The 3D Printed Tattoo

I recently saw a video of a 3D printer that had been modified to become an automated tattoo machine. It’s basically a MakerBot with a tattoo machine attached to it, but really this is only a prototype that serves as proof of concept.

What worries me is that as the technology advances software will become increasingly user-friendly to the point that even a child will be able to operate it. Not all tattoo artists need a Fine Arts background, but I think we can all agree that some knowledge of a Color Wheel sure does come in handy when designing a tattoo, if it has color anyway. For the ones that don’t contain color, what about things like composition? If you’ve been watching Ink Master (especially from the first episode) you learn about placement and composition. Technology will allow you to apply really well-drawn tattoos in bad areas using shitty colors except you will be able to do it in the privacy of your own home.

You can argue that digital technology has had the same impact for musicians. MIDI keyboards gave way to programs like Frooty Loops and Garageband so now people with absolutely no talent can make a song in hours.

The above is a prime example of that end of the spectrum. This young man fearlessly steps out and embraces 21st Century tech to let the world know he is unashamed of his total lack of talent at any aspect of music or music video production. He has a camera, a Macbook, and an Internet connection so by God he is going to use them!

This is the part where I start to sound like an elitist, but I don’t really care. I just happen to believe that the permanence of the tattoo process was part of the appeal. The pain was part of the experience. These things were important.

Life lessons can be learned in the idea of getting a bad tattoo. You made a mistake and how you choose to live with it tells a lot about you as a person. If you continue to wear it proudly then you are saying you don’t care about your mistakes, the opposite if you keep it covered. And if you choose to go get a new tattoo to cover it, then you are saying that you are willing to go back into the flames to recover yourself.

And if you chose to have that tattoo removed?  Holy shit you had some fucked up options to choose from:  acid, salt rubs, skin removal, or if you were feeling particularly festive, you could go for skin injections. Yeah, see as soon as they figured out how to add ink to your skin they realized they could use things like wine, vinegar, or pigeon shit. Yeah, all of those were used to remove tattoos, with results varying I’m sure.

That is important.

Now, instead of surgery to remove a tattoo we have efficient laser therapy to rid you of that unsightly tramp stamp you got because you were 22 and stupid. Instead of having to go see a newer, hopefully better, artist and once again enduring the pain of the needle to cover your mistake, you just shrug and say “Meh, I’ll just get it lasered” and move on, no lessons learned. No intellectual or emotional growth needed.

I don’t agree with that. Call me crazy, I just think that it is far better for people to take time to consider the long-term consequences of things before they do them. Not always, but occasionally, especially with regards to important, life-affecting decisions.

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years, as soon as people learned to make ink they figured out how to get it into their skin. And that shit fucking hurt, man. Here’s a video of an old-school Pacific-rim method of tattooing.

Apparently it hurts less than the modern method, but it’s still not painless. The natural instinct for most people is to avoid pain, so the more tattoos you had, the higher your pain tolerance. As the techniques were perfected the art got more elaborate and you could tell different stories without having to say a word.

Skulls, Grim Reapers, demons, unicorns, roses…these are all important symbols and each carries a significance that is readily understood by a large population. And prisons have their own language told in tattoos, so it’s a good idea for anyone in the criminal lifestyle to brush up on them. As to anyone who doubts the importance of symbolism, they have no business being in a tattoo studio if you ask me.