"What's in the box?"

"Pain." He felt increased tingling in his hand, pressed his lips tightly together. How could this be a test? he wondered. The tingling became an itch... The itch became the faintest burning... It mounted slowly: heat upon heat upon heat... . The burning! The burning! He thought he could feel skin curling black on that agonized hand, the flesh crisping and dropping away until only charred bones remained.

This excerpt from Dune exactly describes the feeling of getting a tattoo burned into skin using a laser cutter; however, this is just the feeling. When sight, smell, and sound are added, the process turns out to be quite an experience.

The sound by itself (meaning no body parts in the cutter), is probably the easiest thing to deal with. It is just the normal whine of gears, belts and cooling fans. When that sound is mixed in with the sensation of burning flesh, it turns the laser cutter from a simple machine shop tool to a futuristic torture device.

The sight is not too bad, just a light tracing its way back and fourth across the body. As long as you don't think about the fact that the small wisp of smoke trailing the light, is actually vaporized skin, everything will be fine.

The smell is bad. It does not travel far, but when you catch a whiff of the burnt flesh stench, it is quite nauseating. The thought that you have just inhaled some of those vaporized skin flakes, and they have settled on the bottom of your lungs, is the worst.

I am leaving a disclaimer out of this, because any person with access to a laser cutter who is dumb enough to try this, deserves what they get.

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Step 1: Ingredients

Picture of Ingredients

1. Laser Cutter
2. High Tolerance for Pain
3. Aloe

Step 2: Circumvent the safety

Picture of Circumvent the safety

Our Epilog has a safety feature that will turn off the laser whenever the lid is opened. The lid contains magnets that activate a hall effect sensor inside the machine. To get around this, I taped a magnetic rubix cube die over the sensor.


Step 3: Find your pain tolerance

Picture of Find your pain tolerance

Test your pain tolerance using different settings on the laser cutter.

The jolly roger wingdings tattoo below was done using the highest power setting, and around 70% speed. While the pain was tolerable, it burned so deep that after a gentle rubbing the skin completely peeled off.


The final settings I used were 90% power and 90% speed.

Strong enough to burn, but quick, so that it does not penetrate deep enough for the skin to instantly peel away afterward.

Step 4: Get etching!

Picture of Get etching!

Choose your design.

Keep in mind that simple outline designs (like the robot and smiley faces) will hurt much less than the solid designs (pacman and space invader). If you can not tolerate the pain, choose a simple line drawing design.

After choosing your design, lay out some painters tape on the bed of the machine, and etch it. This will give you the exact location of the etch, and give you the opportunity to position your body part (hand, arm, foot, etc.) correctly. It will also let you know the duration of the etch, and how long you can expect to endure the pain.

Place your body part in the machine and set the focal point to the skin height. Lasers need a pretty exact focus, so you probably have a window of about +/- one centimeter. Outside of this range and the laser will not be intense enough to burn the skin.


Show off your cool burnt skin tattoos to random people and watch them recoil in horror and disgust.

Step 5: Soothe that burning sensation...

Picture of Soothe that burning sensation...

... with a bit of aloe.

I noticed that creams, lotions, or aloe help soothe the burn, but kill the contrast.

Make your choice.

Step 6: Safety!

Picture of Safety!

I have a failed space invader attempt on my left arm.

I stoopidly forgot that the laser beam was completely exposed on the left side before it hit the final mirror.

Shortly after the space invader etch started, I noticed a lot of smoke. This smoke was not coming from the etch, but from the left side of the cutter, where the upper part of my left arm was resting. When I looked over, I saw that my shirt was smoldering.

I was so focused on keeping my forearm in place (as to not ruin the tattoo), I did not notice that the laser was no longer etching it, but rather cutting a gash into my upper left arm.

Needless to say, I only etched my right arm from that point on.

Step 7:

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grannyjones27 days ago

I can't believe you did that! Please check out the SURVIVAL rates of melanoma. Please.

Tetranitrate (author) 4 months ago

7 years later


is that a faint robot shaped scar I see?

Tetranitrate (author)  weish2 months ago
The robot was on the left hand, so probably not.
kmroue2 months ago

congrats! now you have SKIN CANCER :)

deanmatthews3 months ago

Oh my. If my mate sees this it will end badly, lol, he loves a laser but isn't very bright.

I imagine this is very permanent
It's not permanent at all it goes away like a normal scab

looks permanent

davejuniortwo11 months ago

How long will it last??

is it safe?

no idea


zao931 year ago
but his I is not thinking. be clear of tattoo can longer day (s) will have its turn to be on 50 50 ailing by case
zao931 year ago
it can be seen that the tattoo is done with extreme precision. but the major problem (if not especially (s) infection (s)) but cancerous diseases related to laser.'s made 1% good point against 99% of bad point
Skin cancer yayyyyy
Choco CNC1 year ago

This is actually therapeutic for horses and is called pin firing. Equine vets actually burn the horse flesh with a soldering iron instrument (used to be done by a blacksmith) points over an injury in the shin of the leg to ramp up the healing process (apparently minor strains/sprains/fractures weren't enough to trigger a full-blown immune response). Some vets use freeze burning with LN2 but the hair grows out white later. Thoroughbred race horses used to have this done - locally anesthetize the region first with a needle in many places - although this guy was braver (no local anesthetic was listed under step #1 in ingredients).

nwlaurie1 year ago

Fortunately Darwin rules...

Gabeuse1 year ago

humm ouch?


MustangGuy2 years ago
This is AWESOME!, I will try it if i ever get a hold of a laser cutter.
The_Tinker2 years ago
Yeah.....don't want to do that.
Plo Koon2 years ago
why? WHY!?!?
Plo Koon2 years ago
u must want that little robot REALLY BAD.
ap0kal1ps32 years ago
You should probably not put anything on it to heal except for a bandage. This is because unlike a tattoo, you are trying to cause a scar. The aloe or polysporin or vitamin E ointments prevent scarring. I would also like to add that you should begin this process by disinfecting the area that you are lasing with dettol or 99% isopropanol. If you do use anything to soothe the area afterwards, make it vaseline or lotion. I'd recommend vaseline for your purposes, as it will soothe the burn without preventing scarring.
Ikotoo7 years ago
I have heard be exposed to lasers for long periods of time can give you skin cancer.
I have heard that exposure to lasers for very short periods of time can remove appendages:
someone is a tv addict
This has become a very long conversation.
If you got a super strong laser (future?) then it's possible, but how do you make a laswer that strong only last about a metre? (light sabers, I laugh at you!)
go to unitednuclear, then go to their death ray parts category on their site
my grandma heard that sweetened iced tea is a liquor.
But everything causes cancer. Geez ive heard from someone that Meningicoccal vaccines cause cancer. I HATE EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES THIS BULL about cancer, just because its scary doesnt mean you can get everyone to not do something or buy something.
AMEN! and who cares you gotta live your life anyway :D
I recently heard that some sunscreen can give you cancer.

What is happening to the world?
as do I hate people who think everything gives you cancer. Someone a few days ago told me that if you freeze a water bottle with water in the plastic releases chemicals. Well that it complete bullshit. but L.A.S.E.R. stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. so one could think.
I know.. But Radiation doesnt mean it will give you cancer. There are lots of types of Radiation, most of them harmless but when someone says radiation you think of gamma radiation from nuclear bombs and stuff
Yeah, I have not looked to much into the type of radiation give off by it, but good point.
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