Temporary Ballpoint Pen Tattoo





Introduction: Temporary Ballpoint Pen Tattoo

"The smoke hung heavy in the air and the sounds of the wharf drifted into the back room where they sat. The rifleman's face set in a steady grim expression concealing the pain as the deft hands of the bespectacled artist moved over his skin. A design flowing from her hands, indelibly left upon his arm."

I've always been intrigued by the concept of tattoo and expect I may one day break down and get a full on irezumi style one but many things hold me back:
  • Stigma - I know the folks and suspect the employer wouldn't be terribly thrilled
  • Persistence - will it still look good 60 years from now? Probably not and I doubt I'd want to go under the needle that late in life . . .which leads me to:
  • Pain - I know it's really not that bad but needles kinda creep me out . . .
  • Shifting Worldview - in the past year and a half my worldview has shifted drastically and seems the be always in flux. Alongside that my tastes are always refocusing elsewhere. If I get something done permanently then it had better hold some deep meaning and look awesome but since my perception of what looks awesome and my views change and I am sure always will . . .how will I know that what I value today won't make me retch in 60 years!?
  • And the big one: PRICE! The style and size I'm interested in is outrageously expensive for someone of my means so even if I was dead set on getting it I'd have to wait.
What to do? If only there were a way to solve all of these problems! Well, I'm here telling you there is! Go temporary!

Now, those little rubbery ones from when I was a kid look terrible and rub off oddly and are really only good for one thing . . . little kids! So a while back I decided that it'd be fun to draw with pen and sharpie on my hands and forearms. I got fairly proficient at it but it has drawbacks:
  • Easy to smudge while working (though for shading that is useful)
  • Hard to reach anywhere but select locations
  • Not much possibility for super fine details since skin tends to move a lot while working
  • Pens seem to dry out very fast.
  • The skin gets kind of irritated while working.
  • etc.
I had another idea today: draw it on paper with a ballpoint and then use water to transfer the design! I tried it out and it worked like a charm. Then I realized that it has been done before . . . seems to me that happens a lot . . .my great ideas/inventions are already out there! I want to be clear that, while this is my original idea, the idea itself is not original . . .so I present you with this how-to as my take and observations on this less drastic form of body modification and a place to show off some of my designs. Read on and I hope you enjoy!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

"The beaten tackle box sat on the floor waiting for the return of the artist. The pens and inks inside boasting a myriad of colors just waiting for the living canvases and the dexterous fingers that would create."
Unlike a lot of my instructables, this one is dirt cheap and everyone should have the required equipment at home!

You need the following:
  • A sheet of white paper (I have not tried lined but it may transfer lines so blank is best)
  • A ballpoint pen in a good color
  • A napkin or paper towel and some water
  • A concept
  • A patch of bare skin to serve as your design's final resting place
You can optionally use the following as well:
  • Reference material (helpful if your idea needs visual aid to draw)
  • More colors of pens (I like dull green blue and black for a traditional look but any color is possible)
  • Sharpie (or other permanent marker) in a super fine point for finishing touches or additional details after transfer
So for many people the hardest thing is concept. Anyone can find a pen and paper etc. but for most, concept is difficult. Even though this will be temporary, you want it to look cool so your effort is not wasted! For inspiration glance around online or go out and observe tattoos to see what you like and incorporate styles, motifs, colors, or even whole designs into your concept. And no worries! if you don't like it afterward it washes off pretty easily and the process is fun enough to be worth doing in and of itself.

Read on for instructions on making your transfer.

Step 2: Creating the Transfer

"The room was silent except for the scratch of their pens upon the page. The master scribe strolled among them, a look of approval creeping into his features"
Once you've decided where you wish the tatoo to be get your plain white paper and cut a piece of it slightly larger than the area you wish to cover. This is easiest if your chosen area is mostly flat but if you make trianglar cuts radially you could, theoretically, create a design to go over a more complicated area like your elbow. I recommend starting simple though.

Take your pen and draw the design on the paper but make sure it's flipped horizontally. When you go to transfer it it will become reversed. This is especially important if you're using any kind of text or numbers.

I like to draw in some guidelines (read about the rule of thirds) with pencil to help me with composition and erase them later. Make sure you draw carefully since every little detail will transfer including any mistakes . . .If you mess up simply start over.

Some people are not artistically talented (read: some folks simply can't draw) and that's fine! Using a light table, or a piece of glass and a flashlight, you can trace a design that you've printed out. Experiment with different amounts of pressure and shading with the ink. Most people don't know that you can create a nice even gradient of value using a single ballpoint! You could also experiment with different types of shading like crosshatching or stippling for different effects! Just remember, if you can get it onto the paper you can create it on your skin; that's the beauty of this technique!

Once you're done you are ready to transfer your design. Read on to find out how!

Step 3: Applying the Transfer

"His trembling hands reached forth and carefully, slowly, and with an air of near reverence, peeled back the paper to reveal the design."

Clean the spot you want the design with soap and warm water and make sure it's dry. You could skip this but I find a clean slate works better.

Moisten a piece of paper towel or napkin slightly larger than the transfer but make sure it's not super wet . . .just short of dripping is ideal.

Carefully place the transfer ink side down on the spot making sure it's aligned properly. If it's in an awkward spot simply get someone else to help you out! Then place the moistened pad onto the transfer and apply pressure for about 20 seconds. As you squeeze the water will seep through the paper and cause the ink to bleed in a very controlled manner . . . right onto your skin.

After your 20 seconds or so gingerly lift the moistened pad (the paper usually comes with it) and admire your new design! Pat it dry with a new paper towel or napkin and let it air out for a bit to give the ink a chance to set.

Depending on the kind/brand/ink type of pen you use, these can last quite a while assuming you don't scrub the area. If you need to get the thing off quick then something like Lava Soap (or Gojo or Fast Orange) will work wonders.

Step 4: Detail and Touchups

"Nothing is perfect, nothing is pure, nothing is easy, nothing is sure."
The transferred tattoo will always be somewhat lighter than the actual drawing so at this point it makes sense to use your fine tipped pen to outline some areas or add emphasis/outlines etc. This step is optional of course but can really make the image "pop".

No need to go overboard here, the point of this method is to avoid the trouble of having to draw on skin. A couple deft strokes here is all you'll really need.

Step 5: Rock Your New Ink and Take Some Photos!

"They sauntered down the street with an almost insulting over confidence. The others lay in wait down the alleys and gripped their knives hungrily."
That's it really! Now go out and show off that ink to the world because you now are a temporary bad a$$!

Post some pictures of your designs for us to see as well eh?



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    and here, it looks pretty good i think! probably will do this with various designs before i get my real tatt (sorry about poor quality, webcam photos of legs are hard, hope you can see it, its a celtic knot shamrock.)


    agreed! i finally broke down and bought a "real" camera a while back . . .kudos tho! not bad for a web cam at all!

    I've seen enough celtic knots (what being half irish how could I not!?) and there's enough in the photo to see it well enough. pretty badass! if you're interested in artistic input tho i'd move it up about 2-3 inches (hard to guage distance) so that it's more centered in the calf muscle. Personally, I'm all about tattoos accentuating the body rather than just being a separate picture that one carries around in their skin. These photos were slightly rushed but usually I try to work the contours of the body into the design.

    Thanks for the comments!

    well that was the first place i could think of to do a real test. that knot is a design ive been working with for almost a year now to get a real tattoo of, but thats a way off in the future

    i know how that goes man! it's a shame these things are so expensive!


    didnt show up too well, but still badass!

    D: I wish I was capable of drawing like that, those are gorgeous!

    Well there is a certain amount of "talent" involved in art but to be perfectly honest even the most talentless people can pick up incredible skill. Personally I feel "talent" is often misused to describe two skills: learning and precision. People see a great drawing or see how quickly someone picks up a pen and learns to use it and attribute that to their talent for art. I say these people have a talent for learning and for precision. It has taken me from the time I was allowed to take art electives back in junior high school till now (10 years or more now. . .gosh that's a long time) to be where I am and it will take the rest of my life to be where I will be then. unlike driving or walking, art is not a skill with a cap that you can learn and then wield indefinitely . . .I always say "seek improvement in perfection" because nothing will ever be as good as it can be with a bit more practice. I may post a gallery of my real drawings some time since these hardly reflect my favorite pieces . . .I'm quite a new learner when it comes to pen. . .pencil I'm way more comfortable with and give me a bit of clay and I'll be giddy for much longer! Anyway, I want to encourage you to just start drawing. everyone can draw stick figures. why? Not because they're simple (though that helps) but because everyone has drawn a million stick figures. You can draw letters on the page without even thinking of what you're doing . . .why? Practice! You've been doing it since you were in the wee grades of elementary school! If you would like to be good at drawing then just draw! It will look terrible to you at first but keep at it! If you want to learn to draw faces then just start doing it and tweaking things until they look better. the more you put pen (or whatever) to paper (or whatever) the better you will become. If you have time and money to spare then go ahead and take some drawing classes and they'll teach you things like shading and form. You'll be stuck drawing fruit and chairs but even though the subjects are boring the skills you will learn if you apply yourself are useful! If you ever want someone to critique your work then I'm more than happy to help!

    Excuse me, but what are the origins of the quotes you used throughout the Instructable? And had you though of re-drawing, shading, and detailing your tattoos after application in order to enhance color and lifetime? Do you believe gel ink would work better then other readily available inks?

    Oh. Also allow me to say your perfect English is brilliantly done, and I am very happy to see such a well written, and detailed Instructable. I'd love to see more work like this, maybe you could explore henna, or test ink types to see which would leave a longer, and dark image. The pictures are of very nice quality and relate nicely. Great job!

    Hey, thank you for both of your excellent comments! The quotes you see throughout the instructable are mine. I have done this in most of my recent works so if you're interested, be sure to check out the my other projects! I aspire to a career in writing (fiction) so I try to get whatever practice I can.

    I have indeed thought and done some redrawing as you suggested and it really does help. I just didn't have any pictures of it before the design wore off completely. I've not tried the transfer technique with gels but they do not write on skin very easily (compared to the oil based cheapo pens) . . . definitely worth looking into.

    I've done henna as well but the preparations are much more complex than this . . . worth it to be sure but I felt that the ease I found with this method was remarkable.

    Again, thanks for the wonderful praise!