Tattoo University
How to Design Temporary Tattoos
Create inspiring ink with these tips.
From Cracker Jack prizes to fashion accessories, temporary tattoos have a varied history. Non-permanent ink has now made its debut on the red carpet at the Met Gala and on the runway of New York Fashion Week. This renaissance has brought temporary tattoos into the adult world. Even Beyonce has been seen sporting a metallic-inked armband now and again. There is magic in something temporary, quirky, and just plain fun.
Metallic temporary tattoos can be used as a fashion statement in lieu of jewelry and other accessories. Designed by Ori Chalbaud for Gumtoo.
Businesses are using temporary tattoos as a means of engaging their customers in new, innovative ways. There are even brick-and-mortar temporary tattoo shops. Gumtoo, a Singapore-based company, has made temporary tattoos its entire world. Pranjal Taneja, founder of Gumtoo, has noticed an increase in retail and e-commerce stores selling temporary tattoos, an explosion of designs, and many new ideas emerge in the last several years.

"We have seen innovative products coming to market — from metallic temporary tattoos used as a beautiful beach accessory, to perfumed tattoos that emit fragrance when applied, to glow-in-the-dark tattoos that literally light-up your night parties," Pranjal says.

Other organizations, like the Irish Foundation, are using temporary tattoos as a means of brand and social activation, running campaigns around temporary tattoos in order to raise funds.
For each donation made to The Irish Heart Foundation's "Show Some Heart" campaign, donors received a temporary tattoo.
The best part of temporary tattoo design may just be that anyone, no matter your design expertise, can dive in and create beautiful projects. Here's how to get started.


Digitizing your tattoo designs

You can use any number of materials and techniques to create the original tattoo design. Some designers like to sketch out ideas with paper, pencil, and pen. Others prefer to hop into an application like Adobe Illustrator and draw or paint a project digitally. No matter how you choose to start your design, in order to get your tattoos printed, the final product must be digital.

If you favor creating your artwork on paper first, we recommend using a combination of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to achieve the best digital results.

  1. Scan your artwork and bring it into Photoshop, or use Adobe Capture to auto-scan and bring directly into a Creative Cloud library.
  2. Use either "Brightness/Contrast" or Levels adjustments to increase the contrast of the image and make your lines really pop.
  3. Move your design into Illustrator. Use Image Trace to trace the object and create a clean tracing.

Add or adjust color

After you have a clean tracing, you can add or adjust your color directly in Illustrator. When designing temporary tattoos especially, considering color and how it will look against skin tones is important to make a design "pop."

"Even if you want to use a color as the base that matches a specific tone, put a thick outline around the design," says Pranjal. "When using metallic colors, try to use at least two contrasting colors — like metallic gold and black — for maximum impact."

In this example, you can see how the outline will make the yellow pop on lighter skin tones. Designed by Agata Krolak for Gumtoo.
As you look for color inspiration, two tools will prove particularly useful. The first is the Color Guide panel, which can be opened from the window drop-down menu. The Color Guide panel allows you to pick one color and see several color story options based on your choice. It will display several options of complementary colors, analogous colors, or even just different ways to look at how other color choices would go with the color you've selected.

The second tool is the Recolor Artwork tool found in the Properties panel. This tool is a great way to experiment with many different color options and compare your results. Simply select your tattoo artwork and click "Recolor." You can try new color combinations (even ones you discovered through the Color Guide Panel) and even make the whole design darker or lighter. Just be sure to save the original artwork and any versions you might want to revisit as you go.

Line weight

Another important consideration when designing tattoos is line weight. "Designers can create intricate designs," says Pranjal. "But make sure to use denser lines and strokes as colors will be more visible." Some designers utilize Illustrator as a way to create graphics and adjust line weights, but even if you've created your design by hand, there are tools in Illustrator that can be helpful.

The first is a tool called "Select Same." It can be found in Illustrator under the Select menu by selecting the "Same" command. You can choose the same fill color, stroke color, and stroke weight, and it selects all the line work that matches your selection. This can make it much more simple when you're trying to adjust similar features uniformly.

Inspiration for temporary tattoos can come from many sources, like these designs that reflect the culture and nature of Poland. Designed by Anna Szostek.
The other tool that can be useful is the Width tool. When you trace artwork in Illustrator, each line is going to be considered a shape. This tool actually allows you to select a path — a line — and stretch it so that it has a curve. By doing this, you can make it so that each of the lines become exaggerated. The Width tool is commonly used for caricatures and cartoons to give the art that signature "cartoony" feel.

Let the consumer guide your designs

When designing your own temporary tattoos, there are so many different ways to begin. No matter what subject you decide on, whom you are designing for is key — and will determine a lot of design details. For example, if you are designing a temporary tattoo for kids to enjoy, designs would need to fit a young audience. Pranjal says this is typically a 2-inch-by-2-inch design.

Nani Brunini, an illustrator who has done her fair share of tattoo designs, lets the person she is designing for inspire her concepts. "I love how playful and cheeky temporary tattoos can be for adults," she says. "And for kids, I like anything that will let their imagination soar."

As you design your own tattoos, keep your consumer in mind. Be as fun and as free as they are. Design by Nani Brunini.

This flexible fun is exactly what makes temporary tattoos a great project for any designer. Anna Szostek, a Polish illustrator, offers this last, very important piece of advice: "Just do what you do best, and don't try to imitate anybody's work. It's good to think about trends and fashion, but don't let them stop your imagination."

This article was first published on the Adobe Blog.