Do these popular temporary tattoos actually look like the real thing?
They're souped-up versions of the body art you loved as a kid.
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Many of us haven’t put on a temporary tattoo since childhood. After all, it seems most are geared toward little kids who want to don their favorite cartoon character on the back of their hand. With those kinds, you plop a paper-backed design wherever you want to display your faux ink, wet with a dampened paper towel, and wait for the magic to happen (or, the paper softens and separates to transfer the art onto skin).
Now, according to our Instagram feeds, temporary tattoos are in style for adults. Whether it’s for a Halloween costume or to test the waters before getting real ink, companies Inkbox and Tattly appeal to people of all ages.
What are Inkbox and Tattly?
Inkbox: This temporary tattoo company sells more than 4,000 tattoos designed by 386 (and counting) artists. In addition, the company sells a freehand kit that allows you to design your own tattoo, or you can upload your own design to have it created into a tat. What sets Inkbox apart from typical temporary tattoos is the application. Inkbox uses a sticker stencil and a pad soaked with ink to temporarily dye the skin. Similar to a henna tattoo, the color develops over one to two days before slowly fading away with wear in a week or two. This means, though, that all designs are limited to a monochrome pen-and-ink color scheme. At the heart of the company is self-expression and artistic integrity: “No matter who you are—whether you’re male, female, or non-binary; black, white, or brown; hurting, healing or somewhere in-between, we’re here to ensure that you have the tools to express yourself...even if that ‘self’ changes.”
Tattly: This company is similar on paper to Inkbox, if on a smaller scale. It offers more than 400 temporary tattoo designs created by 107 artists. (If you fancy yourself the creative type, you can also order your own custom design—but only in serious bulk of 200 pieces or more.) The main difference between the two companies is the application method. While Inkbox uses ink that temporarily stains on the skin, Tattly uses the more typical temp-tattoo application method, with a printed, sticker-like design that transfers to the skin once dampened with water. Tattly was started by Tina Roth Eisenberg, a mother who wanted safe, quality temporary tattoos for her young daughter, and it developed from there: “At Tattly, we believe that great design and art can make people happy. We believe that quality products and great customer support are the only options. And we believe that, whether for a child or an adult, every Tattly should come with a smile.”
How do you order from Inkbox and Tattly?
Inbox: Individual tattoos at Inkbox cost between $10 and $20, while bundles can cost up to $76 for four different designs, plus $3 shipping, unless you spend $32 or more. I ordered the “Illume” tattoo for $14, which is a solid crescent moon, to test the opacity of the solid designs. I also ordered the $16 “Blush” tattoo, a rose silhouette, to test out a finer, sketch-like design. I ordered backups of both tattoos to test them twice: once to see how long they last naturally, and another time to see how quickly I could scrub them off after application, if I wanted to only wear them for a costume or event.
Tattly: As you peruse Tattly’s site, you’ll notice that all single tattoo designs come as a set of two, meaning for every one you order, usually priced at $5, you receive a backup. You can also buy whole collections, which come with up to nine different designs (no duplicates), for $15. In addition, you’ll pay $3 for domestic shipping, or get free shipping if you spend $30. I chose a delicate $5 single design called “Rosebud” of a hand holding a bouquet of roses and a $5 solid-colored one of a shark, adequately called “Shark.”
What is it like to use Inkbox and Tattly tattoos?
Inkbox: You won’t want to ignore the instructions for Inkbox, as they detail small steps that are crucial to how well your tattoo transfers to the skin. When you receive your box, the instruction booklet will be among a group of supplies, including the tattoo itself, a moist towelette, two alcohol wipes, and a pair of rubber gloves. I also chose to watch the instructional video on the Inkbox site. Without going into detail (that’s what the instructions are for), there are eight steps to achieve the perfect tattoo application—and you’ll need a microwave handy. After completing all of them (twice), I had a blue-hued moon on my right arm and a subtle rose on my right ankle.
Tattly: Unlike Inkbox, Tattly doesn’t require instructions unless you’ve never used a temporary tattoo before, although I did follow the ones given: Peel off the plastic, place the tattoo where you want it to transfer to, then hold a damp paper towel to it for 30 seconds.
What do Inkbox and Tattly claim?
Inkbox: The company claims that its tattoos take 15 minutes to apply, develop over 24 to 36 hours, and last one to two weeks. The longevity depends on your daily activity, the placement of the tattoo on your body (unsurprisingly, low-friction spots are best), how much you moisturize (surprisingly, more is better), and your skin’s chemistry. The site says that the ink sinks into the top layer of the skin and “works with its organic compounds to change the color to dark blue or black.” Both tattoos I tried looked blue on my fair skin. Inkbox claims to use a plant-based formula and be cruelty-free. To remove Inkbox tattoos, the company states that lightly scrubbing the tattoo with an exfoliant or salt water is most effective.
Tattly: Most of its tattoos should last about two to four days, but ones with intricate, fine lines may fade sooner. The company also claims that the tattoos are waterproof, so you can wear them in the shower or pool, and they may even last longer if gently cleaned.
When you’re ready to remove the tattoo, Tattly recommends pressing Scotch tape down over it and pulling it up (the tattoo should stick to the tape). You can also use rubbing alcohol or put baby oil or lotion over it before getting into the shower.
Do Inkbox and Tattly tattoos work?
Inkbox: In terms of my moon tattoo, Inkbox worked exactly as it claimed to, taking only 15 minutes to apply and fading over the course of two weeks. The rose on my ankle, however, barely developed at all on the first try. I tried the second rose on the outside of my ankle, too, and it again barely deepened in pigment. The rose tattoos were also not exactly as depicted on the site: They were both missing a small line that completed the leaf. Assuming the rose design flaw was a fluke, Inkbox was on par with my expectations.
In terms of removal, Inkbox recommends washing the tattoo with an exfoliant or salt water. In my experience, it takes a few designated washes with a physical exfoliant, in addition to your regular bathing, to fade the tattoo quickly.
Tattly: These tattoos work just as well as the ones you’d find at a kids' birthday party, which is why $5 for a set of two isn’t bad. The most noteworthy parts are how easy they are to put on and all of the incredible designs and finishes you get to choose from. Want a metallic bird? You got it. A glow-in-the-dark snake? Sure. A scented flower? Done. It’s a fun way to experiment with designs and colors for an event. They look in person exactly how they appear online—very detailed, down to fine lines.
As long as you’re fine with the experience being fleeting, you won’t be disappointed. The tattoos last as long as they said they would (two to four days), for the most part. The shark tattoo immediately began cracking when I moved my arm, but the rosebud tattoo on my left ankle held on strong for a few days before it began chipping away in certain spots until I was left with just the remnants of the hand, two weeks after I first put it on. Be warned: If you take a steamy shower, these immediately flake up.
When it came time to (intentionally) remove my Tattly tattoos, I used packing tape so that the whole tattoo would be covered—and almost entirely removed—in one fell swoop. I opted for that over the rubbing alcohol, which I feared would be drying to my already dry skin), and baby oil, which seemed more intensive than the tape method.
Should you use Inkbox or Tattly?
While the Inkbox tattoos last longer, they don’t provide the same variety in color and finish as the Tattly ones. On the Inkbox site, the tattoos look more realistic because the images depict the tattoos in solid black. In reality, my tattoos appeared ballpoint-pen blue, which was not the look I was going for. My moon also had some pinpoint-sized spots that I assume were the dye gathering around a hair follicle. The edges were not completely clean, even without accounting for user error.
On the other hand, with all its colors and bonus features—glitter! scent! glow-in-the-dark!—Tattly is fun. Yes, your tattoos will fade or flake quickly, but that’s just fine for experimentation and self-expression—after all, they are temporary. The mechanism for putting the tattoos on the skin makes it so that every single small detail and line perfectly transfers, so the artist’s work stays intact and you get exactly what you pay for—for $5 and only 30 seconds of application. And when you're done being decorated, Tattly tattoos come off in a snap.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.