Firefly Tattoos
  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016

    Firefly Tattoos (Subdermal tritium lighting implants)

    Subdermal tritium lighting implants, or Firefly Tattoos as they are called, use the decay of tritium gas to make glow-in-the-dark implants. Tritium gas decays and emits beta radiation which collides with phosphor and emits photons. Tritium lights are used in watches, gun scopes and emergency exit signs. Standard tritium lights are safe to handle but do emit a small amount of ionizing radiation, which makes them unsafe to implant within the body. By applying a specially designed coating containing a layer of lead oxide glass, we are able to reduce the radiation emitted and make implant safe lights. Firefly Tattoo implants run for many years without the need to be recharged, provide a striking glow in the dark implant, and are small enough to implant using an injection.

    (my hand showing the healed implant at night, long exposure was used to get a good picture)

    These implants are available now from in colours green and yellow.


    How bright are they?
    The images in this post should give you some idea of how bright they are, but to give you some examples: In full darkness they are eye catching from across a room. In a dimly lit room they are visible but do not stand out. In a brightly lit room and outdoors during daylight they are not visible at all. This has pros and cons; being invisible in fully lit areas means you can’t show them off as much, but it also means people who work in customer facing roles won’t have to remove or cover them up like they do with piercings and tattoos.

    How long will the light last?
    Tritium as 12 year half life. This means that after 12 years the implant will be half as bright, after 24 years it will be half as bright again. Obviously given the Firefly Tattoos are new we don’t know exactly how long they will remain visible for, however after 6 years the implant will still retain 75% brightness, which should still be visible.

    Will this give me cancer?
    It is extremely unlikely, but any exposure to even the smallest amount of radiation increases the odds of getting cancer. We believe that this implant is safe enough that people don’t need to be concerned, but ultimately you need to make your own informed decision.

    Will these set off security detectors?
    No, since the radiation is being shielded to make the implant safe, it also stops it from being detected. Only an xray would allow someone to see there is an implant, but even then they would not know it is a Firefly Tattoo. However, by examining you in the dark, it would be obvious.

    I’m black/Indian/have darker skin, will the lights work for me?
    The short answer is we don’t know yet. So far all tests have been done on caucasians, obviously higher melanin levels block more light, so the implants will not work as well in darker skin. They may not be visible at all, or if they are visible, they will be dimmer than in people with pale skin. You are welcome to try anyway, but the result will not be as impressive as in the example pictures. If you do try, please let us know your results.

    The long story of how these were developed:

    In early 2014 I had an idea. I’d been thinking about implantable LED lights, somewhat similar to the NorthStar (although it didn’t exist at the time), one of the big issues was power, batteries are dangerous, they take lots of room and need recharging often. Then I thought of those cool glow in the dark keychain lights, they use Tritium gas to glow for decades without the need to be charged. I thought it would be really cool to implant one of those lights, my skin would glow indefinitely. I did some reading, and talked to some friends about it, they thought it was a cool idea, but were unsure of the light would be bright enough to be seen through the skin.

    I decided to buy a few tritium vials and to do some tests, in true DIY grinder spirit I went to the local supermarket and bought some chicken drumsticks with skin on, I then slid vials under the skin and turned out the lights. The result was very encouraging, the vial was clearly visible through the chicken skin. But I was still not sure how well this experiment would translate to implanting in my own body. After all, chicken skin may be much thinner or more transparent than human skin and the chicken was dead, live skin may block far more light.

    picture of the vials in a piece of chicken

    (picture of the vials in a piece of chicken)

  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016

    This lead to only one option: try it. I used one of the RFID needles to implant a vial in my left hand.

    (My hand immediately after I implanted a vial)

    To begin with I was quite disappointed, the light was barely visible even in total darkness.

    (My hand showing the vial in darkness a few hours after being implanted)

    I thought about removing it right away, but decided to leave it overnight. The next day was no different, but I decided to keep it implanted for a few days. By day two the swelling was starting to reduce slightly and there was less clotted blood, this meant the light was slightly more noticeable. I began to hope that maybe once it was fully healed, it would be more visible. After a week it was much brighter, still not great, but could be easily seen in darkness, I decided to keep the implant for a few more weeks. At the two week mark it was clearly visible in darkness and noticeable in dimly lit areas as well, I was very happy with the results at this point, it had all been worth it, the blood, sweat and more blood was paying off.

  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016

    (My hand showing the implant is clearly visible in partial darkness two weeks after implanting)

    I knew the vials output a small amount of radiation but thought it was small that I didn’t need to worry about it because I planned to only have the vial implanted for a few days. But now it was looking great and I didn’t want to remove it! So I decided I had better get the vials tested to see if it was safe to keep implanted long term. I sent a vial to Cassox and Glims to have it tested. It was week 4 by the time I got results back, by which time the implant had fully healed, and was even brighter, it was clearly visible across a dark room, was easily visible in dimly lit areas and with a cupped hand to block light could even be seen in fully lit rooms. In short it was everything I had hoped, I was ecstatic! I was the first person in the world with a super cool new implant.

    However my joy was sort lived, dosimeter test results showed that the vials were putting out a worrying level of radiation. Not enough to put me in danger from the few weeks I’d had the implant, but high enough that it would be unsafe to leave implanted long term. I removed the implanted vial immediately.

    What followed was a long period of research. If the vials were to be safe for long term implantation, I needed to shield the radiation somehow. Radiation shielding is well understood, the most common approach is to place sheet of Lead around the radiation source. However this would not work for me since Lead would also block light, rendering the implant useless.

    Eventually I hit on Lead Oxide glass. This type of glass is mostly transparent but contains a high percentage of crystalline lead which means it can block radiation but not light. Lead Oxide glass is definitely not biosafe, so another layer of transparent biosafe coating would be needed. I spent a great deal of time and money trying different configurations of coatings. Eventually I succeeded in encapsulating the tritium vial first in a Lead Oxide glass capsule and an outer capsule of biosafe glass. This increased the size of the implant to 3mm diameter and 20mm long, but was still small enough to be implanted using a needle.

    (One of the first safe to implant long term lights I made)

    More testing was done, once we were finally satisfied that the implants were safe and effective, we found manufacturers to produce a batch of the implants in yellow and green. We then had them sterilized in needles.

    Safety and risks of Tritium

    There are two main concerns we need to talk about the safety of tritium, the first is long term exposure to the implant, secondly we need to talk about the risk of the capsule breaking.

    (Backgoround radiation in the US. picture from “http://radiationnetwork.com

    Below are readings from a BlackCat Systems GM-10 dosimeter Cassox used to test the radiation output from a sample implant. You can see the background radiation is quite low at the location of the test, and the implants adds about 1.5 CPM. 1.5 CPM is a tiny increase when compared with the map above, which shows that background radiation can vary more than 40 CPM just based on which area you live in.

  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016

    (Control image showing background CPM at the time the test was done. Click for larger image if you want to read the numbers)

    (CPM results for implant. Click for larger image if you want to read the numbers )

    However to be fair, having the added 1.5 CPM inside the body means you won’t get the normal protection the skin provides, therefore a subdermal 1.5 CPM increase is effectively more than a 1.5 CPM increase outside the body. This page explains radiation doses and their risks (, we can see in the tables there, anything less than 100 CPM it not considered dangerous, which makes the 1.5 CPM from the implant insignificant even with long term exposure.

    This covers the risk of having the implant for an extended period of time, below we look at the risk of the capsule breaking.

    Based on this safety information,, we can see that the time it takes for half of an ingested dose of tritium to be expelled from the body is low, around 12 days. And that by drinking extra water (3-4 liters/day) it can be flushed more quickly from the body.

    There are very few reported cases of tritium being ingested, how a couple of cases can be found here ([email protected]+6467). One example is a woman who was exposed to tritium glass, she did not seem to have any long term injury.

    If the capsule broke and released the tritium, we recommend seeking medical attention immediately. At the very least the implant should be removed and you should drink extra water for about a month to help flush the tritium from your system.

    However, having explained the risks if the capsule were to break, it is extremely unlikely that the implant will break. The capsule is made of three layers of glass, outermost is a thick layer of borosilicate glass (aka Pyrex) which is very strong. Then a layer of lead oxide glass which is less strong but also sealed to stop any gas escaping. Innermost is another layer of borosilicate glass to contain the gas. Even if the outer two layers of glass broke the gas would not be released. Borosilicate glass is much stronger than Schott 8625 glass, the type used to coat RFID implants, and there have been no reported cases of RFID implants breaking within the body, so it is very unlikely even the outermost layer of glass would break once implanted.

    However if you think even a single layer of glass has broken we recommend removing the implant immediately. If the outermost layer were to break, the lead oxide glass would be exposed to the body, while not an immediate concern like the tritium is, if left in the body long term lead could leach out, which would be a health concern.

    The TL;DR version is: we have done everything we can to minimize risks, but there will always be a small chance something goes wrong. Please do your own research and decide for yourself if the risks are acceptable or not.


    As mentioned we have two colors available, green and yellow. The obvious question people will ask is “can I get red/blue/pink/white colored implants”. The reason we didn’t make any other colors is because different colored tritium lights vary greatly in brightness. The chart below shows the relative brightness of different colors.

    As you can see, green is the brightest color available, followed by yellow. Green can be easily seen through skin, yellow is visible but is less striking. Another reason yellow implants are dimmer is because I was only able to source slightly shorter yellow lights, meaning the area of light will also be a bit less than green implants. Other colors have not been tested as they will likely not be very noticeable. We strongly advise you to get a green implant first as it is the most eye-catching, and only consider getting a yellow implant later if you want to add variety to your display.

    There are no plans at this stage to offer other dimmer colors, however if after trying a green implant you are insistent about wanting different dimmer color, talk to me, I can make one off implants for those who really want them.

  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016


    The implants come in sterilized needles, they can be implanted the same way as  RFID and NFC chips, see this guide for more information. The only thing to consider is that implanting too deeply will make the implant appear dimmer because more light will be blocked by the skin, care should be taken to implant as shallow as possible, while not so close to the surface that the implant will be rejected.

    These implants are available on in colours green and yellow.

    Thanks for helping make this implant a reality: Cassox (Augmentation Limitless), Glims (Science for the Masses), Chironex (The Thought Emporium).

    I have been working on this for a very long time, I’m so glad to finally release it. But it is just one of many projects I’ve been working on, keep your eyes open, I have many more implants in the works.

  • MeanderpaulMeanderpaul April 2016
    Just a few thoughts.
    1. This is awesome! I have a tattoo on my forearm with eyes that are meant to "glow".

    2. How exact do you think you can be in implanting these.

    3.did you use chironex glowing nanoparticles? That thought went into my head after I saw him make them.

    4. Did I mention this is awesome?

    Bravo guys.this is one step closer for me to having a line down the back of my bicep that glows.
  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016
    @Meanderpaul 2: we have been implanting them with a large needle, exactly the same method as with the RFID chips. 3: no, these use a totally different process from the nanoparticles to glow.

    1 and 4: thanks! I so excited to finally tell everyone what I've been working on for so long!
  • MeanderpaulMeanderpaul April 2016
    Also if I did stick two of these in my tattoo for the eyes would the fact that the eyes were colored red inhibit the green or yellow light? I know you mentioned that skin color would affect it but what about ink?

    EDIT: sorry for the double post my phone can't edit to add more. I had to find a laptop.
  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016
    We don't know for sure yet since no one has implanted one of these under a tattoo yet. The ink from the tattoo will block some of the light, but I think it will still be visible. 
  • JohnDoeJohnDoe April 2016
    Hell of a thing to wake up two!! Vary impressive AlexSmith, I would imagine the light viable would depend of how faded the tattoo is and if the eyes are colored.
  • MeanderpaulMeanderpaul April 2016
    Not faded and colored red @johndoe
  • ZerbulaZerbula April 2016
    #o# Awesomeness
  • ChilliEyeChilliEye April 2016

    want one now, but i would rather wit til you had m31 also.

  • ChilliEyeChilliEye April 2016
    then again just looked on ya site. a bit steep for a poor bloke.
  • zHotIce011zzHotIce011z April 2016
    My simple reaction:"MUM GIVE ME MONEY NOW". 

    This thing is awesome. I've already saw a tattoo ink that glows on dark light, imagine if this ink could glow without any other apparel? Or maybe a adaptation of this implant that starts to glow when you move?
  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016
    @ChilliEye yeah, sorry about the cost, but I spent a lot of my own money on R&D to develop these, I have to charge this much in order to justify developing new implants. I think you'll agree that it's better to have new things developed, even if they are expensive, rather than just not developing them in the first place, right?
    @zHotIce011z I've seen UV activated glowing tattoos, but the big difference is that my device doesn't need an external light source to make it glow, it is internally powered. 
  • ElectricFeelElectricFeel April 2016
    My first reaction reading this was "What moron went and stuck something radioactive inside them" and ended on "I would like one of these". Great footwork here man!
  • @ElectricFeel Strange sense of Deja vu, but I swear that's been joked about before... Somewhere...
  • chironexchironex April 2016
    Was hoping something would come of this, glad you moved forward with it. That data looks a lot prettier all graphed nicely like that XD 
    And ya a single cpm difference is nothing. If memory serves amal measured some of the q-ray bracelets and they were like and extra 2-3cpm extra or something. So in the long run this is next to nothing. You'd get more radiation from spending extended periods in the basement of your house or any time on an airplane. Great stuff man!
  • trybalwolftrybalwolf April 2016
    What kinds of alternate locations do you guys see working for an implant like this? 

    I could see myself putting one in a wristwatch-esque location on my upper wrist, though the skin there seems to be about a millimeter thicker than on the hand or lower wrist... Might block a bit of light...

    Other than that, I could see someone getting two of these on their cheekbones, much the same location as is all too popular for dermal anchor jewelry. Another option might be in the center of the forehead, just above the nose.

    It is interesting. I always appreciated the way this community was so driven by the functionality of the implants we create, yet now seeing an implant that has no other purpose but aesthetic, I have a warm buildup of emotion seeing as how we are evolving. We have come to a milestone if you will, and created a device that only serves as an outlet for personal expression. (Yes I know subdermal silicone implants are pretty similar, but they are different in a way from these "firefly tattoos".)

    I look forward to the day when we have a wide array of implants to change our physical appearance. When technological modifications to change our appearance are as custom and varied as tattoos and piercings today.
  • ightdenightden April 2016
    do you have a big stock of these currently?  how long will this mod be available? think it would be cramped placed parellel next to an xNT implant?
  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016
    @trybalwolf I think hands and arms are the obvious choice to begin with, but other locations which might work well are earlobes and penis shaft.

    I couple of ideas I have which I would love to see someone do are: 
    A Jedi tattoo with the one of these implanted under the lightsaber.

    A ring of these in the center of the chest, somewhat like ironman's arc reactor.

    @ightden I have a approx 50 of these, but no idea how quickly they will sell. It might be possible to put it beside an NFC chip, but I'd avoid it if possible.
  • ightdenightden April 2016
    well i bought one just to be safe :)  sitting here with my calipers set to 18mm playing with ideas on where i might want to place it.  some ideas...inner forearm/bicep.  knife edge of hand maybe...i really like the idea of placing it parallel to my nfc implant.

    did yall try anywhere else besides the webbing on the hand?
  • trybalwolftrybalwolf April 2016
    I ordered one as well as I couldn't bear to miss out. I'm really curious as to how it would work on the forehead... It would be pretty much invisible in the light, yet faintly glow in the dark... I might have to look more into this....

    Currently pinching myself everywhere to gauge skin thickness....

    @ightden I would imagine it would work beautifully on the lower wrist/forearm as I have a few implants there.
  • trybalwolftrybalwolf April 2016
    Also curious as to how it would work placed on the flat cartilage inside the upper ear... I have seen several silicon implants placed here. I would assume you would need rather large ears to make it work with this implant...
  • CassoxCassox April 2016
    Mine are in the back of the hand, not the webbing. They aren't visible in the light but man it's apparent if you are walking around at night in the dark.
  • trybalwolftrybalwolf April 2016
    Is there any reason anyone can think of to not put one on a forehead? I know this is prime real estate for subdermal implants so I really can't think of one. Some people even have implants under their eyebrows.

    Someone asks why you put it in your forehead: "Well, I didn't have money for two, and couldn't decide between the right or the left so the middle was the obvious choice. ...yes my dick was out of the question."
  • CassoxCassox April 2016
    Not really. Keep in mind the injector is considerably larger than one used for an RFID. It might leave a mark/minor scar. Also, the head and face is very very rich in blood vessels. I wouldn't advise doing it to yourself and know that you are going to bleed like a motherfucker.
  • trybalwolftrybalwolf April 2016
    Yeah, due to the locations I have chosen for my chips (shoulder blade and two on my the bottom of my left wrist), I actually haven't implanted any of my own so far. I still use the original piercer that I had implant my first and we have established a strong friendship by this point.

    I'm actually excited about the size of the injector as I was disappointed by the 1.5x8mm chip I last had implanted (I prefer an implant that people can easily feel for themselves).

    As scarring goes, I already have scars on my forehead from a cycling accident and anticipate having some scarification done there in the future so that is also a non-issue. 

    Looks like I know where mine is going. 
  • ProteusProteus April 2016
    This is amazing.  Great work!  Do they 'migrate' like RFIDs?
  • McSTUFFMcSTUFF April 2016
    I don't know how you guys kept this quiet. It's amazing and I wouldn't have been able to keep it under wraps. Good job.
    I ordered one the minute I read all the posts.
    When I'm at transhumanist meetings I show off my implants by letting people feel the bump or squeezing them against the skin so they bulge but now I can show people even easier.
    In August 2014 in the Low-Tech Approach thread [LINK] touched the idea of tritium as an implanted compass pointer but it was dropped. I really hope I was part of the inspiration for this.
  • JohnDoeJohnDoe April 2016
    Could there be a way to capture the green light and use that to power a implant?
  • BenbeezyBenbeezy April 2016
    @JohnDoe you could, but it would be so little of power it would do nothing. You would have better luck putting in solar
  • JohnDoeJohnDoe April 2016
    Okay thanks
  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016
    @Proteus They migrate a little bit, ask @Cassox about his, he said it moved a bit while healing. We talked about adding an anti-migration coating at the ends to hold the implant in place, but we decided not to worry about it yet, if people find they migrate too much we'll add it in later versions.

    @McSTUFF thanks, yeah, keeping it quiet for so long was really hard, but I'm glad I did, having a working and available implant is much more impressive than talking about it early. Actually when you started talking about it in the other thread in 2014, I'd already been working on it for about 2 months, but then you also thought of it, so I was super worried someone would be beat me to it, and have a working design before I did. Thankfully people just seemed to drop the idea.

    @JohnDoe The idea of harvesting energy from the implant to power something else has been talked about, but yeah, we came to the same conclusion as Benbeezy,  the power output would be so tiny it would be useless for most applications. But there are a few super low power systems which might be able to be powered by it.
  • ElectricFeelElectricFeel April 2016
    @JohnDoe Betavoltaics. They already make them.
  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016
    @ElectricFeel yeah, you can even buy tritium batteries, but they cost a LOT.
  • _Larry__Larry_ April 2016
    If you wanted to harvest energy from it you either wouldnt want the lead glass, which is dangerous, or you would want the betavoltaic device paired with the tritium and both coated. The second option would make the implant larger.

  • chironexchironex April 2016
    I've been theorizing something like that for years, I never knew it was already a thing and had a name. betavoltaic..... hmm.... 
  • ElectricFeelElectricFeel April 2016
    Yeah my research takes me to some interesting places. The manufacturers won't sell you a handful, and the per-unit costs are four figures.
  • Wow. This is really awesome. I love seeing some of this stuff get more into aesthetics. 

  • MTSMTS April 2016
  • MTSMTS April 2016
    i just hope it works for my skin color..
  • MeanderpaulMeanderpaul April 2016
    The only things holding me back is if this will be as vibrant with my tattoo or even how much it could migrate. My location is very specific as it would act as eyes.
  • trybalwolftrybalwolf April 2016
    That's where I am... but I'm going through with it anyway and hoping for the best. Gonna put it right in the middle of my face. Will try to figure some things out to keep it in place... Might try @AlexSmith ('s) idea with sports tape. Could use it when I'm not working.
  • MTSMTS April 2016
    that'll be fresh. I wonder how things would go if implanted in the earlobe..the last thing I want is having to take it out, fuck up my ear, and end up looking like Mike Tyson bit me. Still worth it though.
  • AlexSmithAlexSmith April 2016
    Just a couple of things I want to mention:

    The Fireflies are autoclave safe, so if you open the packaging but don't implant them right away, you can get most tattoo/piercing shops to re-sterilize them in an autoclave.

    Since they come pre-loaded in needles, most of the light is blocked, but if you take them to a dark room and try to look down the needle shaft, you can see a very faint light. You can do this to confirm your implant is working and is the correct color before implanting.
  • aviinaviin April 2016
    Been away for a couple weeks and I come back to see this.  Awesome.  Ordered one immediately.
  • @trybalwolf just be careful about the facial nerve and other delicate things...Not a lot of room for error in the face.
  • trybalwolftrybalwolf April 2016
    @zombiegristle Yeah, i have looked into the facial nerves, arteries, and blood vessels quite a bit. It really just makes me scared to get a facial piercing of any kind. :)

    I have looked a lot into subdermal facial implants like horns, cosmetic surgery, and like things. Seeing just how many people have shoved various things into parts of their face with no horrible issues makes me pretty confident in the procedure.

    There is always a chance for issues, but I think the chances here are pretty low. 
  • aviinaviin May 2016
    I've got a PRM-9000 geiger counter here.  I'm looking forward to taking some readings myself off this implant when it arrives.  Not that I'm worried, of course.  I trust the 1.5 CPM reading and know that is terrifically low.  Hell, I've got things in my little collection of radioactives that read many thousands of times higher than that.  Admittedly, those are kept in lead "pigs" and not in my body.  I'd never gotten around to adding a tritium light to my collection.  Now I get to add a tritium light not just to my collection, but to my SELF.  Sweet.

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