TL;DR: Summary Results
We ordered custom tattoos from four services (Temporary Ink, Tattify, Sticker You, and Momentary Ink). Our three favorite services based on quality, packaging, and overall customer experience (in order) were Temporary Ink, Tattify, and Sticker You. We think it’s important to note that all three of these services provide a good product. We’d recommend all three of them for SketchBook users, but the biggest takeaway from our experience is that if a service offers a “fixative” liquid to apply to your tattoo (as Temporary Ink did), it will look better and last longer.
The biggest takeaway from our experience is that if a service offers a “fixative” liquid to apply to your tattoo, it will look better and last longer.
DIY? How About Getting Things Done Instead.
We’re always on the lookout for new things to do with art we create in SketchBook, and one of us (we don’t remember who) thought it would be fun to design our own temporary tattoo. None of us had ever tried it before, so we sent identical versions of our custom-made art to multiple services. Of course, you could create your own tattoo do-it-yourself style using a home printer, but there can be a lot of trial and error and wasted supplies as you nail down the process. Instead, we decided to focus on something we’re good at — creating custom art — and leave the actual printing to professionals.
Pricing: Surprisingly Reasonable
What, you might ask, is a fair price for a temporary tattoo? The answer is about $12-15 for a medium-sized 4″x5″ tattoo (this price includes shipping). A bit less for a smaller tattoo, a bit more for a giant back-spreading tattoo. Pricing for the online services we tried was surprisingly similar across the board. Don’t expect to get one for less than $10, and don’t be surprised if your tattoo ends up costing $20. Some services will give you a minor discount on your first order or for future orders, but among the services we tried none of them stood out as a definitive leader in price. We don’t actually suggest using price as your main criteria for choosing one of these services. You should care more about the quality of the tattoo that’s delivered.
Here’s our breakdown of each service….
The Temporary Ink site has a simple upload process, although they don’t offer a lot of detail about how to prepare your file for upload. If you’re buying a 4″x5″ tattoo and aren’t sure how to make the art you have fit this area, use a ratio calculator to resize your image to fit the space.
Temporary Ink delivered their tattoos with a special solution to make tattoos look more natural and long-lasting. They claim that they have higher quality than most services because they use more ink per square inch, which is a hard claim to test. Application was quick and easy: Peel off the plastic cover from the tattoo, place the tattoo face down on your skin, and press a wet towel against the back of the tattoo for 15 seconds. After (carefully) peeling off the paper from my skin, I spread the solution they provided over the tattoo using my finger. The solution immediately removed shininess and indeed made the tattoo appear more natural.
Overall, I was impressed with how well the colors and line work showed up on my skin. I expected some breakage, but the line work held up well. As for the larger areas of color, there was some creasing in the red ink (see photo above). I suspect this has more to do with the placement of the tattoo on my back. The back is not an ideal area for temporary tattoos because the skin on the back often stretches in different directions from arm movement or any bending or twisting of the torso. I recommend applying temporary tattoos on an area of your body where skin does not move or stretch often, such as forearms and calves.
The tattoo lasted three days before it started to peel around the edges. I completely removed the tattoo with isopropyl alcohol after four days of wear because the peeling started to make my skin itchy and uncomfortable.
The upload and checkout process with Tattify is a little wonky. Many of these services seem to be bootstrapping themselves into operation. We aren’t too picky about the technology, as long as it works. The pricing details were a bit confusing. For example, one location says a medium sized tattoo is 20 square inches, but after uploading the size indicated for a medium tattoo is 12 square inches. We were a little confused but able to order and checkout without too much trouble.
Tattify sent their tattoo without a special solution. The picture above shows Temporary Ink and Tattify side-by-side. There is no discernible difference between the printed quality of the two tattoos. Application-wise, the process was exactly the same (sans solution). The tattoo appeared shiny and creased easily without solution.
I felt pretty uncomfortable wearing this tattoo. It was a similar feeling to wearing Saran wrap on my skin because of the tattoo’s heavy shine and creasing. I couldn’t imagine leaving this tattoo on my arm for more than a couple hours, so I applied Temporary Ink’s solution over it to see if that made a difference.
Applying the solution left the tattoo shine-free and more comfortable on my skin. Many of my friends thought this tattoo was real. Again, I was impressed with the quality of the colors and line work. Using the solution, Tattify and Temporary Ink have a similar level of quality, if not the same. The only downside to Tattify is that they do not send a special solution, so I must review Tattify’s tattoo as is (without the applied solution).
The Tattify tattoo (with solution) lasted six days before it started peeling. This tattoo actually lasted longer than Temporary Ink’s, probably because it experienced less stretching than the tattoo on my back.
One important detail worth noting about Tattify is how much we loved their email communication. They really made us excited about our impending tattoo shipment with a hilarious email confirmation notice (see below). While their website could use some work and a more professional look, they genuinely seem to care about their role as tattoo provider and have a scrappy attitude that we really enjoyed.
Sticker You claims to have been doing this since 2008, and they do seem to have the process down. Their website looks like it was, in fact, birthed in 2008. But it has tools to help you understand the size you’re getting. You can change the size on the fly, and the site will preserve your ratio as you change its size. If you’ve never ordered one of these before, this is really helpful. That said, we were unsure if our tattoo would look good because the preview image it presented to us was pretty bad (and even flickered and disappeared at times), and the number of die cut options they offer are confusing. At times, I wasn’t sure I was ordering the right thing. They offered me a 10% discount with a timer running, but I didn’t ultimately know how to take advantage of the discount. All of these missteps could encourage users to abandon their cart before purchasing.
The one big difference with Sticker You is that they focus on selling you an entire sheet of paper with as many tattoos as you can cram on there. This is great if you are ordering a small tattoo because you can get a lot of duplicates or upload multiple, different images. Even a medium-sized tattoo (4″x6″) will easily double up on one page, so you are definitely getting your money’s worth. Who doesn’t want a backup or two in case the application on your skin doesn’t go well?
Application was straightforward, and the tattoo’s colors looked good. Sticker You didn’t provide a fixative, but I ended up applying some fixative liquid from Momentary Ink’s packaging, which really made it look like a “real” tattoo. The tattoo lasted for 3-4 days before starting to crack and wear. (The fixative probably helped it last longer.)
The upload process was straightforward on the Momentary Ink website, which seemed to have some of the better tools among the services we tried. We were very excited to open our package from Momentary Ink because they had the most professional packaging. They even provided a unique “Real Teal” fixative solution and some very cute finger condoms for application that lends the packaging extra credibility. However, upon opening the package, we were disappointed to find that the quality of our printed tattoo was seriously lacking. The line work was jagged and spotty, especially the finer lines in our drawing.
We wondered if the error could have been ours. Did we check a box we shouldn’t have when uploading? Things can go wrong with any service, so we inquired via customer service about the poor printing quality. A Momentary Ink representative was very kind and promised to try again at no cost. We sent them the same file we had previously sent (the same file we sent to all of these services), and they shipped us another order. Unfortunately, the second order had the same issue — poor printing quality of the finer lines in our drawing. We ultimately did not apply the tattoos we received from Momentary Ink and can’t recommend the service based on our experience. That said, we think everything else about their service feels top notch.
Verdict: Temporary Ink Wins
Temporary Ink’s solution makes a world of difference. The solution makes the tattoo appear real, and the line work and color showed up well. We recommend ordering a small- to medium-sized tattoo and applying it on your forearm or calf. A smaller-sized tattoo will probably crease less and last longer. Tattify has a cheeky website and offers good quality tattoos but without offering a fixative solution, which we feel is the thing that will make your tattoo last the longest. If you’re really price conscious or want to get as many small tattoos as possible for the money, Sticker You might be for you.
Services We Didn’t Try
We were initially excited to try Inkbox because they promise a “two-week tattoo,” but at the time of our research they had not finished building the custom-tattoo upload area of their site. We were also hoping to try Tattly, a Brooklyn-based maker of temporary tattoos. They got a phenomenal write-up in the NY Times, but we found out they don’t offer a self-service option for designing and uploading your own tattoos. They are also a bulk-ordering service. Minimum orders start at 500 tattoos and $4,000. We’re guessing that is on the far side of what you are hoping to pay for a custom tattoo. ? There are also services like Temporary Tattoos that you can use if you want to purchase hundreds of tattoos for an event or a wedding, but our goal with this project was to find a place where we can order temporary tattoos of our own handmade art on a whim, so we only considered services that would sell us one solitary tattoo.
Note: This article was a group effort. Our anime artist Michelle was the skin guinea pig for Temporary Ink and Tattify, and Eric slapped Sticker You on his arm; both of us wrote the review and came to a conclusion about our favorite services together.