Chanel has a magic wand for beautiful eyelashes, thanks to 3D printing

Chanel is on the cutting edge of additive manufacturing in the cosmetics industry, as evidenced by their latest mascara launch.


In June 2018, Chanel became one of the first major cosmetics companies to use additive manufacturing on a mass scale when they launched the long-awaited Le Volume Révolution de Chanel mascara featuring a 3D-printed mascara wand. The patented brush features a unique honeycomb structure and microcavities, allowing the brush to “deliver the optimal amount of mascara in one stroke” [1]. But there is more value behind the technology than what initially meets the eye(lash); 3D printing eliminates the traditional manufacturing need for expensive plastic injection molds, thereby reducing manufacturing costs and increasing speed to market [2].









Why is this megatrend important to product development?

Additive manufacturing is important to Chanel’s product development because it can improve both manufacturing efficiency and product design capabilities. There has been a shift in the cosmetics market in recent years that puts Chanel at a disadvantage; the growing power of beauty influencers on social media has allowed new, digitally-native, “indie” cosmetics brands to scale quickly online with minimal marketing spend. These small, agile brands have disrupted the beauty landscape and large brands are now struggling to keep pace with the rapidly changing market [3, 4]. Increased speed to market with innovation is becoming critical in order to remain competitive. Additive manufacturing could provide a significant design advantage because it allows for rapid prototyping without the costly and time-consuming process of creating injection molds. Chanel fine-tuned the design of the Volume Revolution mascara wand by creating over 100 prototypes with 3D printing, and says the unique shape of the wand would not have been possible with conventional manufacturing methods [5]. Examples of prototypes are shown below.

What is Chanel doing to address this issue in the short and medium term?

Chanel patented the 3D printed mascara wand in 2007, but the product did not launch until 2018 after partnering with French 3D-design firm Erpro Group, who worked on the project for 2 years and built a new facility specifically designed to produce the brushes. The factory houses six machines which are capable of producing 50,000 brushes per day, up to a target of 1 million per month [2]. It is still early days for the newly launched mascara, so it is hard to tell what the notoriously private Chanel is planning for 3D printing in the future; however, I believe that the significant investment they made in this technology is indicative of their commitment to further explore the potential of additive manufacturing in the short and medium term.

What other steps should Chanel take in short and medium term?

Mascara is just the first step for Chanel. As a next step, I recommend that they expand outside of the eye category and consider applying additive manufacturing technology to the face category. Face is the largest segment of the color cosmetics market—accounting for 47% of sales vs 38% for eye—and is growing at a faster rate than the eye segment [6]. Being quick to market with new face products would provide a competitive advantage for Chanel, which is sorely needed as they have recently expanded into growing distribution channels like Ulta and are now competing against both prestige and mass brands [7].

Additive manufacturing clearly provides significant benefits to both the design and manufacturing processes for Chanel, but I believe they should also consider using the technology to create more sustainable packaging. The beauty and personal care industry is facing mounting pressure from consumers to clean up its packaging in order to reduce ocean pollution. Large companies like P&G are starting to take strong stances on sustainability and corporate social responsibility, “Procter & Gamble’s Ambition 2030 campaign outlines plans to use primarily eco-friendly and recyclable packaging innovations for its 20 leadership brands…the scale is huge for the global players, but smaller indie brands are showing how it’s done.” [8]

Open questions:

Some beauty companies like Lush are beginning to use 3D printing as a means of product customization [9], but there has yet to be proven success with it. How can a large-scale cosmetics company maximize the use of 3D printing – is the primary value in manufacturing or is customization also worth pursuing?

It took Chanel 11 years to launch this product after filing one of their first patents in 2007. Would further developments take years to implement, or do they now have enough experience with additive manufacturing to expand quickly?



  1. CHANEL. (2018). LE VOLUME RÉVOLUTION DE CHANEL Extreme Volume Mascara 3D-Printed Brush 10 – NOIR | CHANEL. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Nov. 2018].
  2. Weil, J. (2018). Shifting Priorities for Beauty Product Packaging. [online] WWD. Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2018].
  3. Truglia, S. (2018). Young and in Love … With Lipstick and Eyeliner. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].
  4. Mintel (2018). Colour Cosmetics – UK – May 2018. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2018].
  5. Lai, E. (2018). Chanel announces plan to mass-produce a 3D printed mascara brush – 3D Printing Industry. [online] 3D Printing Industry. Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2018].
  6. Mintel (2018). Color Cosmetics – US – July 2018. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].
  7. Thomas, E. (2018). How Ulta Is Resetting the Mass Beauty Shopping Experience. [online] WWD. Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2018].
  8. Stylus (2018). The Great Beauty Green-Up.
  9. Jackson, B. (2018). 3D printing part of £13 million innovation push at Lush cosmetics – 3D Printing Industry. [online] 3D Printing Industry. Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].


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Student comments on Chanel has a magic wand for beautiful eyelashes, thanks to 3D printing

  1. Thank you for this insightful piece about 3D printing for the cosmetics industry. I believe now that Chanel has launched their first 3D-printed product, their development cycle for future printed products should be quicker. This is because of the major advancements in 3D-printing technology ( especially in recent times which now allow for more cost-effective methods to manufacture these products. Also, now that this product is out in the market, management may be less hesitant to develop more 3D-printed products, since they can use this as one of their ‘success’ product and improve from the learnings they gained through this mascara wand development and production.

  2. This was an awesome read; thanks for pulling it together! Reflecting on this, I am still working through whether additive manufacturing has branding/marketing power in excess of the core manufacturing efficiency benefits. For example, can a company use marketing around a “3-D printed customized product” to command a higher price for its products? If so, the added margin of such products may justify the incremental development costs associated with bringing such products/services to market.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this! As a loyal Chanel mascara user myself, I’m excited to hear about the innovations that they are pursuing in the space. To your second question about the time to market, I would hope that Chanel is able to leverage learnings from this project to make themselves more efficient on future projects. Frankly, I think this speed is critical for them to continue to innovate and remain competitive and current among so many niche and DTC brands as you note in your essay.

  4. Reading about Chanel’s commitment to incorporating 3D-printing was very interesting. Thank you for the insight! It has made me curious what the ROI on this project might have been. How much are they saving and at what upfront cost? Likely not answers you can provide of course. I also like the fact that they produced an entirely new product to be 3D-printed instead of attempting to recreate one of their existing products. This allowed them to take advantage of design features only a 3D-printer could implement. However, I do think it’s also a little bit risky because consumers may not like the type of material of the 3D-printed product, which would render the equipment either underutilized or completely useless.

  5. Interesting read, and I like the questions you posed. Here’s my stab at them:

    (1) I think realistically a larger company doesn’t have much flexibility to spend on customization – their R&D would probably be best served coming up with prestige products (like this magic wand!) that can appeal to a broad swathe of customers. Niche products, especially if they are customized to the individual, could be difficult to scale and distribute. Customization could be an interesting marketing tactic. I can imagine some kind of campaign around the holiday period, where they can order unique gifts or makeup kits that have some 3d printed element (or maybe do a traveling city tour, or have some kind of experiential pop-up studio – lots of options!)…but I don’t really see this being a core part of the business in the long run.

    (2) I expect their development cycle to speed up, but since Chanel is a prestige brand, I don’t think it will be very fast either. I’d probably expect a 3-4 year cycle, which to me seems reasonable so that they build up an appetite in their customer base for something new.

  6. Great read! I personally am more bullish on the prospect of customization over mere manufacturing cost savings. As the beauty market becomes ever more competitive, and as consumers develop greater desires to feel “special and unique”, I think that customization will play a huge revenue-generating factor, especially if it can be delivered more easily with 3D printing technology. However, your point on Chanel’s snail-like pace is duly noted, and given the fact that 3D printing for the purposes of customization is still such a new idea, I believe that Chanel and other large-scale companies will be slow to act.

  7. As a loyal Chanel fan, I’m both excited to hear about the innovations and aren’t surprised at the slow development cycle. I am surprised similarly to you about their choice of product for innovation – Mascara. As I imagine the face products to have a much higher profit margin. Or going beyond Chanel beauty, I expect once the development cycle speed up and they have a better relationship/technology matured, Chanel can move this into their couture line. The 3D printing can fit different body curves as well as tailored requests. That is where I see the purposes of customization.

    Overall great read and a great topic to study!

  8. Interesting read. When the first eye palette was 3D printed a couple years ago. It caused a stir how this technology will revolutionize the cosmetics industry especially for customized makeup products. However, to date, the adoption or advancement in this application is still not taken off yet in the industry. My understanding is that what truly drives the sale of the products are 1) creative/impactful marketing 2) attractive packaging. So 3-D printing doesnt address either of those, except for the short term boost for the marketing front. What’s your take on that?

  9. Thanks for sharing this fascinating use case of 3D printing! I can definitely see the benefits of rapid prototyping with something like a mascara wand where the shape can really impact the performance. However, I question what the benefits would be in most other makeup products where the main performance differentiator comes from the product formulation (e.g., color, texture, staying power), which isn’t addressed through 3D printing. Chanel has obviously invested a lot in this new 3D printing facility, but I wonder if it’ll end up mostly as an advertising gimmick or will actually pay off in other products?

  10. Really interesting article! To your first question on how companies can leverage additive manufacturing, I think it will come down to time to market. Having also spent some time investing in the beauty industry, I saw how the smaller indie brands were winning, many times because they simply were able to come to market first with new trends given R&D cycles of 6 months to 1 year. I think that if older, more established brands with the resources to invest in 3-D printing are able to leverage this technology to shorten their product innovation lifecycle, we can start to see a really interesting faceoff between the two types of beauty products. This could be what keeps the older CPG companies more competitive in the world where they are quickly losing share.

  11. Thank you for the write-up! This is a new application of 3D printing at a commercial scale that I did not know about – always good to learn. 2 thoughts that I have

    1) As mentioned by some of the comments above, the rate of adoption of additive manufacturing has been slow. I wonder what the core drivers of this are: a) is it that the current technology not being sophisticated enough for commercial manufacturing? or b) is the current cost associated with 3D printing is still uncompetitive vs. traditional manufacturing? But it is not just commercial 3D printing that hasn’t gained much traction. Glowforge, a 3D printing company based out of Seattle, makes a different bet: they believe in the future of personalization happening at the home and go after a B2C model. They have had multiple product shipment delays in the past, and as far as I’m aware, haven’t seen meaningful customer uptake. But maybe we just need to wait.

    2) You mentioned additive manufacturing allows Chanel to respond to important trends in beauty, namely indie brands launched by influencers with minimal marketing budget. I’m curious if scale adoption of 3D printing will even further feed the growth of this trend and drive down the overall costs involved in product development and manufacturing of the entire industry. As barriers to entry go down with new manufacturing technologies, additive manufacturing being one of them, I see smaller indie brands benefiting more from this, vs. the corporate behemoths.

  12. This is an interesting piece about Chanel. Will their 3D printing be as fast and cost effective as their current manufacturing? Another option that would be amazing to see: They could keep a 3D printer in every store and keep very little inventory on their floor. When someone wants a product, the 3D printer could just make it for them. Of course, the speed and reliability of the printer would need to increase significantly. Overall though, this would help them save on inventory holding costs and floor space.

  13. Really interesting read about the use of 3D printing at Chanel. In the very short term I see the benefit of 3D printing for manufacturing cost reduction. To date, this initiative feels largely like a big PR spend for Chanel (largely because we have such little visibility into the ROI of this investment). I’m interested to see where Chanel takes its 3D printers in the future.

  14. This was an excellent read on how Chanel has used additive manufacturing to improve its product development process. You pose an interesting question regarding whether additive manufacturing will be used more for pure manufacturing or for customization. While my intuition was that it will be used mostly for manufacturing, I do think there are some interesting applications for customization. After doing some research, it appears that an HBS alum is tackling the space of customized, 3D printed makeup through her company Mink ( Through Mink, customers can create their own makeup using “any color they can find on the internet”. I think customization could be particularly interesting for foundations – how cool would it be if you could 3D print a foundation that exactly matches your skin color?

  15. Really interesting piece – 3D printing can serve as a good way of increasing efficiency, but given its early days and the high cost, it seems most companies have not scaled into utilizing it in their full product but rather as a way of prototyping. I think customization may be too costly however 3D printing does remove the typical set up costs. Perhaps they should focus on scaling before customizing and showing how they can be agile as a company similar to how Zara is with different line rotations based on customer needs.

  16. Since 3D printing is still an extremely expensive technology to use, there seems to be a transition point at which a prototyped product is projected to be successful enough to be made in mass quantities. This point obviously varies by product and industry, as does the quantity corresponding to break-even cost of production. I’m curious to know what that quantity may be for this Chanel product. As several variations of this product are likely needed (size, color, style, material), this makes 3D printing more of a viable option but this likely results in a higher product price vs. traditional manufacturing methods.

  17. While I appreciate how Chanel could expand their use of additive manufacturing (AM) to other beauty segments, I would caution that such move might not make economic sense. According to the article “The Limits of 3D Manufacturing” by Matthias Holweg published on the Harvard Business Review, “3D printing simply works best in areas where customization is key… However, we also know that 99% of all manufactured parts are standard and do not require customization. In these cases, 3D printing has to compete with scale-driven manufacturing processes and rather efficient logistics operations.” Therefore, I think Chanel should use more AM in highly customizable and expensive products, while refraining from using 3D printing for standard parts.

  18. Great read – thanks for sharing. It’s fascinating to see how additive manufacturing is shaping the beauty industry and how Chanel is leveraging this technology to design its mascara brushes. However, I question what the barriers to entry may be. What’s stopping others or will stop others, such as Dior, from doing the same? Additionally, given the relatively low price of this product for Chanel versus the rest of its product portfolio, a high volume of sales is required to make it an attractive product for the company to offer. Are there significant benefits to using 3D printing versus traditional manufacturing to manufacture this product? To your point about customization, however, it would be amazing for customers to be able to customize makeup products to their specifications.

  19. Customize customize customize! Though I am not a user of Chanel products, I believe the biggest benefit of additive manufacturing at its core is the ability to customize at low cost – i.e without having to retool. Imagine if you could tell a potential customer to come to your store try an item and then have it perfectly re-sized just to their liking beyond make-up? If you could do this for more products in the line it would be phenomenal. Normally, this would likely be prohibitively expensive in a luxury industry where materials are extremely expensive. As was also mentioned, Chanel can take advantage of fast retooling to tackle trend changes and fight off upstart companies who innovate on design. Upon writing the previous sentence, it does make me slightly worry for competition, though.

  20. Do you believe this will dilute Chanel’s brand as 3D printing products on a mass scale hardly seems luxury or exclusive. I see that Chanel needs to adopt this to compete with other mass brands in this subsegment but I feel like a lot of the allure of Chanel is due to its non-mass appeal. As a fashion house, I think it does need to keep up with technological changes, especially any that might be cost-saving or more efficient, but I can’t help but think it cheapens the brand a little?

  21. Thanks for the article – a great read! As a couple of others have mentioned above, I think that the threat posed by “indie” startup brands is actually increased by the existence of additive manufacturing, and this is where I’d like to focus my comment:

    To my mind, that additive manufacturing will remove the need for moulds and potentially re-tooling time (thereby, potentially reducing contract manufacturers’ typically high minimum volumes) will hurt big brands, because these are the big costs and cash expenses that act as significant barriers for would-be entrants. The contract make-up manufacturing facility of the future might be able to service many small orders from brands in a single day, and realise comparable profitability and output to a situation where they only ran one line in a day.

    It might also make me nervous as a large contract manufacturer or distributor – we don’t know where the split of physical vs e-commerce will ultimately land, but the erosion of scale benefits could also see local retailers make many of our desired goods right in front of us, or even equip us to make things ourselves in our homes. This would threaten the business models of the scale manufacturers and distribution with a significant fragmentation of their customers.

  22. This article was an excellent read. Thank you for sharing!
    I have another inquiry related to your second open question. How can Chanel sustain its competitive advantage in a world where new and agile brands can simply 3D scan and 3D print Chanel’s design advances in a relatively short amount of time? I personally believe that additive manufacturing will continue to lower entry barriers to the beauty market and pave the way to more agile entrepeneurs to offer competitive products at materially lower prices to the market.

  23. Thank you for this in-depth look at Chanel’s new product and their approach to 3-D printing!

    It is clear that they were able to leverage the advantages of 3-D printing throughout the R&D process to iterate quickly. I am also impressed they are ready to manufacture at least 1 million brushes per month, with only 6 machines! Scale is a notorious drawback of most 3-D printing applications. However, I am not convinced that the product has been especially advantaged by these iterations and prototypes, knowing that their intent is to revolutionize the mascara stick. Has Chanel proven that their 3-D printed wand is superior to the traditional? If they see significant cost-savings with the avoidance of traditional metal molds, and the material waste implied by injection molding, then perhaps it does not matter!

  24. Very fascinating piece. My pushback to using additive printing in the cosmetic industry more broadly is the exact consideration you raised, namely the time between ideation/patent and product development. Given the trend nature of beauty and the incredibly unpredictable pace with which the cosmetic industry moves, the lead time required here is economically unfeasible. Perhaps one way Chanel can extend this product innovation is by creating new product lines – one that comes to mind is the emerging false lashes space (i.e. strip lashes) which is expected to grow at a 7% CAGR over the next 2 years.

  25. I think it’s interesting and certainly innovative for Chanel to use additive manufacturing to prototype different mascaras, but it seems like the best way to compete with inidie make-up brands would be more on the ingredients of the their face products. Where additive manufacturing can be of some assistance is within the packaging space, as you’ve identified. The most challenge part of putting on makeup is keep all the pieces organized in an efficient manner. I would love to see a product that enabled me to use multiple elements of my makeup pack in one kit.

  26. As the article suggests, there has been a shift in the industry towards increasing use of “niche” brands. An innovative move such as this is a strong marketing play for a large and established player like Chanel, allowing it to create it’s own nice and projecting an image of being established but not outdated. Though the first line of products had a long product development cycle, I believe that Chanel would be able to leverage its experience and its patented technology to quickly scale the number of applications. My take is that they should allow for greater customization – which would serve as a strong differentiation – especially when competing against other established players who might not be able to offer any thing similar anytime soon!

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