Rise of the Machines

Tatoué: Would you like your Tattoo applied by a 3D Printer?


Tatoué is a 3D printer converted into a robot tattoo appliance. Could your humble rockstar tattoo artist soon be out of a job…?

In 2013, the famed design school ENSCI les Ateliers in Paris held a workshop aptly named Public Domain Remix. The goal was to use public domain media to create an ultimate mashup. One group, however, delivered something slightly unexpected: a desktop 3D printer hacked to apply tattoo art.

With the help of 3D printing boutique Le FabShop, they learned the basic idea would actually be surprisingly easy to realize. They need only to train the printer to use a needle and ink instead of a filament extruder.

The results of the one-day workshop were impressive, but hardly enough time to create a fully realized machine. The team christened themselves Appropriate Audiences and set out to develop Tatoué, the world’s first robot tattoo printer.

Over the course of their design iterations, they experimented with 3D printers and CNC machines, and even used Tatoué to practice on fake skin — a common practice among new artists.

Don’t flinch (Image: Appropriate Audiences)

Tatoué is a new tool for Tattoo Artists

While the possibility of having a perfectly printed tattoo seems tempting, the challenge is that the human body is not at all the same as a flat piece of silicon. Body parts have endless curves, and people have difficulty staying as still as inanimate objects.

For Tatoué, they came up with a solution where the needle attachment is equipped with haptic sensors that enable the robot to see the contours of each surface. In other words, as long as you don’t make sudden moves, you should come away with a perfect tattoo.

The potential applications are promising, ranging from the application of temporary and permanent tattoos, to enhancing existing tattoo studios with a new tool for more precise — and more elaborate — designs like geometric patterns.

Best of all, it seems the tattooing community has accepted the project with open arms. Once the machine was ready to rock and roll, they didn’t have trouble finding their first customers. In the team’s own words:

They had to find a volunteer to be their “guiney pig”…Somehow, they had no difficulty. A lot of people where excited by the idea of being the first human tattooed by a “robot”.

The team has since been globetrotting with their tattoo-bot. It’s been to printer, maker and digital events around the world, including exhibits in Saint Petersburg, Rome, Cologne, and Luxembourg.

Curious to see Tatoué in person? It can currently seen on display at Utopian Bodies: Fashion Looks Forward in Stockholm, Sweden, until February 2016.