French designers hack a 3D printer
to make a tattooing machine


Paris design studio Appropriate Audiences has combined a 3D printer with a tattooist's needle to form an automated tattoo "printer" that can create indelible artworks on skin (+ movie).

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

Tatoué is a cross between a Makerbot 3D printer and a tattooist's needle – a small handheld machine that inserts ink into a person's skin using a sharp point, puncturing the skin up to 150 times per second.

Appropriate Audiences adapted software produced by Autodesk to turn tattoo designs into digital files that can be downloaded to the machine. The user then inserts a limb into the printer and the needle draws the design into their skin.

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

"The idea of our machine is to give tattoo artists a new tool that offers plenty of new possibilities," the designers told Dezeen.

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

"Anything you want can be designed on the computer, and replicated onto the skin. We are still working to develop the software in order to produce something that is more user-friendly, particularly for tattoo artists."

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

The needle replaces the part of the printer that would usually extrude melted plastic to make objects, and has been adapted using bespoke 3D-printed parts. A sensor reads the surface of the skin of the user, meaning the needle can respond to changes in skin texture and the dimensions of the limb.

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

"We use a three axis machine, which we have deconstructed," explained the designers.

"Making the machine more accessible is a challenge. And there are many possible future applications – in medicine or in fashion – but our priority is a third version of the machine, which will be able to tattoo any part of the body using a specific architecture. We are currently working on this."

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

Appropriate Audiences was founded by designers Pierre Emm, Piotr Widelka and Johan Da Silveira after they met at Paris design school ENSCI les Ateliers.

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

The idea for Tatoué was born out of a workshop organised by the school in October 2013 that asked students to use digital material available in the public domain to create something new.

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

French 3D-printing company Le FabShop was invited to the workshop as a digital manufacturing expert and helped the students develop the idea for a machine that could create tattoos from a bank of digital images.

They initially hacked a desktop printer to enable it to trace on skin using a pen. To develop the idea further, they then borrowed a manual tattooing machine and tested the process on artificial skin.

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

The first image they tattooed onto a real person's arm was a circle, which they described as "the perfect shape to test the precision of the process."

"A lot of people were excited by the idea of being the first human tatooed by a 'robot'," said the designers.

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

"The big difficulty was to repeat the same exercise on a curved 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."

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

Since that initial test earlier this year, the designers have been working on developing more sophisticated machines that could potentially tattoo other areas of the body and create more complicated designs.

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

The level of interest in the project has allowed the designers to dedicate their work to the development of Tatoué full time.

"From the onset of the project we have been exchanging with tattoo artists and now would like to deepen our relationships with them, so as to better adapt the machine to their different styles and practices," they said.

Tatoue 3D printing tattoo machine by Appropriate Audiences

"The next step for us would be to travel and meet as many tattoo artists as possible, in an effort to discover new practices and techniques throughout the world."

Tatoué was on show in Paris last week as part of the Autodesk Gallery Pop-Up – an exhibition on the "future of design and engineering" at Galerie Nikki Diana Marquardt.

  • Noemi

    There will be no tattooists in the future.

    • Maria

      Did we stop painting just because we could use a printer? Tattooing is still an artform.

    • Concerned Citizen

      There is some skin that is inaccessible to a printer.

      • Ureshii Suika

        That’s why this is just the beginning. A computer didn’t just stay a calculator, it is developed. Did you expect the future?

        • Concerned Citizen

          Non sequitur.

  • Giacomo

    The thoughts of another to-be-lost art form. It sucks and no we didn’t stop painting to address the other comment, but we did stop thinking for ourselves. And we stopped understanding art. We started looking at it.

    • Noemi


  • As someone who’s had his share of fights with printers, over clogged paper and dry ink cartridges, I sure hope there will always be a human supervising the tattoo sessions – in case something goes horribly wrong.

  • Alex_s25

    The death of tattoo artists… absolute ignorance and disregard for tattooing as a craft. How can anybody be proud of this?

    • Sam Tosh Wrangles

      Do you think the computer will design the tattoos too? I I don’t think it will be the death of tattoo artists at all. I think this would be more of a consumer product. Why would a tattoo artist get one of these if not only for fine details that just can’t be done by hand? It’s a choice.

      There’s some tattoos that I want that I would like done by hand directly to skin, but others are very precise geometrical pieces that I would like to be perfect.

  • gabriel

    Is equal to the account of Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”!

    • Leiurus

      The similarity is indeed striking, thank you for bringing this book back to my memory.

    • I was thinking more of Starship Troopers. Shows my illiteracy :P

  • Human carving.

  • Eli

    Cool! This is similar to a recent RCA graduate’s work too:

  • James

    I can see this working really well for flash. Something simple that can be loaded and done. That would leave the artists free to do actual design for truly great tattoos.

  • joseph

    I’ve seen all 7 of these hack machines. Never have I seen the outcome of the work. It always stops shy of showing us the damage (sorry, work).

  • andre cast

    Just useless.

  • SM

    It’s an ancient form of art that won’t ever be lost or mass-produced. Yet, it’s a good invention for perfection seekers, although perfection truly lies in the touch of the imperfect artist.

  • Dan

    You are supposed to hold the tattoo machine at an angle so that the ink can be properly placed into the skin. With the machine sitting straight up like that, chances are the line work is s*** because the ink almost falls out immediately. And I have yet to see the outcome of any of the tattoos done by these types of machines. No worries tattooists; technology can never take the human touch.

  • Ureshii Suika

    Alright, everyone’s retarded with their comments here… talking about this being a gateway to a lost art. This is art as well. Computer art. Technology art. It’s an art, but I suppose the world still has closed-minded people.