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Ink-Jet Tattoos

No needle required!
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At first glance this may seem too obvious, like modify an ordinary ink-jet printer so that you can stick your arm in and get it printed with something that looks like a tattoo. Well, consider that to be the starting point!

In this Idea, however, we also modify the ink in the printer cartridges. Instead of using water or alcohol or whatever-they-use as the solvent for the ink, we use a different substance, the nifty stuff known as DiMethyl SulfOxide, or DMSO for short.

DMSO has a unique property in that it not only is a great solvent, it can carry dissolved stuff right through the skin. Perfect for replacing needles!

There are cautions to be observed, of course. The skin must be thoroughly cleaned before doing this (DMSO will dissolve salt, dirt and other stuff on the skin and carry THAT through!). The printer itself must be sure to jet-out the most extremely tiny droplets of ink (already they do "picoliters", trillionths of a liter, but that may still be too much). The reason is that DMSO keeps right on going into the body after penetrating the skin. (It's basically non-toxic, so that's not the problem.) We want the ink to stay near the surface! This means the ink molecules may need to be designed to be large enough to just barely be carried into the skin, and too large to go any further.

Vernon, Apr 11 2005

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       The presumption is that molecular diffusion would only be into the skin and not across the surface, any surface diffusion would result in a blurry tattoo, of course. I'm not discrediting the idea, just saying that the diffusivity of DMSO must be just right to allow for proper resolution. Of course, ink/DMSO concentration rations can be adjusted to partly alleviate this problem. However, I speculate that the process wouldn't be as easy as just letting the tat print out in one go. I'm guessing a very slow stepwise procedure, too delicate to rival the age old tradition of letting some leathery stoned biker dude blow smoke in your face while drawing on your body...   

       On second thought... [+]
daseva, Apr 11 2005
  

       It's partly because of the blurriness problem that I specified that picoliters may still be too much.
Vernon, Apr 11 2005
  

       The concept has been preheated in science fiction, if not the specific media.   

       " God, this tastes awful."   

       " What's wrong with my cooking ? "   

       " It's not your cooking. It's my tattoo. I can taste the DMSO making it's way out of my body. "   

       I've never used the stuff myself, but the taste is not supposed to be pleasant. I have seen it used on horses. I've spoken with athletes who used it.
normzone, Apr 11 2005
  

       Your design is limited to an arm. What if you somehow modify it so one could get the whole Illustrated Man effect in one half-hour sitting. Maybe if you also used tiny nanotrowels to define a line? Sort of like the micro-sized mirrors that Texas Instruments uses? Also, could you laser designs in? A booth one could step into that could map your body already exists in some form for custom-fitted clothing via robotic tailor. Maybe this could be modded to use for tattoos as well? It is a great idea & probably the future of tattooing BTW-- no pain, just a stained human pane... On the other hand, make it TOO easy, and we'll see a lot of bleary morning- after assessments of that tribal facial tattoo... If you squirted some kind of photosensitive gel or spray on someone's skin, mixed with DMSO, could you use lasers to print dermally?
cloudface, Apr 11 2005
  

       [cloudface], obviously these things have to start out small. The design you want would be a kind of cage in which you stand nude, and the printhead(s) is(are) mounted on mechanisms that can move along the cage-bars and extend to reach any part of your skin.   

       [normzone], yes, DMSO often has the tase of garlic. Some say this is the result of using DMSO that isn't PERFECTLY pure. Of course, if it is being used to transport inks, then obviously it cannot be pure. What THAT will taste like remains to be determined! --Which again is why sub-picoliter droplets is being specified here. We want the total amount of DMSO used in making the tattoo to be minimized.
Vernon, Apr 11 2005
  

       It's just occurred to me that since the ordinary process of making tattoos ALWAYS gets some ink into the bloodstream, that perhaps super-special inks are not actually needed for this Idea. For test purposes, of course, one would want to know just how deep into the skin DMSO would carry ordinary tattoo ink. Perhaps it will turn out to be OK.
Vernon, Apr 12 2005
  
      
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