold for a reasonable price). Grace's aim for the printer seems to be not about making as much profit as possible from this, it's to disrupt the cosmetic industry (some might argue only the premium cosmetic industry) and make people question why they pay so much for their cosmetics.

There's one thing, however, that I'm not sure on - Grace's motive for creating the Mink printer was that she discovered most premium brand price markups are bullshit - more commercially available and in-demand colours are cheaper to buy in volume, which is why cheap brands don't tend to sell bright red eyeliner or lime green lipstick as they don't sell well; if you wanted these items, you'd more than likely have to go a premium cosmetic brand, like Limecrime, Sugarpill or Illamasqua. Having the Mink printer at home would erase all of this trouble and cosmetic differentiation; you'd simply be able to select a hex code for a colour you like (say, on a photo of a makeup product or even just a random colour), copy & paste it onto any image editing software and print it out like a normal piece of paper.

However, now that I've dealt with and used premium cosmetic products, there's another reason premium cosmetic brands charge more than cheaper brands for their products - quality. Two pink eyeshadows, one from a cheap brand and one from an exclusive brand, can feel and look a lot different on your hand and/or face; a cheap pink eyeshadow might feel chalky and the colour isn't as bright on your eye than it looks in the pan whilst a premium pink eyeshadow might feel softer and buttery in texture whilst the colour is more true to life. That's not to say all premium brand products are better than cheaper brands - I'm sure there's been more than one instance where someone has bought a premium brand eyeshadow and the colour is as dull and sheer as one from Miss Sporty. I know because I've done it.

I've bought the dupes of Urban Decay's Naked 1 & 2 palettes, the Makeup Academy (MUA) Undress Me and Undress Me Too Palettes, and I've also had the chance to try out my friend's genuine Urban Decay palettes - I could definitely tell the difference as soon as I used the UD palettes. The UD eyeshadows are a lot silkier and buttery whilst the MUA ones just feel like regular, slightly chalky eyeshadows. The colours of each palette look very similar to each other but some of them don't even look the same colour on skin. The UD eyeshadows are a lot brighter, more pigmented, easier to blend and stay on longer than the MUA ones and because of this, you don't have to use as much product. Other premium brand products might have beneficial ingredients in their products that ups the price of them - vitamins and minerals, sun protection (although sun protection in makeup is pretty much a joke for how effective it is), moisturising properties, etc. To say the only reason premium brands charge a lot for their cosmetics is not, in my opinion, 100% true or fair. However, I could be wrong, I'm not an expert.

My concern is that whilst the Mink printer might be a lot cheaper to print more exclusive colour makeup per unit, the quality may not be the same as a premium brand product of the same colour. I don't know if it was the video quality, the lighting or just me but the pink hex code she printed looked a lot brighter on the computer monitor and the colour seemed paler on her hand than in the pan. If this is the case, you'd have toe experiment with brighter colours than necessary to get the real colour you want. This isn't only time consuming but it doesn't make the units as cheap if you have to print off 4 eyeshadows to get the shade you want (even though you end up with a pretty gradient palette). However, if only having the raw materials and the pigment in a product makes the quality nicer and more simple (i.e not overstuffed with filler ingredients, potentially harmful ingredients like fragrance, parabens, etc.) as well as the pigment being true to colour, I'd be all over the Mink printer like a ton of bricks!

The question I wanted to hear the answer to was asked by one judge - he said before she took the eyeshadow pan out of the printer, the printer did actually print off a sheet of 'paper' the colour she chose, and she scraped something off into a tub? If this is the case then it's not even a case of printing off the colour/makeup and away we go; you probably have to press the pigments into their case/shape before using. This might be fun at first, especially for the concept of '3D printer makeup parties' but it certainly isn't as easy as you think. Again, I could be wrong on this and Grace could've been doing something entirely different!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments or, let's try something new and have a Twitter discussion! Use the hashtag #geishababymink and let me know your thoughts on Twitter! Is there anything I'm wrong or misinformed about? I really hope the Mink printer can become a reality, and soon!