3D print tattoo

Engineers 3-D print a “living tattoo” | MIT News

MIT engineers have devised a 3-D printing technique that uses a new kind of ink made from genetically programmed living cells.

The cells are engineered to light up in response to a variety of stimuli. When mixed with a slurry of hydrogel and nutrients, the cells can be printed, layer by layer, to form three-dimensional, interactive structures and devices.

The team has then demonstrated its technique by printing a “living tattoo” — a thin, transparent patch patterned with live bacteria cells in the shape of a tree. Each branch of the tree is lined with cells sensitive to a different chemical or molecular compound. When the patch is adhered to skin that has been exposed to the same compounds, corresponding regions of the tree light up in response.

The researchers, led by Xuanhe Zhao, the Noyce Career Development Professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Timothy Lu, associate professor of biological engineering and of electrical engineering and computer science, say that their technique can be used to fabricate “active” materials for wearable sensors and interactive displays. Such materials can be patterned with live cells engineered to sense environmental chemicals and pollutants as well as changes in pH and temperature.

What’s more, the team developed a model to predict the interactions between cells within a given 3-D-printed structure, under a variety of conditions. The team says researchers can use the model as a guide in designing responsive living materials.

Zhao, Lu, and their colleagues have published their results today in the journal Advanced Materials. The paper’s co-authors are graduate students Xinyue Liu, Hyunwoo Yuk, Shaoting Lin, German Alberto Parada, Tzu-Chieh Tang, Eléonore Tham, and postdoc Cesar de la Fuente-Nunez.

A hardy alternative

In recent years, scientists have explored a variety of responsive materials as the basis for 3D-printed inks. For instance, scientists have used inks made from temperature-sensitive polymers to print heat-responsive shape-shifting objects. Others have printed photoactivated structures from polymers that shrink and stretch in response to light.  

Zhao’s team, working with bioengineers in Lu’s lab, realized that live cells might also serve as responsive materials for 3D-printed inks, particularly as they can be genetically engineered to respond to a variety of stimuli. The researchers are not the first to consider 3-D printing genetically engineered cells; others have attempted to do so using live mammalian cells, but with little success.

“It turns out those cells were dying during the printing process, because mammalian cells are basically lipid bilayer balloons,” Yuk says. “They are too weak, and they easily rupture.”

Instead, the team identified a hardier cell type in bacteria. Bacterial cells have tough cell walls that are able to survive relatively harsh conditions, such as the forces applied to ink as it is pushed through a printer’s nozzle. Furthermore, bacteria, unlike mammalian cells, are compatible with most hydrogels — gel-like materials that are made from a mix of mostly water and a bit of polymer. The group found that hydrogels can provide an aqueous environment that can support living bacteria.

The researchers carried out a screening test to identify the type of hydrogel that would best host bacterial cells. After an extensive search, a hydrogel with pluronic acid was found to be the most compatible material. The hydrogel also exhibited an ideal consistency for 3-D printing.

“This hydrogel has ideal flow characteristics for printing through a nozzle,” Zhao says. “It’s like squeezing out toothpaste. You need [the ink] to flow out of a nozzle like toothpaste, and it can maintain its shape after it’s printed.”

From tattoos to living computers

Lu provided the team with bacterial cells engineered to light up in response to a variety of chemical stimuli. The researchers then came up with a recipe for their 3-D ink, using a combination of bacteria, hydrogel, and nutrients to sustain the cells and maintain their functionality.

“We found this new ink formula works very well and can print at a high resolution of about 30 micrometers per feature,” Zhao says. “That means each line we print contains only a few cells. We can also print relatively large-scale structures, measuring several centimeters.”

They printed the ink using a custom 3-D printer that they built using standard elements combined with fixtures they machined themselves. To demonstrate the technique, the team printed a pattern of hydrogel with cells in the shape of a tree on an elastomer layer. After printing, they solidified, or cured, the patch by exposing it to ultraviolet radiation. They then adhere the transparent elastomer layer with the living patterns on it, to skin.

To test the patch, the researchers smeared several chemical compounds onto the back of a test subject’s hand, then pressed the hydrogel patch over the exposed skin. Over several hours, branches of the patch’s tree lit up when bacteria sensed their corresponding chemical stimuli.

The researchers also engineered bacteria to communicate with each other; for instance they programmed some cells to light up only when they receive a certain signal from another cell. To test this type of communication in a 3-D structure, they printed a thin sheet of hydrogel filaments with “input,” or signal-producing bacteria and chemicals, overlaid with another layer of filaments of an “output,” or signal-receiving bacteria. They found the output filaments lit up only when they overlapped and received input signals from corresponding bacteria .

Yuk says in the future, researchers may use the team’s technique to print “living computers” — structures with multiple types of cells that communicate with each other, passing signals back and forth, much like transistors on a microchip.

“This is very future work, but we expect to be able to print living computational platforms that could be wearable,” Yuk says.

For more near-term applications, the researchers are aiming to fabricate customized sensors, in the form of flexible patches and stickers that could be engineered to detect a variety of chemical and molecular compounds. They also envision their technique may be used to manufacture drug capsules and surgical implants, containing cells engineered produce compounds such as glucose, to be released therapeutically over time.

“We can use bacterial cells like workers in a 3-D factory,” Liu says. “They can be engineered to produce drugs within a 3-D scaffold, and applications should not be confined to epidermal devices. As long as the fabrication method and approach are viable, applications such as implants and ingestibles should be possible.”

This research was supported, in part, by the Office of Naval Research, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.

Sub $400 3D prints electric sensing temporary tattoos for soldiers


Scientists at the University of Minnesota (UMN) have 3D printed an electronic circuit on to the back of a human hand for the first time. Though temporary, like lick n stick tattoos, this technology presents great potential for helping to heal wounds, gather advanced intelligence on the battlefield, and promote response in remote locations.

“It would be like a ‘Swiss Army knife’ of the future with everything they need all in one portable 3D printing tool,” explains Michael McAlpine, lead author of a study on the process, and UMN associate professor.

“We imagine that a soldier could pull this printer out of a backpack and print a chemical sensor or other electronics they need, directly on the skin.”

First layer of electronics 3D printed onto the skin. Clip via College of Science and Engineering, UMN on YouTube

Fabricating a sixth sense

In the wider literature, UMN’s sensor is one of many 3D printed “tattoos” tipped to give a sixth sense to their wearers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed their own electronic, 3D printed tattoo, activated by bacteria.

For wound healing, the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) is leading a U.S. Army initiative to 3D print skin.

The advantages of UMN’s research is that is seeks to provide a platform that combines both electronics and cell culture 3D printing in an affordable, lightweight, and portable package. The 3D printer they use for the process costs less than $400 to purchase, and is based on FDM/FFF technology.

Complete with computer vision

UMN’s 3D printer is also rendered capable of computer vision. Before the electrical or cell-laden ink is deposited, small markers are placed onto the skin.

Before the electrical or cell-laden ink is deposited, small markers are placed onto the skin. Clip via College of Science and Engineering, UMN on YouTube

The markers are then scanned, providing the 3D printer software with an image of, say, the back of a hand.

When a hand is held still to be 3D printed on, the 3D printer automatically accounts for any micro movements that occur, to achieve even deposition of the material.

Silver ink used for electronics printing cures at room temperature to create sensor on the back of person’s hand. Afterwards, the temporary “tattoo” can simply be removed either by peeling away, or washing with water.

“I’m fascinated by the idea of printing electronics or cells directly on the skin,” adds McAlpine, “It is such a simple idea and has unlimited potential for important applications in the future.

A paper discussing this technology, titled “3D Printed Functional and Biological Materials on Moving Freeform Surfaces“, is published online in Advanced Materials journal. It is co-authored by Zhijie Zhu, Shuang‐Zhuang Guo, Tessa Hirdler, Cindy Eide, Xiaoxiao Fan, Jakub Tolar and Michael C. McAlpine.

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Featured image shows a UMN 3D printed electronic sensor. Photo via McAlpine group, University of Minnesota

Tags 3D printed electronics 3d printed skin army Cindy Eide computer vision intelligence Jakub Tolar Michael C. McAlpine McAlpine group Medical Michael McAlpine Military MIT sensors Shuang‐Zhuang Guo Tessa Hirdler UMN university of minnesota wound care Xiaoxiao Fan Zhijie Zhu

Beau Jackson

3D printer will put tattoo artists out of work


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- Have you seen the new Justice series where they made a computerized tattoo machine out of a 3D printer?
- It seems that it was not in "Justice"?
- Well, it doesn't matter, did you see it? Those French turned the MakerBot Replicator 2 into a tattoo machine!

The idea came from a workshop called Public Domain Remix, sponsored by the French Ministry of Culture at ENSCI les Ateliers, the famous Parisian school of design. The event attendees were tasked with remixing public domain images, sounds and videos. One group calling themselves Appropriate Audiences decided to remake a 3D printer to create tattoos of public domain images. With the help of French Le FabShop hackspaces, the team took a desktop 3D printer they found at school, replaced the extruder with a pen, and created their own prototype in their allotted 8 hours in the workshop. The resulting machine drew pictures in front of all participants in the program. This was also observed by the Minister of Culture of France himself.

Tattoo supplies

After the event was over, the design team decided to move on and swap out the pen for a real tattoo machine borrowed from an aspiring tattoo artist. To demonstrate the quality of the tattoo, they chose the simplest design - it became a regular circle, and first they tested the machine on silicone leatherette. Then they had to find a volunteer who would be willing to get their first robotic tattoo. It turned out to be easier than they thought, since there were quite a few volunteers who liked the idea of ​​spoiling their skin in this new 21st century way.

"Feather trials" on leatherette

The process of calibrating the printer and getting ready to make a quality tattoo turned out to be a bit tedious. The design team had to first create an adapter on a 3D printer that would fix the tattoo machine in such a way that it would not vibrate. In the printer software, the print wall thickness was set to 0.2mm, with no fill, as they hadn't figured out how to fill the tattoos with color yet.

Measurement of the distance between the upper arm and the print platform

The team then had to measure the distance between the volunteer's upper arm and the print platform of the printer; This distance was set in the print Gcode to compensate for the difference between the hand surface and the print platform. The team also had to consider a travel stop, which is used to calibrate the printhead before printing/tattooing, because the length of the needle is different from the length of the extruder. Because leather is more elastic than silicone, the team had to use a piece of rubber to stretch the volunteer's skin.

Second round of tattoo printing

Finally everything was ready for printing. After sterilizing the equipment and filling the needle with ink, they sent the drawing to print. After the machine turned on and was ready to start printing, they paused the printer and placed a volunteer's hand in the assembly chamber. The next step, as described on the project page on the Instructables website, was "start the engine, cross your fingers at random, and... GO!"

While in some ways it may seem like the guys at Appropriate Audiences have taken 3D printing technology a step back by turning it into a 2D inking device, they may be the reason for new ideas in the world of tattoo art and contour printing. on a surface. Perhaps this experiment could end up putting talented tattoo artists out of work, but in the future, if you get a robotic tattoo, you'll have no one to blame for a bad drawing but yourself!

Article prepared for 3DToday.ru

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Have you always dreamed of getting a tattoo? Now the 3D printer

will help you with this

3DNews Technologies and IT market. News at the forefront of science Always dreamed of getting a tattoo? Now...

The most interesting in the reviews

04/06/2014 [10:39], Dmitry Prikhodko

For all those who have been looking towards self-expression in the form of drawings on their bodies for a long time, but cannot choose a professional tattoo artist, there is an opportunity to turn to an inanimate tattoo artist. The function of applying an image using subcutaneous ink injection can be taken over by a conventional 3D printer. According to the creators, an automatic device in the future will be able to perfectly cope with complex tasks and perform a whole range of different actions. True, today a 3D tattoo printer is capable of only the simplest manipulations, and among the first drawing it created so far is a banal circle. Therefore, it’s still not worth counting on seeing Botticelli’s paintings in the form of new tattoos tomorrow.

The very idea of ​​a 3D printer capable of taking on the functions of a tattoo machine and partially replacing the master himself, spontaneously arose among the creators of the device during one of the seminars on electronics. This event attracted the attention of a huge number of talented and extraordinary young people and inspired a group of French students to work on an unusual tattoo machine. To do this, they took one of the MakerBot 3D printing devices as a basis. The concept of the printer was slightly corrected, after which the device became capable of creating not only toys and plastic parts of various shapes, but also applying simple outlines to the skin using paint.

As for the constructive part of the device, it has not undergone significant changes in comparison with the original model. A special needle was installed in the Makerbot printer, with which tattoos are applied in salons. In turn, the developers had to seriously work on refining the “printing” technology, because human skin is a very sensitive and not very durable surface. The application of excessive pressure would cause discomfort and pain.


Initially, the test sample was tested on artificial leather. After a successful launch, it was necessary to find people willing to acquire a simple geometric tattoo figure already among people. Among the most important link in the transformation of the printer into a tattoo machine was the question of the sterility of the operation and compliance with all related sanitary standards. Only after making sure of complete safety and compliance with the established rules, the developers began real tests.


It's worth noting that this tattooing process has some inconvenience. First of all, the hand to be tattooed must be very tightly fixed, which is not always necessary when working with a living master. In addition, the conceptual tattoo device was made by modifying a conventional printer, which was intended for completely different purposes. Because of this, the dimensions of the camera of the device strictly limit the place of work, so it is not yet possible to apply a pattern on the back or even the shoulder.



In the future, a 3D printer like this could be a successful replacement for simple procedures. Proponents of 3D printing technology argue that within the capabilities of the device lies the full application of a complex tattoo, which can sometimes be compared with a real work of art. In addition, the 3D printer is not subject to fatigue and can precisely coordinate the accuracy of each of its steps down to the millimeter.

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