A robotic tattoo artist


Here’s something we thought we’d never see: a robot that turns a computer drawing into a tattoo on the user’s arm.

The basic design of the robot is a frame that moves linearly along two axes, and rotates around a third. The tattoo design is imported into a 3D modeling program, and with the help of a few motors and microcontrollers a tattoo can be robotically inked on an arm.

Since the arm isn’t a regular surface, [Luke] needed a way to calibrate his forearm-drawing robot to the weird curves and bends of his ar.  The solution to this problem is a simple calibration process where the mechanism scans along the length of [Luke]‘s arm, while the ‘depth’ servo is manually adjusted. This data is imported into Rhino 3D and the robot takes the curve of the arm into account when inking the new tat.

Right now [Luke] is only inking his skin with a marker, but as far as automated tattoo machines go, it’s the best – and only – one we’ve ever seen.


  1. Troy says:

    Ever think of using a dead pig as a test? A pig’s skin is similar to humans. Good way of testing to see if the robot is doing the job well. Just don’t try to fry up that bacon afterwards.

  2. dwan says:

    Soon we’ll see this robot tattoo-artist drinking absinth with this e-david : https://vimeo.com/68859229

  3. Eatith Mee says:

    I’ve seen a tattooing robot before, like more than once, I can’t think of the shows though. But I also can’t think of something as lame as getting a tattoo in the first place, everything is a fad, you get said fad on skin, change your mind a day later on said fad. Butterflies turn into creey blushish, washed out gargoyles, tribal tattoos should, oh, I dunno? Remain on tribes folk maybe? Barbed wire does not make you anymore “bad ass” , Your kid, relative, GIRLFRIEND on your skin!? FOREVER?! Leave it to humans to cheapen EVERYTHING. Now you can not only be shallow and souless, have a shallow and souless robot do it for you!

    • Blue Footed Booby says:

      Wow, either you’re really boring or have terrible taste in friends. ;)

    • Thopter says:

      What do you find offensive about having your kid’s name tattooed on? No matter what happens, they will always be your kid. Nothing can change that. Sure, spouses may divorce, girlfriends/boyfriends may leave, but a child is forever.

    • Crash says:

      Apparently tattoos are more of a fad to you than grammar is. That hurt my brain to read. As to the subject of actually getting a tattoo myself? They aren’t really for me, but I understand them as a form of art and expression.

    • Etan Eniac says:

      Ah, but along with the automation that brings the robot, comes the ability to do spell checking.

      From what I can tell, spell check could come in real handy.

  4. Ren says:

    The Beast (mentioned in the Book of Revelations) will appreciate having this robotic device to imprint its seal on the foreheads or right hands of its followers.

  5. sneakypoo says:

    Wouldn’t you need some sort of positional feedback here? I mean, an arm isn’t rigid in its form. Just look at your forearm while you wiggle your fingers, there’s considerable movement there. I’m no expert in the art of tattoos but shouldn’t the depth be controlled within a millimeter or two? Tensing up your arm even slightly will screw it all up in a hurry.

    • roboman2444 says:

      im guessing the final design will have a stop to only allow the nedle to penetrate a millimeter or two. Even if you wiggle your arm.

    • Hirudinea says:

      Tattooing is painful as well, you might move involuntarily, a tattoo artist can deal with this, how will the robot? Also how can I take this robot seriously as a tattoo artist if it isn’t covered in ink and piercings? ;)

  6. wretch says:

    Oh, thank goodness it’s only a marker and not a real needle.

  7. Jeremy Cook says:

    Ha, wow, wasn’t there something like that on the movie “Idiocracy.” Just don’t say that your name is “Not sure!”

  8. otomoton says:

    I think this would be better for some sort of laser branding.
    There are too many variables with tattooing: skin texture, thickness, angle and speed of the tattoo machine etc to trust this with permanently inking someone. Would be great for trying out a tattoo with non permanent materials to see how it looks before you get one though.

  9. Pretty cool! It’s not much of a leap from this to DIY robot surgery :) One suggestion – you could probably speed up the calibration process by 3D scanning the arm with a web camera and a line laser. There were some HaD posts on this a few months ago.

  10. Vampyredh says:

    As someone who is actually a tattoo artist I can say this with out any bit of doubt. The machine while a novel idea will never work properly. It does not take into effect that a person getting a needed dipped into the skin at over 1000 sticks per minute will not sit still. The reservoir for a tattoo machine has to be refilled every three inches of line work and every one square inch of fill work. Oh and did I mention that a machine unless calibrated right will not only send the needle to far into the skin but will cause scarring and ripples?

    • Jason K. says:

      I see your point, but to assume tattooing is a more precise than millwork is naive. The problems you describe are well within the tolerances of existing CNC systems.

      • fonz says:

        I’m sure tatooing takes a fair bit of “feel” to do right, but I guess using it to “project” the pattern on the shape of an arm or what ever and draw it with a pen to tatoo after is possible

      • One of the things that makes CNC work so accurate and precise, however, is the fact that the workpiece is clamped down securely. Twitches, tickles, spasms of pain, even the “workpiece’s” pulse could throw it all off. What a CNC tattoo gun needs that other CNC machines don’t is a way to track the work’s exact position at all times, which would be quite a feat given how the skin on the arm can deform.

  11. Ed Watson says:

    The first robotic tattoo machine I remember seeing: http://www.palminfocenter.com/news/4685/palm-os-robotic-tattoo-machine-invented/

  12. Public says:

    I think many have have missed the usefulness of this device. As some have pointed out, real tattoos are permanent but it may be nice to have an on demand, custom temporary tattoo. Think “ink jet printer for your body bits”.

  13. Tim says:

    I hate to be a major nitpicker here but why was a video of a long horizontal object filmed in vertical mode? it was too tiny to be worth watching on my horizontal screen, as it was effectively letterboxed down to a single pixel.

  14. Mike says:

    Would like to see this adapted for use to put graphics on curved and rounded parts of a car/truck body.

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