Temporary Tattoo Transfers
A temporary tattoo is a non-permanent image on the skin resembling a real tattoo
Recently, I was working in the makeup crowd room of a TV Series called ‘Vikings‘. We had to create some characters that needed their bodies covered in tattoos. Nowadays, we use ‘temporary tattoo transfers’ which are extremely easy and so quick to use… but it got me to thinking how would we have achieved the same look years ago when these simple tattoo transfers didn’t exist, given the magnitude of tattoos needed for the look and the short time frame? We most definitely would not have achieved such an elaborate look nor such a high standard of makeup in the time given.
Above Image From: Inkwear.co.uk Temporary Tattoo Transfers
Before these transfers were available to the industry one option for artists who wanted to create a tattoo was to draw the tattoo freehand directly onto the actors skin, whether it be a once-off, or continuously day after day on a film/TV shoot. This method is very time consuming, however it is quite nice to freehand a tattoo as it is an original piece of art. To try recreate that day after day is a gifted skill to have.
Above Images From: www.reelcreations.com. These are tattoo transfer sheets you then cut the individual tattoo needed from the sheet
The other option you have when wanting to create a temporary tattoo is to draw your tattoo design on sheets of carbon paper and then transfer onto the skin. Again, this is another extremely time consuming process and is not ideal if you are working with an actor that has to wear the same tattoo everyday for weeks or even months on end. It would also add a huge amount to your makeup time each morning. I can not even imagine what our makeup crowd room on ‘Vikings’ would have been like if we had to apply the same amount of tattoos that we did in this carbon method!
Above: Hand drawn tattoo painted with skin illustrator and water paints. www.themakeupjar.com
However, if you would like to try out the carbon transfer tattoos yourself, it is easy enough to do. It is a great technique to know how to do as there may be an occasion where you need to be able to make one. It’s also a good idea to do on yourself if you are thinking of getting a tattoo of your own!
To make your own carbon tattoo transfer, place a sheet of carbon paper, carbon side facing down, on top of a piece of tracing paper. Draw your design on a sheet of white paper and place on top of the carbon paper. Trace over your design firmly and it will transfer through the carbon paper on to the tracing paper. Cut out the design, rub a deodorant stick on the skin where the tattoo is going to be, place the design face down and press firmly. Use some isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and lightly remove some of the carbon ink leaving a light tracing on the skin. Then using a tattoo pen (KD151) or an alcohol based makeup paint (Skin Illustrator, Reel, Greg Cannom) paint over the tracing on the skin with the desired colours you want. Voila, it’s a tattoo!
Above sample: Carbon Paper and Tracing Paper
Left Images: Greg Cannom Alcohol Activated Ink Palette, KD 151 tattoo pens www.KD151.com
Tattoo transfers were originally founded by Hollywood makeup and special effects artist Christien Tinsley. He named his transfers ‘Tinsley Transfers’. In 1999, Tinsley developed a technique that completely revolutionized the application of tattoos. He developed this technique out of necessity during the filming of ‘Pearl Harbour’ as large amounts of extras were required to have multiple wound and burn effects on a daily basis. Tinsley needed to find a quicker but effective way of getting this done each day. The end result produced an easy to apply tattoo transfer with an emphasis on continuity with realistic effects.
Tinsley Transfers is based in the USA, you can go online and order custom made tattoos to your specific design, colour and age (Be aware of custom charges when ordering from the USA if you are like me and based in Europe).
On ‘Vikings’ it was Puff Jockey Studios that custom made the transfers. Puff Jockey Studios is located here in Dublin, Ireland and is run by award winning makeup and special effects artist Tom McInerney. Puff Jockey Studios not only provided tattoo transfers for cast, stunts and extras but also 3D scar transfers (I will explain more on 3D scar transfers another time). To be able to design your own tattoo transfer gives a makeup artist the freedom to not only design really elaborate and advanced pieces of work but makes continuity very easy day after day. It proved very handy for the makeup team on ‘Vikings’ to have Puff Jockey Studios nearby to create all their amazing transfers and prosthetics and we in the crowd room were very lucky to get to use some of these beautiful tattoos.
Above: Samples of Tinsley Transfers www.tinsleytransfers.com
Not only can you get tattoo transfers, but you can now get temporary FX transfers such as bruises, cuts and grazes…check out the Tinsley website for more on these.
There is another great benefit with these transfers that most people wouldn’t think of, is their use on stunt doubles. When an actors stunt double in needed to jump off a building or do a fight scene instead of the actor, our stunt person will need to have the exact same tattoos, whether the actor has temporary tattoos applied or real ones of their own. Having several copies of your actors tattoos makes these issues very simple! You may even have to cover up a real tattoo only to replace it with a transfer to match.
To apply a tattoo transfer, grab a pair of scissors, cut the transfer you want out from the sheet, peel off the plastic see thru cover and place face down on the skin. Choose a hair free area away from moving joints . Make sure you cleanse the area with a bit of rubbing alcohol to help with the adhesion and staying power. Then simply wet a sponge and press onto the white paper backing. Do this for about 30 seconds or until the paper starts to slide and peel off. Ta da! You now have a tattoo! Powder with colourless powder, dust off the excess and seal with a sealing spray. It really is super quick! Removal is done by applying an oil or alcohol based product. Baby oil or mineral oil work best. Isopropyl alcohol should be used with caution as it can dry and irritate the skin.
Here is a link to the Tinsley Transfer website, this is a wonderful service, as they have many short video clips showing how to apply their transfers. http://www.tinsleytransfers.com/Temporary-Tattoo-Help-Videos-s/12.htm
I for one am very happy that these transfers exist as we got to create some really detailed and elaborate looks in our crowd room on ‘Vikings’ and I can not wait to see it on our TV screens in March!
Vikings Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TrAGIcfKX8
Related links: Puff Jockey Studios, Ireland
Owner: Tom McInerney | Email:
(website under construction)
Skin illustrator Inks www.preciousaboutmakeup.com UK
Greg Cannom www.screenface.co.uk UK