Turning The Makerbot Into A Tattoo Machine


ENSCI les Ateliers, the famous design school in Paris, had a “Public Domain Remix” and hackathon recently, with teams splitting up to remix public domain and other free-to-use IP in projects. Most of the teams came up with similar ideas, but one team went above and beyond the call of duty; they turned a 3D printer into a tattoo machine, capable of inking a real, live human test subject.

The build began by plotting a circle with a pen onto a piece of paper. This evolved into printing a tool holder for a tattoo machine graciously provided by an amateur tattoo artist. Tests with “artificial skin” (any one care to hazard a guess at what that is?) were promising, and the team moved on to a human guinea pig.

The biggest problem the team faced is that humans aren’t flat. They tried a few tricks to tighten the skin around the area to be tattooed – metal rings, elastics, and finally the inner tube from a scooter. In the end, the team was able to tattoo a small circle on the forearm of the test subject.

It’s an extremely simple and small tattoo, and scaling this build up to a sleeve would be difficult. A better solution would be to create a point cloud of an arm before going for a much larger tattoo.


  1. iomgas says:

    But can it do goatse?

  2. Damen Nix says:

    lol maybe one day but for now (and the forseable future) I think I’ll pass.

  3. Eloi says:

    “Not Sure”

  4. jwrm22 says:

    Now under the lasercutter to remove it…

  5. Steve Z says:

    “Pig skin is the traditional practice skin used by tattoo apprentices since tattooing began to be popular. Long before plastic practice skin was invented, pig skin was readily available.”


    • m1ndtr1p says:

      Also, honeydew melons, oranges, grapefruits, pig ears and pig feet from the butcher (if the skin isn’t available), are all acceptable mediums to practice on…

  6. wretch says:

    “…and the team moved on to a human guinea pig.”

    Whom they dragged and tied down to the tattooing machine kicking and screaming, I’m sure. (c:

  7. Hirudinea says:

    This could but skizie low lifes out of buisness everywhere!

  8. skinflower says:

    …pretty sure it is easier to just go to a tattoo artist~!!!

  9. braddo says:

    Their mistake was not using an oeuf-bot.

  10. Trav says:

    Exchange it for an over-sized Egg-Bot and you can be tattooing heads everywhere. Just in time for Easter.

    (You don’t know hard hard it was for me not to type “egg-change” in the opening sentence)

  11. capcouillon says:

    Surely, you jest!…
    Too many variables (even on individual bodies) to be run on a machine. At least in a practical enviroment. Toughness and density of dermal layers, ink acceptance, not to mention shading densities, dermal tension, etc, all on a moving body. And believe me, everybody moves.
    I know of which I speak.

    Dat’s my arm, since finished into a 1/2 shirt. Only machine I want to see is one that goes bzzzzzzzzz.

  12. Swingline Staplebot V1.0 says:

    For my next project I’m going to make a bot that does body piercing. Any volunteers?

  13. statistical pig says:

    I think the idea of a 3d tattoo might be interesting. You could print subdermal holograms. I wonder if you could print subdermal machinery. Could you make gears that move? Could you put dots that are electronically programmable – like brilliant pebbles in reverse, applied to inner space?

  14. m1ndtr1p says:

    This would make pretty terrible tattoos that end up with broken lines and premature fading, not to mention the inability to shade, which is necessary for a good looking tattoo… The skin needs to be stretched when applying the tattoo, otherwise you miss spots and end up with a pretty crappy looking tattoo… I’d never get a tattoo from anything other than a professional tattoo artist… Good project, but not exactly useful.

  15. statistical pig says:

    I could see something controlling the rotation of the arm as being able to turn the 3d motion of the head into requiring only 2d motion – of the right sort. Consider the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_a5gHfpLxNs

  16. Trav says:

    In all seriousness, I could see this as a Henna Kiosk.

    1. Pick Tattoo from a list.
    2. Apply body part to opening (probably a circle cut out 2-1/2″ dia.). This would stretch the skin.
    3. Laser or projector would show the tattoo on the skin visible via mirror reflection or camera.
    4. Rotate and scale tattoo
    5. Hit go. A delta bot then inkjets your skin

    I wonder if you used high enough pressure nozzles if it would inject into the skin with good enough results.

  17. Chris says:

    I could imagine a finished product could make a lot of money, but printers are known for their unreliability.
    Had to think of this scene from the Simpsons:

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