This year was all about 3-D printers. But Grace Choi changed the conversation with a brilliant and unexpected device for printing makeup. The New York-based inventor wants to help women find a color they like online, or by snapping a photo of something with their smartphone, and turn it into a hue for lipstick, eye shadow or blush. She plans to put her desktop makeup printer, Mink, on the market next year, targeting teenage girls and young women age 13 to 21 "who are excited to try something new," she said. Mink printers will take makeup-base ingredients, or substrates, and dye them with safe inks.
"Because of the way the beauty industry works, it's very dictatorial. We go into the store and we are told what's beautiful. We don't have any input in it," Ms. Choi said. "I'm trying to bring out makeup that serves you," and not the reverse.
Before your product even launches, you're teaching people how they can hack their own ordinary printers to create custom makeup. Are people asking, "What are you thinking?"
Ms. Choi: I get that a lot. There's a real tension between getting the word out as fast as possible and being a capitalist, wanting to not spread the word and hold all the value for yourself … But I always come back to, who am I? What do I stand for? I always wanted to change the world and make it a better place.
What do you mean exactly when you say you want to change the conversation around beauty? This still about … makeup.
Ms. Choi: Printing your own makeup makes you think instead of being fed information. It gives you control. It makes young girls actually be in the driver seat. I am trying to get rid of the standard. And makeup is supposed to be fun.
What's the biggest challenge for you with this idea?
Ms. Choi: It's making something that doesn't currently exist and turning it into a reality—for instance, if I was making a new moisturizer there would be difficulties, but the infrastructure is in place, there's already people out there who know how to manufacture moisturizer. When you try to do something completely new, nothing exists. When I say, 'I need to make a cosmetic-grade substrate that can fit into this printer,' nobody does that. There's no adviser I can go to. The regulatory (system) isn't even in place for it."
What's your advice for someone stuck in a creative rut?
Ms. Choi: I just literally go out and I look at different industries. I walk through Home Depot. I go to antiques shops. The trick is not to stay in that little silo. All of my ideas come from outside the beauty industry. They come from the printing industry, the food industry, the pharmaceutical industry.