Temporary Tattoo Ink

girl getting a temporary tattoo

Temporary tattoo ink offers you the opportunity to try out different artistic patterns and designs in a body art form without permanently marking your skin. Whether you want to try out a short-term tattooed look, portray a character or adorn your skin with ritualistic cosmetic markings, temporary tattoo ink allows you to do so without a long-term commitment.


Henna is quite possibly the oldest and most well-known temporary tattoo ink. It has been used for body art in regions such as India, Africa and the Middle East for centuries. Called Mehndi, henna artistry is traditionally used for weddings and during important rites of passage. It is also used in times of festivity and commemoration including Purim, Passover and Norouz. The Henna plant (Lawsonia inermis) is believed to bring love and good luck, and is used to ward off any form of evil eye.

How to Apply Henna

Henna tattoo

Applying henna paste to the skin is relatively simple although creating masterful designs and striking artistic patterns will take practice. The henna is applied through a thin tube made of mylar. These cones are available in kits along with the henna paste, as well as versions pre-filled with the henna. Try your hand at applying henna on some blank paper before using any on your own skin.

  1. Apply the henna using a mylar cone. Squeeze the top of the cone to control the amount that comes out at a time.
  2. Begin drawing your temporary tattoo in the upper left corner (or upper right corner if you happen to be left handed) in order to avoid smudging.
  3. Try using a stencil to reduce the effort needed to create simple classic images.
  4. Apply a solution of lemon juice and sugar over the finished henna design. The sugar helps keep henna sticking to your skin for a longer duration of time while the lemon juice keeps the paste moist and staining your skin with a deeper color.

Purchase a henna kit including stencils and the paste from Henna City for about $18, or get a pre-mixed tube ready to go for about $9 from Henna King.

Jagua Ink

Jagua ink is derived from the fruit Genipa americana. Discovered in the Amazon, this fruit is about the size of an apricot with a very thick rind. Indigenous people throughout Central and South America originally used jagua for body adornment, extracting the natural dye from unripe fruit. Today, as the trend of tattoos and body art has become increasingly popular throughout the global community, jagua can be found nearly anywhere temporary tattoos are sold.

Applying Jagua

Jagua seen above a permanent tattoo
Jagua seen above a permanent tattoo

Jagua is applied through a small squeeze bottle. It is a liquid that flows easily when wet, then dries into a thick peel. The ink is available for purchase already inside its applicator for ease of use.

  1. Apply the jagua ink directly from the squeeze bottle onto the skin. For best results, trace the design on with a stencil first, then go over it with the jagua ink.
  2. Let the outer covering harden to a peel.
  3. Wait a few hours, then peel away the outer covering.
  4. Let the color of the stain darken; this may take several hours to a couple of days to reach its fullest level of color.

There are a number of jagua temporary tat ink brands (in the approximate $20 range) available on Amazon. You can purchase ready to apply jagua ink in an applicator from Jagua Ink Products or get a kit complete with stencils and designs for under $20 from Earth Henna.

Tattoo Markers

Markers come in sets of all colors and are incredibly easy to use on the skin. They work like a regular, fine-tip marker, but are non-toxic, gentle on the skin and wash off easily once you are done.

How to Use Tattoo Markers

  1. Practice the design you want on a piece of paper to learn to control the amount of color that comes out of the markers.
  2. Color directly onto the skin, tracing the design on with a light hand first.
  3. Color in the outline with the markers to get the look you want.

You can get a six pack of DriMark Tattoo Marks markers with a fine tip for about $8.

Tattoo Pens

These work like tattoo markers but an extra step keeps the color on your skin longer. You can try out a freestyle image or use a stencil to experiment with positioning and colors for an eventual permanent tattoo, or just decorate yourself for a one-time event. If you want the tat to last for hours, not days, go for fine-tipped drawing pens that wash off after 12 hours - those come with an Oops pen to cover mistakes or blend the edges of a design. For a lasting, temp hand-drawn tat:

  1. Draw the design - or have a talented friend or your tat artist draw it - on clean, dry skin. Use the fine tip end of the pen for the outline and the thicker tip end for shading or filling in blocks of color.
  2. Allow the ink to dry.
  3. Apply the top coat gel sealer to the tattoo and let that dry. Now your tat will last for about two weeks.
  4. Rubbing alcohol or soap and water will remove the tattoo if you don't want to wait for it to fade.

You can buy temporary ink pens for tats online from Be Wild (an 18-piece kit including the gel sealer is about $15 plus shipping). Try Jest Paint for semi-permanent body art (lasts about 12 hours) ink pens with a fine tip for about $10 each plus shipping. The Oops pen is colorless and costs about $8.

Airbrush Paint

Airbrush guns will paint the tattoo-look of your choice onto your skin in a body paint style by blowing or spraying the paint onto your skin. This is usually done with stencils, though freehand work is also possible. With this type of temporary body art, the colors blend seamlessly into one another, creating beautifully artistic images and scenes on the skin.

How to Apply Airbrush Paint

  1. Airbrush tattoo
    Place a stencil over the skin. You may need several stencils for one tattoo; each stencil will allow one color to be applied to one portion of the design.
  2. Pour the ink into the reservoir and turn on the machine.
  3. Operate the air flow through the foot depressor on the machine.
  4. Aim the gun at the stencil and let enough air through the machine to blow the color over the stencil or the skin.
  5. If using more than one stencil, change out the stencil and the color in the reservoir before continuing.

You can purchase airbrush guns and paint from both Airbrush Temporary Tattoos (a starter kit is about $400.00), and studio-caliber European Body Art systems, which retail for over $1,000 and up. Both companies sell complete kits that include stencils for every experience level.

Printers' Ink

Waterslide paper lets you design your own tattoo on a computer - or scan an art design into your computer - and print it as a tattoo transfer. It works just like the kid-tats you got at parties, and lasts about as long.

  1. Follow the instructions for printer settings and printing your tat designs. The printed paper is covered by an adhesive sheet and you'll have to be careful not to leave air bubbles or wrinkles between the two.
  2. Once the image is printed and the adhesive sheet applied, cut out the tat design, leaving a small margin of extra paper around the design.
  3. Separate the papers and apply the tattoo-side to dry, smooth skin, pressing it down for a count of about 30 seconds.
  4. Press a barely wet sponge (more than damp but less than soaked) to the paper over the tat for one minute. Hold it steady.
  5. Once you see the tattoo through the wet paper, gently remove the waterslide paper to reveal your new custom-but-temporary design.

Find waterslide paper at Decal Paper or another dealer, fire up your PC and your printer and get sketching. Five 8.5 inch by 11 inch sheets are available that work with ink jet or laser printers for just under $20 (plus shipping).

Ephemeral Ink

Ephemeral Ink is a product developed by two NYU students that mimics regular tat ink but is formulated to be temporary. The inventors explain that the ink molecules in their product are smaller than those in permanent tattoo ink and gradually break down and are flushed away. There are three-month, six-month, and year-long versions of the ink so you can play with a professional tat for a season or really give it a good test drive.

Ephemeral Ink plans a pop-up rollout in New York City and will soon be available for tattoo shops to use. It's applied just like a forever tattoo, by a tat artist. The company also makes a solution that speeds up the breakdown process, if you decide to remove the tat ASAP.

Express Yourself

Temporary tattoos are a fun way to try out some ink without the pain, permanence, or cost of the real thing. Try out a temporary tattoo method or two and express yourself through your skin.

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