US-based start-up ColorForge won a Cosmetic Victories* award last month for its additive manufacturing technology that allows for the simultaneous production of powder-based color cosmetics and packaging. We spoke to ColorForge President John LaHood about the company’s patented process and its timeline to bring the machine to market.
How does ColorForge technology work?
Our additive manufacturing process works by structuralizing color cosmetics out of raw materials, layer by layer (editor’s note: similar to the 3D printing of resins, for example). The machine blends the materials in two phases, a dry powder phase and a liquid phase, and when those materials mix they become solid cosmetics products. As the printer builds the solid cosmetic, it also prints the structural casing around that cosmetic. It’s fully capable of printing packaging, even entire compacts.
The casing is made out of 100% biodegradable earth minerals (these include titanium dioxide, mica and bismuth oxychloride), much like the cosmetic itself, but is more rigid, akin to a ceramic. Instead of our current cosmetic-grade polymer, we are aiming to use a plant-based UV-curable resin to solidify the shell around the cosmetic.
What kind of makeup products can the printer produce?
Solid, powder-based formulas work really well: eyeshadow, pressed powder, finishing powder and bronzers. The powder itself can be decorated in myriad ways; with gradients, personalized monograms and even photo-resolution illustrations. This really is a dream for product designers. You can literally print anything imaginable. The size, shape and depth are all easily customizable.
Personalization is by far the best use case for this technology, but there is also an advantage from a manufacturing point of view. With the MOQ of a typical contract manufacturer standing at 5,000 units, our solution is advantageous for indie brands and smaller brands, particularly those looking to create ‘inclusive’ product lines with a wide range of shades. Currently, a lot of these products are never sold and end up in landfill, so our technology is potentially solving two problems at once: smaller runs and sustainable packaging.
Is ColorForge technology commercially available?
Not yet – we’re about a year away from where we want to be. We’ve been working on the intellectual property for about five years, pursuing technical development for about three and are presently seeking investment. What are the next steps? Right now we working on our next generation printer, which will have three big advantages over our current one: speed, materials and robustness. It will widen the scope for available materials in the liquid phase, which is a little limited right now, specifically in terms of colorants. We are currently using cosmetic dyes, and we want to use cosmetic pigment dispersions, so the new print heads will allow for that.
What is ColorForge’s production capacity?
The current printer can produce up to 800 26ml eye shadow palettes in a single batch and our next-generation printer will be able to achieve one batch in roughly five hours. So if you have ten printers in a manufacturing facility, with printers doing two runs per day, there is potential for 16,000 units per day.
Will you commercialize the technology or be the manufacturer?
Our plan is to manufacture ourselves as the printer takes a degree of skill to run and requires maintenance. However, the printer has a relatively small footprint, and with the proper training, it has potential in retail stores for more localized production.
*The Cosmetics Victories competition, sponsored by the Cosmetic Valley-ESSEC endowment fund, aims to reward innovative projects in fragrances and cosmetics from students, researchers, start-ups and SMEs.