Temporary tattoo

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A temporary tattoo being applied.

A temporary tattoo is a non-permanent image on the skin resembling a real tattoo. Temporary tattoos can be drawn, painted, or airbrushed, as a form of body painting, but usually these tattoos are transferred to the skin. Temporary tattoos of any kind are used for numerous purposes including self-expression and identification. For example, actors who wish to add to their character's distinctiveness might take temporary tattoos painted on the skin by hand or using stencils as part of their cosmetic ritual.

Temporary transfer tattoos[edit]

Old fashioned temporary tattoos, which were first made popular as inserts in bubble gum, were poor quality ink transfers that often resulted in blurry designs and could easily be washed or rubbed off. A very identifiable brand would be the fruit flavored chewing gum Fruit Stripe which has been popular with American children for many years. Nonetheless, these lick-and-peel temporary tattoos became a well-known piece of North America.

Modern temporary transfer tattoos are made of ink and glue, and last much longer than older temporary tattoos. In this process, the tattoo is applied to the outer surface of the skin and remains until such time as the image fades away (typically after 3–5 days) or is removed. The modern temporary tattoo was popularized by Dallas-based Highgate Products, through licensing deals with the NFL, Major League Hockey, and Major League Baseball, as well as design deals with Looney Tunes, Harley-Davidson, and major motion picture licensed characters.

While most temporary tattoos are created commercially for advertising or as novelty items, the process of creating has been adapted to the fine art of lithography as well.[1] And even more recently, Chanel, the Parisian fashion house, has set up a themed area in Selfridges on Oxford Street offering customers the chance to have Chanel's own transfer tattoos applied by experts. The designer offerings have been advertised (as part of Chanel's Paris Spring & Summer 2010 farmyard barn theme recreated in London) as an opportunity for fans to have the chance to have tattoo transfers applied to "areas of the private nature".

Temporary tattoos usually consist of five main elements: the front of the sheet of paper, the back of the sheet of paper, ink, glue and a protective plastic sheet. The front of the sheet is covered with a special coating upon which the tattoo image is printed with special inks. A layer of glue is then applied on top of the image. A thin, transparent plastic sheet is placed over the front of the sheet to protect the image and glue layer. The back of the sheet is left untreated and has a list of ingredients and instructions printed on it.

Transfer temporary tattoos are usually applied by removing the plastic sheet, placing the image face down against the skin and moistening the backing by wetting it thoroughly. The backing can then be carefully removed, leaving the image in place.

In 1980, temporary tattoos were created using different and exotic ink systems. 3M designed and developed a special coating called Micro-Fragrance that made scratch-n-sniff technology possible. The temporary tattoo industry adopted the scratch-n-sniff concept and a few companies, such as Highgate Products, released scented tattoos.

Around this time advances in ink and screen printing were also developed. These advances made the tattoos last longer and look more realistic. As tattoos quality increased, so did demand. People began seeing temporary tattoos as a product that could last and could be used outside of inexpensive giveaways.

Today, temporary tattoos are sold everywhere from vending machines to check-out counters at mass retailers to high-end boutiques and can be customized and printed through a color laser printer using specialty color laser transfer paper. A variety of tattoo designs exist; everything from Marvel superhero tattoos, to glitter designs, to Ed Hardy, to TACK temporary tattoos for trendy adults and clubbing designs for young people.

Henna tattoos[edit]

Mehndi on a hand.

Henna tattoos, also known as Mehndi, are another form of temporary tattoo. Coming from a south Asian tradition, henna uses a paste made from the powdered leaves of the Henna plant, Lawsonia inermis. Its active dye, Lawsone, binds with the keratin in skin, fingernails, and hair. Traditional henna is drawn in delicate patterns on the hands and feet, but modern henna is applied in all sorts of designs anywhere on the body. Unlike other forms of temporary tattoos, henna does not allow for a full range of colors but only shades of reds, browns, and near-blacks. The paste is applied and left on the skin for several hours to stain. The stain will gradually fade away as the skin sheds. Henna tattoos can last days to over a month depending on application and aftercare.

However, caution should be taken as many products labeled henna are misleading. Fast-staining "black henna" can contain para-phenylenediamine (PPD) which can cause allergic reactions and scarring.

Temporary airbrush tattoos[edit]

Temporary airbrush tattoos are another kind of temporary tattoo. They are applied to the surface of the skin by placing a stencil to the skin and delivering the tattoo ink with an airbrush. Unlike temporary transfer tattoos, the artist can control elements of the temporary tattoo while it is being produced, which is more similar to the true permanent tattoo experience.

Temporary airbrush tattoos have been in existence since about 1998 and are largely used in marketing, advertising and the entertainment industry.

Ballpoint pen tattoos[edit]

Temporary tattoo drawn in ballpoint pen (Lennie Mace, Tokyo)

Ballpoint pens are another known means of creating body art for recreational, decorative, and commercial purposes. Ballpoint pen artists have made appearances at events to draw on guests, and have been hired to provide temporary tattoos for film and video productions.[2] Ink is applied directly to skin in a manner that has been described as similar to that of application with an actual tattoo gun. In fact, professional tattoo artists are known to also use ballpoints to create artwork on surfaces other than skin, including the flash-art created as display samples in tattoo studios.[3]

Ballpoint tattoos can be left to fade at a natural rate or washed off at the wearers discretion; an appealing option for people who may not care for a permanent tattoo, but appreciate the imagery nonetheless.[4] The manufacturing and content of ballpoint inks are regulated and ink formulas are said to be non-toxic, perhaps due to ballpoint pens' prevalence among students and children, but this is a topic of debate.[5] Folklore suggests that prison inmates modify ballpoint pens into actual tattoo machines, for use while incarcerated, and some amount of gang-affiliated tattoos may have been created in this manner.[citation needed]

Temporary variants of permanent tattoos[edit]

Some tattoos applied with a tattoo gun may be less permanent or easier to remove; however, as these involve insertion of pigments under the skin and do not involve the removal or degradation of all materials involved, they can not be considered completely temporary.

Photo Tattoo Simulation[edit]

Online Tattoo Simulators realistically simulate tattoo designs on body photographs. They require no supplies or removal process so are a fast alternative of seeing what a tattoo looks like before getting any work done.

Semi-permanent tattoo[edit]

Some practitioners offer tattoos that they claim to be temporary, but will last for a period of years rather than days. These are applied using a tattoo gun, and are therefore the closest substitute for the permanent tattoo experience, including the discomfort. These tattoos are supposed to gradually fade away over time, leaving no trace. Some tattoo artists claim that the inks are inserted closer to the surface, allowing them to gradually slough off, while others claim to use special inks that naturally disperse over time.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mermaids at Three Flights Up
  2. ^ Kumiko (June 11, 2005). "Lennie Mace ballpoint tattoo". Lennie Mace drawing on model. Kumiko/blog. Retrieved June 2012. 
  3. ^ Lee Joseph (February 28, 2012). "The Ballpoint and Wood Art of Dave Warshaw". art review. beinart.org. Retrieved June 2012. 
  4. ^ infmom (March 22, 2008). "the case of the ballpoint tattoo". discusses concerns of ballpoint tattoos. infmom. Retrieved June 2012. 
  5. ^ ACMI (March 4, 2010). "Safety of Arts & Crafts Materials". regulation of ink production. acminet.org. Retrieved June 2012.