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inkk: Nail Polish Color

December 06, 2016

When you walk into a salon for a manicure or visit your favorite beauty products store, are you overwhelmed by the number of nail polish colors to choose from, but can’t actually find the color you want? This is a problem Ashley Morgan set out to solve.


Morgan, who has a fine arts degree, has spent the last 15 years designing video games. She’s both creative and tech savvy. “I’m a nail polish advocate, and I don’t mind spending the time choosing a nail polish color,” she says. “But the available colors don’t really mean anything to me. I had the idea that people should be able to not only create their own nail polish colors but give them a meaningful name. But how to go about it?”

Taking a Cue from Paint Mixing

When visiting Home Depot one day, Morgan noticed how custom paint colors were being mixed, including the ability of the paint counter staff to use a sample, such as a pillow or other item, to grab color information for paint matching. “That’s not too different from nail polish,” she thought. “It has to take into account a variety of attributes, including gloss levels.”

Morgan learned that Home Depot was using X-Rite color measurement instruments and software for both color inspiration and formulation. “I looked around the industry,” she says, “and it looked like there were some more affordable solutions out there. But these tools are the core of my business, and there was no point in trying to cut corners. I wanted to partner with the best in the industry so I could offer my customers the best possible solutions. X-Rite is an extremely professional brand. I decided I would rather pay more to get something I can trust rather than spend less with a company that might shut down or not be able to support my investment in the future.”

With that in mind, Morgan’s next call was to X-Rite. “They gave me great advice on what I should purchase,” she reports, “but I was also concerned about my level of color knowledge. I had the basics from art school; but that was a while ago, and I knew I needed to brush up.” X-Rite recommended that Morgan attend one of its many in-depth color seminars or schedule an in-person custom seminar. “I didn’t think either of those options fit well with the way I learn,” she comments. “I asked if we could schedule a series of telephone discussions. While they had never before done this type of in-depth training in that way, they were willing to give it a try.”

inkk supplies

With her new X-Rite Ci64 handheld sphere spectrophotometer, Color iMatch formulation software and a ColorMunki Design in hand, Morgan was ready to begin. “I went through a total of six sessions with X-Rite Color Expert Jeff Dodge,” she says, “and I learned a lot. He was able to give me guidance that was very specific to my needs. That, combined with my fine art education and my understanding of 3D software, web sites and user interfaces, I had what I needed to get the business going.”

Morgan’s company name is Octopi 616, and her product brand is inkk. “Octopi communicate with color,” she says, “and I wanted to use that theme.” The first step was building a database of her own custom colors and finding a vendor who could supply her with luxury quality clear nail polish and a full range of colorants. “My personal color database has a wide range of colors in it, and I am always adding more,” she states. “But I will never be able to come up with all of the possible colors my customers might want or give those colors names that are meaningful to the customers. The next step was building the online store that allows my customers to easily choose and name their own colors. That part was actually pretty easy with my software development background.”

Selecting packaging was next. “My first attempt was to design an octopus-shaped bottle,” Morgan explains. “That didn’t work out that well since the tentacles were fragile and kept breaking. So I purchased a small 3D printer and created an octopus cap for a classy-looking off-the-shelf bottle. I used the 3D-printed prototypes to thoroughly test the design before sending it off to manufacturing. Silver caps are used for colors from my personal database, and gold caps are used for customers’ colors. The design is very unique and works well with my overall theme. Plus, the handle is easy to grasp. From the bottom of the bottle to the top of the cap measures five inches. The cap is designed to hold comfortably in your hand for precision, and the brush is short for precision as well.”

inkk is Born

Morgan launched www.yourinkk.com in early July 2016 and is already taking custom orders. She has both Android and iOS apps in their respective online stores as well. Both the web interface and the apps are very intuitive and easy to use.

inkk matching

“Customers either select or take an inspiration photo,” Morgan says, “or they can choose a color using the color wheel or from my library. They can then play around with the colors, and save them with meaningful names. Once an order is placed, I use a combination of Color iMatch and software I have designed to extract the color data in L*a*b values and create the formulation recipe. Then it’s usually just a few minutes to mix the color. I judge the outcome by eye, and if an adjustment is required, I can either do a trial-and-error or go back to Color iMatch for a fix. Orders as small as one bottle can be on their way to the customer within hours!”

Morgan is also experimenting with an avatar that allows users to apply a skin tone matching theirs and lip color. “Customers often want to see how the nail polish will look against their skin tone,” she says, “or with their favorite lipstick color. Most women change nail polish colors more frequently than they do their lipstick color, so seeing how they work together can be important.”

Beyond Basic Color

For more complex colors or very color-critical applications such as corporate colors where an exact match is needed, Morgan uses a high quality 8-color printer to print the image and measures it with her Ci64. “I really thought I wouldn’t need the instrument beyond making my own library,” she says, “but it has actually come in quite handy for situations like this.” She uses her ColorMunki Design to profile and calibrate both her monitor and printer to ensure that target colors are achieved.

Morgan has other ideas as well. “I see a big opportunity in weddings and other events,” she points out. “I can partner with wedding or event planners, and take my Ci64 with me when I meet with them. I can then capture exact color data based on apparel, flowers or other decorative elements that will be used. It’s really exciting and fun!”

Next Up

inkk won’t be stopping there. “I’d like to experiment with eye shadows,” Morgan says. “That’s another cosmetics product that women change out frequently. It has its own challenges, though, since I would be working with powdered pigments that need to be measured. Once I’m ready to proceed with that, I will work with X-Rite to find accessories for the Ci64 that allow me to do non-contact measurement of powders and other materials.”

Morgan is also looking forward to the continued technology developments that X-Rite and others are bringing to market in the field of color. “There are some exciting things going on,” she says, “that will allow users to ensure that the color their phone camera picks up is actually the right color. I profile and calibrate everything, but the average consumer doesn’t even know they need to! To get to the point where the consumer’s device is displaying accurate color, it needs an intuitive solution that gives them the right monitor or screen colors without their needing to know anything about color science. I think we’ll get there soon, and that will open even more doors.”

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