The Impossible Tattoo: Tattoos Done by Robots

Technology is rapidly evolving and changing industries, including tattooing.

A project known as “The Impossible Tattoo” is aimed at allowing people to be tattooed by a robot arm controlled by a tattoo artist in a different location using 5G. 

Robotic tattooing opens up a huge conversation in the tattoo industry about access, technology, and what it means to be a tattoo artist. As a beginning tattoo artist, it’s important to know how technological advances will affect your work.

In this article, we’re breaking down:

  • What the Impossible Tattoo project is and why it exists
  • How a robot tattoo artist works
  • What robotic tattoos mean for the tattoo industry

What is the Impossible Tattoo project? 

Noel Drew with his tattoo robot

The Impossible Tattoo project was created by T-Mobile Netherlands in order to explore new possibilities with the 5G network. The goal of the project is to successfully place the world’s first remote tattoo in real time on human skin. 

Technologist Noel Drew and tattoo artist Wes Thomas teamed up to create a tattoo robot that could be controlled by an artist hundreds of miles away. This project is intended to show 5G’s capabilities by combining the human aspect of traditional tattooing with cutting-edge technology.

What is the Need for Distance Tattoos? 

The idea for robot tattooists came from wanting to prove the power of 5G rather than a desire to replace traditional tattooing, but there are reasons why tattoo artists and clients may want this capability in the future. 

Distance tattooing could potentially allow clients in places around the world to get tattoos from an artist they may never have been able to reach beforehand. Travel expenses and life circumstances may keep people from seeing a tattooer they really want, and the robot would allow a person to get a tattoo from any distance.

How Does A Distance Tattoo Work? 

Wes Thomas working with the tattoo machine

Using the 5G network, the robotic arm experiences virtually no delay in connection, which allows for a real-time tattooing experience with millimeter accuracy by a tattoo artist anywhere in the world. 

The development process took 6-weeks of trial and error, and the developers practiced tattooing with the robot on many butternut squash test subjects. The process of developing the robot involved studying how Wes Thomas used his tattoo machine and determining how each movement from dipping the needle into the ink to delivering the ink into the skin could be replicated. 

When the robot tattoo machine was done, the developers ran a test on Dutch actor Stijn Fransen, who volunteered her arm to test the whole thing.

What is 5G? 

Thomas practicing the tattoo art form to be mimicked by the robot

5G stands for “fifth generation” and is the current generation of mobile network technology. While every other generation of mobile network used large cell towers to transmit data, 5G works differently. 

In addition to cell towers, 5G also has a large number of much smaller micro cells to create a blanket of high-speed network coverage. The reason that this technology allows for something like a long-distance tattoo machine comes down to speed. 

5G networks are up to 100x faster than the previous versions, which means that information can be transmitted in near real-time, which is the only way an artist would feasibly be able to complete a tattoo without direct human contact.

Is a Robotic Tattoo Even Possible? 

Testing out the robot led concept for tattoos

The project team was able to create a robot that mimicked the actions of tattooing, but is it good enough for authentic use?

After weeks of testing and correcting the device, which had to learn how to apply ink using a safe amount of pressure on the needle, the machine was able to successfully complete a tattoo. 

To run the test cycle, Thomas completed the tattoo on a fake arm using a tattoo machine that was connected via 5g to a robot that did the tattoo on Fransen’s arm. Thomas could see the tattoo being created on Fransen’s arm through a camera attached to the machine.

The tattoo is very small and simple, which is in line with Fransen’s wishes, but the test showed that a tattoo completed over distance is indeed possible. Check out the tattoo below:

The first tattoo completed over 5G

What Do Robot Tattoo Artists Mean for the Tattoo Industry?

Actress being tattooed by artificial intelligence

So far, there is no push to replace tattoo artists with robots, but the ability to do so does bring up some questions for the industry. The potential for clients to get tattooed by anyone located anywhere could be very appealing, but there is likely to be opposition in the tattooing community. 

And while the robot tattoo was not perfect, it’s possible that advances in technology could lead to the ability for a client to simply insert the design they want into a computer and have it tattooed onto their skin, which would eliminate the need for a tattooer to complete the work. 

However, even as that level of technology comes to pass, tattooing usually comes with a very human story that a robot couldn’t understand. Tattooing is an ancient art that is best done by people with a deep understanding of technique and how tattoos work with the body. Some clients and artists might believe that machines could never have such an understanding.

As this technology advances, the industry will need to think about how important the connection between artist and client is in the tattoo process.

Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

Understanding the future of tattooing is an important step in your journey, but it can also be pretty eye-opening to how difficult tattooing can be. Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to level up your skills and become a professional tattoo artist. 

However, finding the straightforward information you need to progress is difficult. And with so much out there online, it’s hard to avoid picking up bad habits from incorrect and outdated resources.

This is one of the biggest struggles new tattooers face, and too many talented artists have given up their goal of getting into tattooing because of the years it would take to unlearn their bad habits. 

That’s why aspiring artists are learning to tattoo with the Artist Accelerator Program’s structured course. As a student, you learn every step of the tattooing process from professional artists with the experience and advice you need to build your skills and create incredible tattoos. 

With the Artist Accelerator, you can stop wasting time searching through incorrect information. You just get the clear, easy-to-understand lessons you need to start improving fast… along with support and personalized feedback from professional artists in our online Mastermind group.

Over 2500 students have already gone through the course, with many of them opening up their own studios. If you want to join them and learn the skills you need to start tattooing full-time faster…

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

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Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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