I've recently watched Point Break, and I was astonished by the number of tattoos worn by the principal characters, as well their thickness... How do they manage to do this?

But in general, what technique do they use to make fake-but-real-looking tattoos to actors?

I also think of the Divergent Series, but also any films where the actor wears a tattoo...

I don't think they use stickers, nor permanent markers...

To go further: could it be possible to use this technique for personal use?

  • I had an airbrush tattoo as a teen, and that looked great, and lasted well through a week (or two) of swimming and running around. Wikipedia however informs me they work less well than decals, so I guess they are not used in film. (I always assumed airbrush tats were what they used in film. The more you know) Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 10:16
  • Apparently, they did use airbrush/painting techniques before the decals were invented, but the decals are much quicker to apply & each one is identical to the day before, so the only issue is placing it correctly each time.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 13:31
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    When I read Point Break I thought you are mentioning Prison Break. Anyways do checkout the tattoo of Michael Scofield in Prison Break. It's not just for show but it's one of the main element of this great show.
    – user30432
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 14:08
  • The problem with the decals (that I've seen, anyway) is that they're shiny, so they're really obviously fake... and, for best adhesion, they should be applied on skin without hair... which is a problem for guys.
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 17:53

6 Answers 6


They're actually just glorified 'lick & stick' - thin 'not quite plastic' decals adhered to paper backings, which are wetted with a mixture of water and alcohol and applied to the skin. I imagine they're very similar to the ones you can find on the cosmetics counter in some chemist's (though I've never used those, so that's a guess).

They will start to rub off if mistreated, but at the end of the day, alcohol and cold cream will remove them properly.

How I know - I've had to wear them a few times myself... they itch ;-)

I managed to Google this...
The company 'Tattooed Now' is one that makes these decals.
Customized Tattoos shows some still on their paper backing and
How to Apply... gives pretty much the same info as I précised above.

Seems they did actually make the tattoos for Point Break, and a few other high profile movies.

This site - Love to Know : Movie Tattoos - has a bit of background on the history of movie tattoos - which used to be done originally in ordinary stage make-up, then later in an alcohol-based skin paint; but they were very laborious & had to be touched-up frequently.

  • Just what I needed, thanks ! Can we wear them for like a week, or is it to reapply every day ? #SummerApproaching
    – 3isenHeim
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 8:29
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    Well, the site mentioned 'up to a week', but they also mention body hair... Sticking one on a man's arm... call it a day.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 8:40
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    So... my daughters are one step away from being a movie star? Awesome.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 14:36
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    Just be aware that they will block sun, so if you are out wear sunscreen (which will shorten the life). I wear numbers like this for triathlons and on occasion I've had white afterimage numbers for weeks.
    – JohnP
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 15:00
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    Ha, simple temporary tattoos.
    – cde
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 17:06

Tattoos are a key plot element of the NBC series Blindspot.

The application process takes anywhere from 45 minutes (for just the hands and neck) to multiple1 hours (and three artists) for the full-body treatment. They're applied in sheets and released with water, like common mass-market temporary tattoos. The ones used in Blindspot are significantly more durable, lasting for a few days and tough enough to stand up to stunt work.

It takes about an hour to remove the full set. They're are coated with a remover called Betasol for a few minutes, then they can be wiped off. The process is apparently simple, but it's not good for the skin.

1Different articles cite different times. The original designer says four, but other articles say six or seven. I suspect Tinsley himself is just better at it.

  • 7
    The sad thing is that so many young folk do not use tattoos like this. They go for the real, permanent, kind and regret it 10 or 20 yrs later -- not ot mention that the real ones fade & stretch as your skin ages. Ugly. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 11:45

The trivia section of IMDB's entry for Cape Fear states that for his role in that movie Robert De Niro was tattooed with vegetable dyes, which fade after a few months.

  • I was going to mention this as well. I heard he had to get them redone, too! Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 14:48

Depending on what they're needed for (TV series) they usually use template/temporary tattoos, especially if there are big pieces.

I believe if there are small pieces and they are not going to be used/shown often, they can be added with makeup/ink.

I think the reason premade temporary tattoos are preferred is due to placement issues, also the duration that the person/persons will need to have the tattoo on show for.

It's also like how tattoos are covered on actors; most use makeup to cover them but some are cut out during editing.


In divergent they actually painted the tattoos on every single day that they were filming. So, when they finished filming for a day, obviously the actors didn't go without showers so washed it off. The next day professional makeup artists had to start all over again on the tats. This information came from an interview after the film divergent was released. The interview was with the main characters in the film.

  • 2
    Do you have a source for these claims? Some external commentary/making-of by the filmmakers? Or some article you read? If yes, feel free to mention it.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 19:04
  • I got the information from an interview that was made after the film divergent was released into cinemas. It was an interview of the main actors in the film.
    – G.Byatt
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 19:58
  • You might want to add this information into the answer.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 19:59

Actually some times the actor/actress uses vegetable ink or oil I'm not quiet sure about how it all works but I've read a little about it

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    Share your links with us.
    – mattiav27
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 12:09
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    If you are not sure about it, how can you be sure it answers the question? Sounds like a good opportunity to become more informed and provide more details like the other answers do.
    – user9311
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 15:29

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