Magnetic tattoo ink

edited July 2015 in Everything else
Hi there, 
I am a jewellery designer at the Royal College of Art in London and I am researching how biohack can be used for body embellishments. I am wondering if it would be possible to tattoo ink into the skin, which has magnetic particles. So if you would hover a magnet with a pattern over it, the tattoo could be transformed according to the pattern of the magnet. e.g. same way it works on nail polish with magnetic particles in it 
Does anyone know if magnetic tattoo inks exist or if this effect would work under the skin at all?
Thanks in advance for your answers and help!


  • The only thing I can think of would be maghemite. It is already used in biomedicine because it is biocompatible. Implantable magnets are coated in biocompatible materials like silicone, gold, and titanium nitride. Anything like that will never pass through a regular tattoo machine.
  • I'm working on magnetic nanoparticles but It would probably take some creative tattooing to get them to move around with a magnet. Although if cytotoxicity tests come back clean then I'd certainly be tempted to try it.
  • Would you be able to tattoo a finger tip and have the same result or similar to the magnet implant? It might be a better way to have that without risk of rejection and it wouldn't be as invasive.
  • no. If the tattoo is magnetic it'll just be attracted to something already magnetic if anything. 
  • I have a tattoo on my finger tip that I put a magnet under, and I will be the first to tell you that a finger tattoo only lasts for like 2 or 3 months max. your skin on your fingers is to active for ink to reliably stay in. And a tattoo on your finger is very difficult to keep clean, and my magnet healed faster than the tattoo did.

    Also an ink would be VERY thin in comparison to what you implant, meaning you would be almost no return, even with that polish you have to hold a magnet over each finger for 10 seconds to get any kind of result. Its just not strong enough and its not permanent.
  • also the tattoo needle is metal, anything magnetic would stick to it much more than stay in your skin
  • My guess would be that the needle is made from stainless steel which has only weak ferromagnetic properties. Your other points still stand strong.
  • E-ink displays use similar tech, basically a sheet of polarized particles that have a light and dark side that can be flipped by a pulse. If you can make an encapsulated eink module that's bio-compatible, this is totally feasible. You'd want a solid cover tattoo, or maybe just a tattoo that can be "erased" with a wipe of a magnet...
  • I saw an concept animation ( a Phillips Design Probe) several years ago that plays with the idea of electronic tattoos, which might interest you.

    Very exciting idea :)
  • Ya ever since I saw it i've wanted moving tattoos. Although something that complicated would be so bloody difficult. 
  • Let's just start introducing chameleon DNA all over the darn place.
  • my thought on magnetic tattoo ink: The reason it works on nail polish is the magnetic particles are free to move until the polish dries.

    Once tattoo ink is in your skin it does not have the freedom to move around unless it had a pocket. If it did not have a pocket it may create one causing an abcess

  • edited July 2015
    Really the only way this would work is if you could get the particles large enough and be two colored and ideally be able to turn over to change color. So one polarity will turn it one color, the other would make it colorless or a different color. Now, how the hell you'd do this, I dunno. How do you stick 2 halves of a particle together that's smaller than a grain of salt and honestly too small to see individual particles. And then, how do you give them a charge? and how do you make sure they are biosafe after all that? it'd be a bloody nightmare.

    It'd be easier to have somthing akin to e-ink that inverts like that but magnetically responsive. If it's sandwiched between 2 layers of clear biocompatible film then you can maybe use your arm as an etchasketch but i don't know if that's an ability worth the surgery. And again, not a single clue how you'd make that work
  • Yeah, I was thinking along these lines in terms of using something like Epaper. In reality though, I don't think it would be visible at all. I'm sure most people have put their fingers up to a bright light source.. like checking an egg. You can clearly see a finger implant. I'd bet some kind of Epaper implant would work if you had an external light source. Alternatively, if a person was merely looking for aesthetics, this could potentially be one of the cases where transdermal would be appropriate. It would be difficult to make an internal power source worthwhile to power a light bright enough to make it visible through skin.. but transdermal? Why not? So ok, using the transdermal USB type plug system you were working on Chironex, I think this would be a pretty easy project. The I'm not sure what kind of hardware is needed to control Epaper but I'm sure it's small enough. Backlighting could be something like an OLED strip. I already have a few flexible biocompatible coatings in mind. This might be worth it as a project.

    You'd probably be limited to large bands of light and dark rather then something like letters, but it's still a reprogrammable "tattoo-esque" device.
  • Because an external device/power source would be incorporated it would be rather easy to add some other element. It could be used for some kind of signalling. For example, remember those ears/tails that supposed moved based on emotional states? Well, I think the EEG interface systems are crap on those and don't really have any repeatability or veracity regarding emotional status... but in theory this could be a "mood light" strip. Or it could change based on music, temperature of the environment, the light could pulse to HR... whatever.
  • The transdermal is still experimental so that's a big step to use it in another project. Also encasing that whole electrical pagackage would be a nightmare and the corners alone would cause failure. Also eink requires a fair bit of circuitry to do anything complex, unless all you're running is the backlight and the "eink" is magnetically reactive plastic or something. The backlight would just show it. But if you're going to the trouble of a transdermal and an oled you may as well just go full e-tattoo and spend a ton of time trying to engineer it properly rather than do something half assed with a magnet. So full "eink" with backlight and the whole shebang. Although I have no idea how you'd pull it off since they have enough issues with a bendable screen outside of a body, not to mention in one. So then things become rigid which makes things go to shit really quickly since, who wants a circadia sized thing in them? no offense to circadia but it doesn't look comfy. 
  • I'm not terribly interested in doing this myself, but both flexible epaper displays and OLED has been out for a while. In fact, theres an 18 inch flexible OLED/Epaper being produced by LG thats damn impressive. Being a single unit makes it easier. All the circuitry to drive it would need to also be external. The foot print may be circadia sized, but it wouldn't really need the thickness since it's not self powered... More like putting in a credit card rather than a wallet.

    Overall, it's an ineloquent solution little different than a complicated way to tape a phone to your arm. 

  • exactly my point. This is something I think many of us here would want, but we lack the technology to do it in the way we'd like. so for now moving tattoos have to wait I think

    Two years ago, the tech has improved since then. If you can see it through the skin, this would be ideal.
  • edited July 2015
    Still too thick and rigid For sake of conveniance lets say that the whole elctronics package can be no larger than 2cmx2cmx4mm. That's small enough to not be  a pain but provide a good bit of space. That's all the space you have for circuits and energy storage. Add another cm for the trnasdermal which give you a bit more room. That display is rigid. If you were to make this into a reality it needs to be flexible, ideally so flexible that regular movements aren't obstructed at all but that's asking a lot. So really anything flexible. That still doesn't solve how to see it. It will have to be backlit which means more shit you need to cram in there.  Wanna know what'd work better for this? a high tech protocell. Shame the tech to do it is nonexistant atm. but give it 2 years and that could change
  • I don't know what you mean by protocell.
  • It's a semi biological, think stripped down cell. It can eb whatever size you want in theory and can have all kinds of novel functions. In thoery you could build one to essentially be a ink carrier and could react to stimulus, even a magnetic field. It's all theoretical though, protocell tech is a ways off from being able to do this but it is an option for the future. If you wanted you wouldn't even need it to be magnetic. You could start simpler. Make it change color when it's deformed or in response to something in your body. Could eventually lead to the moving tattoos we want so badly. But again it's a ways off. I'm only just starting to look into them and their creation. 
  • Here's a thought i had after messing around with writing on rubber bands. (Sorry in advance for the ASCII art.)

    Make your tattoo like so:

    dashes are an upper image,  asterisks are a lower image.

    Stretched state
    -   -   -   -   -
      *   *  *   *

    Relaxed state
     - - - - -
     * * * *

    When the skin gets stretched, the lower image shows, when it's relaxed the upper one shows. Not sure if it'd work with the skin and tattoos, but I've seen optical illusions that work using a similar principle.
  • Ya know what, I've been thinking this through a bit more and maybe it isn't as insane as I first thought. It's bloody difficult but not impossible. The issue is making the particles the right size. So lets say we do this the same way eink work but instead of a electric charge to move the dye you use a magnet. So the question then is, what will act as your outershell, and what will act as your inner pigment and finally your magnetic dye. The last part is easy. My iron nanoparticles would be perfect for this. they're tiny so you can cram a few into a small particle, and i can probably make them smaller. So the bead will be some color, lets say blue. When you apply the magnetic field the iron particles move to the surface, darkening the dye to black. Question still remains what to use for the shell. It can't break open, has to easily form the little balls we need and can be made hollow. Of course it also has to be biosafe. The ball size must be easily controlled and they must survive the tattooing process. The balls need to be small enough to remain dispersed in solution long enough to be tattooed and be small enough to work. So if you're really interested, that's how you could do it. 
  • That's what I was thinking a few days ago. Polar particles inside nanoparticles that can be flipped with a magnet.
  • not flipped, we don't want the particles rolling around. Just lift up or down inside their case.
  • The particles inside the case are polarized and flip. Moving up and down is cool, you'd have a mangadoodle in your skin, but to actually change from white to black encapsulated polar dye is the best option.
  • Making things that small polarized such that a magnet will flip them, far as I know isn't possible with materials that Im familiar with. SO if you don't plan on using a magnet how are you flipping them? Otheriwse up and down is you only option. Have the dye in the sphere be one color and as you interact with magnetic fields you could potentially get it to shimmer unless you're holding a magnet over it then it'd just be black.
  • How would you get the particles to remain up or down?
  •  Hmmm... I feel like this would need to be further addressed more in the case of the skin as well as the ink. Like, if you want an area to be able to react that way, the skin in that area would need to have "flexible memory" like metal - that way it can go back to an original state after the magnet is passed over it.
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