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.

32 thoughts on “A Robotic Tattoo Artist

  1. 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. 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!

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. When I watched that movie I thought it was okay for slapstick. But the stuff that stuck with me has — inside my mind — become something of an Epic and horrifying forecast of the future. I think that makes it a classic.

        I’m not looking forward to public fountains that only dispense sports drink.

  3. 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.

    1. 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? ;)

  4. 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.

    1. I don’t think it’s outside of what a robot can do with current technology and custom software…it’s just gonna cost as much as a leading edge manufacturing robot.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

      1. 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

      2. 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.

  7. 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”.

  8. 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.

  9. I program industrial robots and we already have vision systems and laser depth finders that can compensate for work piece movement. A human is not really much different different. Besides, why not sedate them?

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