In october 2013, a famous design school in Paris, ENSCI les Ateliers, hosted a workshop organised by the French Ministry of culture. The idea was to use images, videos and sound fallen in the national pubic domain and use them in a sort of “Mashup”. The event was called Public Domain Remix.

The students had one day (8 hours) to pick their digital material and transform it, hack it or remix it.

Le FabShop, was invited as a digital manufacturing expert to help the students realise their project.

After a short brainstorm, all the teams came up with similar ideas, except one, who really went out of the box with their concept. They had this silly idea of making a machine that could automatically create tattoos taken from a bank of images. They learned from le FabShop's representative that their concept was more than feasible. It could be prototyped by themselve, using the school's equipment.  

In one afternoon, they managed to hack a Desktop 3D printer and enable it to trace on skin, using a pen instead of the extruder. The crowd was amazed and the Minister of culture even came to see the projects, but the young designers didn’t want to stop there. They wanted the machine to make REAL tattoos, on REAL skin, so they kept working on the project during their spare time, with some help from teachers and other students.

They borrowed a manual tattoo-machine from an amateur tattoo artist and found some artificial skin for the first tests. They chose to draw a simple circle. The perfect shape to test the precision of the process. It worked! But now 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 tatooed by a “robot”.

The big difficulty was to repeat the same exercise on a curve surface and on a material that has much more flexibility than silicone. Many tricks were tried to tighten the area around the skin ( a metal ring, elastics, scotch tape...) but the most effective one was a scooter’s inner tube, open on the area to be marked.

To suceed, everything had to be precise and calculated. Here is a step by step on how to transform a 3D printer or CNC into a tattoo machine.

- Measure your equipment and create (3D print) an adaptor to fix it instead of the 3D printer’s extruder.
- Install your tatoo tool so that it won't move at all. You don’t want it to vibrate during the print.
- Mark the center of the build platform.
- Make your drawing in a 3D software if you are using a three axis machine. Give it a minimum thickness of 0,2mm. Try to have only outlines. The trick won't work to fill surfaces… for the moment.
- Import your drawing in the 3D printing software.
-Measure the lenght between the platorm and the top of the arm you want to tattoo. Then insert the number in the 3D printing software to put the drawing at the good hight. Some 3D printer softwares will automatically put back the drawing to the build plate level. In this case, just create a 0,2x0,2mm cube under your drawing and give it the distance you want. The printer will then adjust its height automatically (since the file’s bottom will be at the good distance).

-You may want to adjust the tension on the skin so your circle wont look oval after removing the rubber. Use a stencil to draw a circle on the skin. Then use the inner tube to give the skin some tension, keeping it stretched uniformly.

-Some 3D printers initialize their XYZ axis by bumping into small sensors, usually at one end of each axis. Since you removed the extruder, you might need to create a small piece wich will make the contact between your new tool and the sensors.

- Make sure to sterilize every single element and tools that might be in contact with the human skin.

- Fill your needle with tattoo ink

- Send the drawing to print and pause the machine once it get’s to it’s measured hight.

- Place the “volunter’s” arm in the Automatic Tatoo machine and make sure that it’s perfectly centered. Start the motor, cross your fingers and… GO!

- If the skin tension and needle hight was measured correctly, every thing should go fine.
This experiment was made under the supervision of Tattoo experts.

For more questions about how this was made, on what is next and on how you can help, please contact the group leader : Pierre Emm at :

Video, episode 1

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jwhitehouse23 days ago
For those who feel that a computer is less likely to make a mistake than a skilled artist. How would you like a computer glitch permanently inked into your arm?
npassath2 months ago

maybe it was not the "first"...

but a very nice project

wthrush3 months ago

(sorry for the insanely long post haha)

very interesting. i have nothing bad to say at all. but as a tattooist, i would have to agree with most of the other people who think this will be a long work in progress. i would love to have one, tho, because ive only done one tribal tattoo in my fifteen years of tattooing (that i can recall). there is muchhhhh more to applying a decent looking tattoo than what has already been mentioned. you guys should look into getting as much help from seasoned tattoo artists who might be able to help you along the way. i personally would love to witness a machine that can give a tattooist a run for their money. and i dont feel like any artists should feel intimidated, or insulted by this machine. i know that "everyone, their mother, AND their robots think they can become a tattooist over night, but we have to face it. it is a new day. but, the machines will need to either not use conventional machines, or need to some how take into consideration how machines work, and how they fail. for instance, a broken spring, pitted front contact, paper towel or who knows what stuck in the needle grouping. not to mention that each tattoo client is most likely different from another, in some way. some peoples skin need to be stretched more. some bleed more. muscle spasming. darker skin tones vs. lighter skin tones. i dont see how a machine could take all of that into consideration. but you guys keep working on this, cuz i want to see it happen. forgot to mention that some tattoo pigments appear to have not been implanted into the skin. a lot of artists have a hard time grasping that fact when they begin, so they tend to overwork certain colors, causing scarring.

paqrat3 months ago

I think a practical application for this will be doing the tattoos where the person getting the tattoo isn't after art, they just want a bluebird or a lightning bolt or the mascot of their school. I'd bet most tattooists have thought at some point in time, if I have to do one more (pick your pet tattoo peeve) I will kill myself with this tattoo machine. Instead of taking money out of the pocket of professional tattooists it should free them up from the grunt work. A shop could have 3 or 4 of the robotic tattoo machines, each doing a tattoo at the same time. The tattoist would monitor the machines and save the lion's share of their time for the real art that they really want to do in the first place. That assumes they are able to get past what I think will be the biggest problem, that problem being the fact that the canvas is human skin. I wonder if one could combine the technology of the robots that travel along a line with a tattoo machine. . Perhaps something like that combined with a tattoo machine with some sort of x-y arms. Or, perhaps someone could redesign a tattoo machine based on the print head of the old dot matrix printers. It could be used to lay down a base tattoo that the human tattoist could clean up. Again, freeing the tattooist up to do the real art and the real money pieces.

KitPrinklers4 months ago

This is awesome! I bet my buddy who owns a tattoo shop will be sweating when I send him this link though haha.

tomhung4 months ago

I think the 3D printer setup is mostly experimental. I would envision a 360 robotic arm would perform this kind of work. I like the idea of a laser calibration system. Don't forget they already have a robot that can play ping-pong.

About the sanitary comments... Anything is only as sanitary as you clean it.

I also must mention the "Not Sure" tattoo of Idiocracy. God I love that movie.

jwhitehouse4 months ago
As a tattoo artist i find this an interesting experiment, but many decades away from a practical application. Most tattoos are bigger than the quarter sized circle this is capable of producing, and a good stretch is essential to any good tattoo. No way could this machine ink a sleeve or backpiece! It would have to be repositioned multple times even to do a small name, and that would cause alignment problems. Im intrigued, but not even a little bit afraid for my job.

By combining many of the projects on this site, one could use visual image recognition and the tattoo "head" could trace the contours of the body.

E.g., a large image on the back. Firstly, the customer lies face down on the equivalent of a massage table, and the desired image is projected onto the back. The operator places some reference marks (outside the intended area), then a laser grid is used to map the topology of the surface. The 3D printer could also do several dummy passes to "feel out" that same topology (i.e., taking into account vertebrae or the scapula). Using that same sense of "feel", the whole system could readjust itself allowing for customer movements.

Whilst I personally have no inclination in this area, I think a dedicated team such as these students could produce a machine capable of doing the larger images you describe in less than two years, although one does have to admit that it would take away the personal touch of the artist.

human skin stretches in different ways and indeed is different thicknesses depending on where on the body it is. The skin on the inside of your elbow, for example, is thinner and stretches along a different bias than the adjacent skin of the biceps. in short, it's not only about the curvature of the body, but also the anatomy. Any future digital tattoo robot would need to employ advanced AI and problem solving skills far beyond
.... what is anywhere near available at present. There are far mor variables involved than a simple 3d printer can account for. the described stretching mechanism with the inner tube is a start, but it would also have to be automated to repeatedly restretch a new piece of skin

I have no personal experience with creating or receiving a tattoo.

However, I still think that a team that achieved so much in such a short space of time could conceivably, at that same rate of development, have a functional prototype, even if it only ink-printed the image precisely so that the "artist" then takes over with the needle-gun (if that's the right word?).

The computer technology is developing faster than the so-called progress of the industrial revolution.

Victor8o54 months ago

I don't know too much about this but you could use 3D imaging hardware like the kinect to make a 3D digitization of the arm, combined with the printing software you could make the printer to know where it should go to apply the perfect pressure, also when making circles on curved surfaces you wouldn't end with ellipses.

You can also use a distance measuring sensor at the tip of it and calculate the curves of the arm and with that data recalculate the drawing dimensions.

It would make the whole thing easier.

neaton14 months ago

Have these folks been able to do barcodes? Or maybe even languages from

Sci-Fi series like Doctor Who(Gallifreyan), or The Lord of the Rings(Dwarven, or Elvish)?

lauralbaby4 months ago

1) The tattoo artists can still design the flash art.

2) This could be so fast that a two-hour session ends up taking fifteen minutes.

Gunther454 months ago

I would think you have to keep you arm very , very still. I silk screening setup will pressure to push the ink through the skin might work if you could get the right pressure to go just below the upper skin layer and not to far. Just a thought. Like the idea but no thanks.

I had to keep pretty darn still when I got my tattoo, yeah.

razamatraz4 months ago

This is pretty awesome. I wonder, if in a future design, locator markers could be used so that the machine can follow a canvas that moves and stretches and shakes, and tenses and flexes. You know, the way satellite imagery is transposed onto GIS data etc. Draw the four points first and as long as the printer sensors can see them it knows where to "Draw".

Also, perhaps a pressure sensitive teflon ring around the "print head" (needle) so it maintains perfect penetration depth as it moves. I'd also give the recipient a kill switch so they can stop if they need to move, take a break, pee etc. during long runs.

smoscatelli4 months ago

This is nothing compared to my tattoer's abilities. A machine won't be able to compare to his hands not even in a million years of progress.

calcappone4 months ago

Unsanitary!?? How is that even said? No one knows if that true or not. Also this does not alienate the artist at all. It seems like its a faster more precise method for the artist to get his work done. He still needs to design the tat. It will allow the artist to make more money in less time.

rodgerbooth4 months ago
wow this thing seems to touch a nerve in some people lol iand i guess i could see a few uses for it ,but some of you are talkng about small detailed designs and you can only go so small or have you lines so close due to the fact that over time those close detailed lines will spread into 1. some one mentioned that a human could sit and do the longer tattoos, actually its the client that most times can only take 2hrs of being under the needle, i my self tattooed for 41hr 26min a couple years ago for a neglected children benefit ,im no afraid of losing my job thats just funny a machine could never replace all the knowledge ive gained in the last 20 yrs plus a machine cant see your turning white getting ready to pass out or calm the worried.hell set it up to do all the tazs , stars, butterflies and Lillys lol and ill buy one.

And the infinity symbols, and the script tattoos, and the feathers exploding into birds.

I'm friends with many tattoo artists and they're about ready to die from all the "Stereotypical" girl tattoos they do on the daily hah.

finally, I can get that barcode....

rodgerbooth4 months ago

Wow taking the artist out of the art , how sad! Poor Huck is rolling over in his grave

right there with you... :(

Oh HELL no! There is no ghost in the machine. A machine does not have the spirit / soul to put in the details. A tattoo that is percist has no spirit, it's than just a picture on skin. People who have no problem getting a picture on skin do not understand why getting a tattoo is (should be) so personal.

Plus, there are so many other branches of danger here.

Branding someone to have them publicly recognized as a certain group (think WWII)

Nanites with special instructions that you never even know are being put into your special picture.

The machine breaks down mid-picture planting

Machine isn't cleaned between picture placing

Machine runs out of ink mid-picture but keeps going and your stuck in that thing getting poked but no picture.

I'd have to disagree, the machine only transforms what other people have dreamed and designed, therefore the artist can spend more time creating, imagining than painting it.... Specially for a big sized tattoo, the artist can't do it all in one session due to human constrains (i.e. Energy) and therefore a 3DTooer would save the artist the energy and time to design better tattoos!

gn0stik shadowram4 months ago

I think this would be perfect for certain types of tattoos. Like a QR or bar code with your name in it, or like they are doing in the video, a perfect circle.. or perhaps a binary message written in a terminal font. There's no way this thing can replace a human tattoo artist. A recipient would have to sit absolutely still so that it wouldn't lose it's reference frame, and it could only be very simple designs. We're many generations off before it could even pick up where it left off, and do simple things like shading.

depends on the type of artist, it is moving from a hand drawing artist to a graphic artist.

xMSIx4 months ago

This project is scary. I would probably much rather get a tattoo from a real person than a machine. But cool.

Having successfully received laser eye surgery, I was very happy that the laser pointed at my eye was being controlled by a machine instead of the doctor himself.

ditto that, the precision these robots have are much better than the best doctor.

fastm3driver4 months ago
Thought about using a delta design instead of a linear type machine like this? They don't have a movable z axis and could be programmed to accommodate curvature. Ideally you would want a scanner that maps the typography to overlay the design buy this is a good start. I assume the negative comments are from tattoo articles that see their jobs disappearing. A robot like this would be MORE sanitary and would make less mistakes while applying the ink more precisely and faster with no fatigue. If you want an imperfect tattoo then by all means have a disease carrying human shoot you up at the end of their shift.
natefanaro4 months ago

It is neat, but this is not the first time someone was tattooed by a robot. In 2002 someone made a very scary looking contraption that had a Palm Pilot and a tattoo gun that you could strap to your arm.

verdelj5 months ago
Cool idea but very, unsanitary. This is coming from a person that has more than 40 hours of work and one infected tattoo a few years ago done at a shop. Not fun had to go to the doctor and had to take antibiotics for a couple of weeks.

Fortunately, they have posted two whole videos and lots of pictures, so it should be easy for you to provide a list of the unsanitary steps in the process. I am sure that the original authors and other readers would like to hear this feedback in order to improve their own versions of the process.

Community support is what makes Instructables awesome.

gn0stik verdelj4 months ago

Not sure how you determined that from the video. They look to be taking care.

claesbert verdelj4 months ago

"- Make sure to sterilize every single element and tools that might be in contact with the human skin."

oh dear.

Tenire4 months ago

This will be great for tattooing that barcode on your skin, when the government is done making us into slaves!!

toounknown4 months ago

Taken a bit further, this kind of reminds me of Kafka (In the Penal Colony)...

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