Some of us are fans of dip-n-rip tattoos with very little planning. Who cares? It's not like tattoos are permanent, right? Others prefer a slightly more measured approach. If you've ever gotten a delicate, detailed tattoo, you may have been surprised by how long it takes your tattoo artist to go from doodle to having the rough outline of your soon-to-be body art transferred onto your skin. Ghostline recently launched an iPad app to try and change all of that, dragging (some) tattoo artists into the digital age.
"Everything in the tattoo industry is kind of antiquated at this point," said London Reese, founder at Ghostline, in an interview with TechCrunch. "Machines and tools have gotten better, but tech hasn't really entered the space other than batteries and maybe digital art formats. We've been spending the same amount of time for years, and it became evident to me that there had to be a way that I could optimize the process of making a stencil, especially for artists who create realistic artwork.
"We have iPads, we have software, we have all these drawing tools, but nothing would turn that imagery into a stencil that I could print out and apply to skin. That takes anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes every day. That has always been part of the process, but I wondered and said, 'Wait! I think I could make something like that!'"
To Reese, the value is saving time. Spending six or seven hours per week on creating stencils could instead be spent tattooing more customers, and he laments either missing out on money or on time with his family.
The part of the process the app replaces is stenciling. Traditionally, you'd have to hand-design and trace a stencil on top of a photo, and then run it through a Thermofax or some sort of thermal copier. From there, you can apply that carbon stencil onto skin. The app replaces the need to hand-trace. In addition, it offers a few additional features that make it easier to resize work across multiple sheets of stencil paper or to do tattoo work in multiple sessions.
"We developed a way to make the app AirPrint compatible, so we can print directly from the app straight to a modern inkjet printer. Instead of using printer ink, the printer will have tattoo stencil ink and runs stencil paper instead of printer paper," Reese explains. "You print it out, cut it out, apply it to the body and it's ready to go."
Ghostline produced a little video showing off how it all works, featuring Reese himself:
The app also has tools built in that make it possible to scale images and print them over multiple sheets in a grid. By automating that process, it becomes repeatable, which means you can get exact measurements and then save it on the tablet. You can come back to it another day — weeks or months later — and reapply it, aligned with the tattooing that's already completed, to continue the tattoo.
The company currently has around 3,000 users, growing at around 100 per day. It's free to try for a week; after that, it costs $5.99 per month or $59.99 per year for unlimited use.
However, Reese admits the app may not be for everyone.
"You know, there is a cool old-school mentality in tattooing that I hope never dies. You learn the way of the forefathers of tattooing and you do it that way and you don't bring anything else into it, because it works," Reese laughs. "I love that. However, I'm a modern man in modern culture. If I can find something that will allow me to optimize my workflow, I'm all about it. I've been trying to optimize my workstation and my workflow for years, and this is just one little element of it. I don't mind that some guys aren't gonna like it or are gonna think it's not for them. That's fine. That's tattooing. That's art. Right? We all have a process."