Create your color at Ink Lab

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In this technologically advanced era, ever-smarter gadgets and artificial intelligence software help people save time and increase efficiency. However, analogue culture still exists and many people are drawn to all things analogue, putting up with inconveniences.

Grownups enjoy coloring books, use fountain pens and decorate their diaries by hand as these analogue products serve as tools for personalization.

Following this trend, brands seek diversification and look for products that have value of possession beyond practicality. Monami, a Korean stationery brand, opened a concept store named Ink Lab last December in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.

At Ink Lab, visitors can mix existing colors to produce unique, customized color inks. The fairly small but modern space has an all-white interior and glass vials give the impression of a science lab or a cosmetics store.

In the center lies a long rectangular counter where the lab assistant helps visitors experiment with inks. There also is a meeting room where classes take place such as “decorate your blank canvas tote bag” and “color your travel diary.”

The lab assistants are regular employees at the stationary company, who have been trained in color theory and color mixing.

Custom ink-making process

On the main counter lies everything that is essential for creating custom inks.

Each visitor’s workspace has a set of color inks in dropper bottles, a pad of paper for writing down the number of drops used of each color in the mixture, a glass dip pen, a glass rod for stirring, a tiny plastic cup for mixing colors, a large beaker filled with water for rinsing, some napkins and a color chart.

These inks are dye-based, which means they’re water-soluble and have color vibrancy. The chart shows color combinations of all 15 colors and a transparent base so visitors can decide which colors to mix.

One’s formula can include up to three colors and a transparent base. A lab assistant recommends mixing less than three colors, though, because the color might get dark and murky otherwise.

“Determining the ratio of colors is of utmost importance when creating one’s own blend,” lab assistant Shin Yoo-sun explained. “I don’t recommend using too much transparent base because it’ll appear lighter on paper.”

Then the assistant takes away the memo and the small glass to produce the color ink on a larger scale and bottle it.Dispensing colors into a small plastic cup drop by drop, mixing well with the glass rod, and then testing the result on a pad of paper with the glass dip pen are the general steps for creating one’s unique color.

Shin stressed the importance of keeping track of the number of drops of each color in one’s mixture. “Make sure you write down every detail of droplets. I need to know the exact ratio of colors in order to make the ink for you later on.”

Once a visitor tries mixing a variety of colors and sorts out their favorite color, the lab assistant asks for a name for their color.

“Naming is another fun part about the whole process. Some come up with ordinary names, while others bring up funny ones such,” she said. Some of the most amusing names she cited were “tteokbokki (spicy stir-fried rice cakes) after exam” and “spinachsaurus,” a green dinosaur loved by children.

It costs 25,000 won ($22) per 30 milliliter bottle. Each bottle comes in a small white paper box and inside it is a custom color ratio card that has ink serial numbers one can use to reorder the same ink.

Kim Ji-yoon, 11, said he came to Ink Lab because he wanted to try fun activities over the summer vacation.

“I read a blog post about Ink Lab and thought it would be interesting to try out,” he said. “I mixed yellow and blue colors to produce turquoise. Green and blue are my two favorite colors.”

The young customer added that he’s satisfied with the fact that he can now write with his own color that represents his characteristics, and would like to come back to make different colors.

Lab assistant Shin said blue and green are the most popular colors. “I never asked why our visitors prefer such colors, but I assume they tend to feel familiar with the colors of nature,” she said.

If making custom ink is too complicated, there are simpler do-it-yourself (DIY) kits to try at home. A customizable ballpoint pen kit lets customers design their own edition of Monami’s signature hexagonal 153 Pen by assembling different tubes, buttons, funnel ends and springs.

“DIY is appealing to more and more Koreans, who have grown tired of monotonous lifestyles and crave new experiences,” Shin said.

Desire to be unique

Ink Lab is located in a rather suburban area, but the company is confident about its decision.

“Concept stores are usually placed in areas of high pedestrian traffic, but the size and location of the store aren’t everything. We believe content and personality are much more important,” said Shin Dong-ho, a marketing manager at Monami.

“Despite the not-so-great location, people all across the country visit Ink Lab due to increased demand for alternatives to mainstream culture. Those who seek individuality or are interested in DIY products are our target customers.”

He added that people of all age groups, ranging from children to the middle-aged, visit the lab, but women in their 20s and 30s represent the largest segment.

Aimed at satisfying those customers’ tastes for luxury, Ink Lab’s product zone also offers foreign premium brands.

Ink Lab is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekends. It is eight minutes from exit 2 of Dongcheon Station on the Shinbundang Line.

In order to participate in making custom ink, visitors must make a reservation in advance, or otherwise will be turned away. The process takes approximately 45 minutes. Visit for more information.

By Kwak Yeon-soo

(Korea Times)

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