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Creating Temporary Tattoos for Film & TV

Using temporary tattoos

Following on from our post on designing a tattoo for a character, here’s our look at using temporary tattoos for a film, TV, or theatre production.

We look at the various professional temporary tattoo products on the market, how to use them, and how to look after them once created.


  • Stencils are made from a thin, durable plastic that is reusable and easy to clean. The tattoo design is cut into the plastic, leaving holes for the makeup to go through.
  • Some stencils come with a cosmetic-grade adhesive on the back, which sticks the stencil to the skin, leaving both hands free to apply makeup. The adhesive should last for a few applications.
  • Other stencils come without adhesive backing, but you can get spray-on adhesive (like Stencil Tac by Temptu) that is easy to clean off after every use. Medical tape can also be used around the edge of the stencil to secure it to the skin.
  • A stencil can be used either way round, meaning you can flip it over.

Where to buy: Specialist make-up shops

Ready-made Transfers

  • Ready-made transfers come in a huge variety of designs, colours and sizes. Some transfers are in full colour, others are just in black, which can be left as is or coloured in freehand with tattoo makeup colours.
  • Transfers can be bought individually, as well as in packs. Packs can also be bought that contain various designs, where the tattoos have a similar style or theme to them.
  • Only use professional tattoos designed for use on skin, as unregulated products can be made from toxic dyes that cause reactions like blistering and rashes.

Where to buy: Tinsley Transfers | Temptu | Reel Creations

Tattoo Transfer Paper

  • Transfer paper is a specialist paper that can be used in most printers, therefore allowing the freedom to print any design you like. It also means you can print spares ready for use later.
  • The paper is normally A4 in size and consists of several layers. For example, one layer is for the printed design to go on, there’s a paper backing, and finally a glue sheet with the adhesive.
  • Remember to print designs as a mirror image, so that the design is the required way round on the skin.

Where to buy: The Magic Touch transfer paper

Temporary Tattoo Makeup Products

Professional makeup products used to create tattoos have a high pigment content and come in the colours used in real tattoos. They are also designed to last and withstand various conditions, like heat, sweat and water.

Tattoo makeup comes in various formats, including:

  • Dry makeup – can be bought as individual colours or in multi-colour palettes. The colours are activated by IPA (isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol), which also helps the tattoo to last. Products include the Horishi palette and Classic Tattoo pots by Skin Illustrator, the Tattoo palette by Temptu, and Color Pots by Reel Creations.
  • Liquid makeup – this is a ready-to-use product that can be used in an airbrush, or painted on by hand using a brush or sponge. Liquid tattoo colours include Dura Liquid Tattoo by Temptu, Skin Illustrator Tattoo Classics and Reel Creations Body Art.
  • Tattoo pens – pens are great for creating freehand tattoos, for colouring in a stencil or outlining. The pens made by KD151 come with different sized and shaped nibs, allowing for both fine work and filling in. Other tattoo pens include those by Reel Creations.

Where to buy: Specialist makeup shops | Reel Creations | Skin Illustrator | Temptu

Using temporary tattoos and makeup
A small selection of tattoo makeup products: Classic Tattoo pots from Skin Illustrator, Dura Liquid colours by Temptu and pens by KD151.

How to Create a Fake Tattoo


  • Gather all items needed to create your tattoo, set everything out and wash your hands before you start.
  • Prep the skin – whatever method you use to create the tattoo, you must work on clean skin. Use something like IPA to get rid of any oil and dirt on the skin.
  • Excessive hair can be a minor problem. So, for example, if your tattoo is going onto a really hairy arm, you need to think about how you’re going to work with that. You could remove the hair and, once the tattoo is applied, lay hair on over the top. Alternatively, if that is not practical or you don’t want to do that, you have to use an application method that allows you to get in and around the hair.

Using a Stencil

  1. Stencil with adhesive backing – place the stencil onto clean, dry skin, and press it down gently, making sure it is completely flat to the skin. Without adhesive – use medical tape around the outside edge of the stencil to stick it down and stop it from slipping about, or use a stencil adhesive like Stencil Tac by Temptu.
  2. Apply colour – use an airbrush, sponge, or brush to apply makeup. You can also use the stencil to create an outline, then complete the colour after removing the stencil from the skin.
  3. Once the makeup is dry, carefully remove the stencil.
  4. Clean the stencil with alcohol.

Using a Transfer

Whether you use a pre-made transfer or one that you have printed onto transfer paper, the application method can be slightly different. In other words, read the instructions for each brand you use so you know how to apply it correctly. Here is a rough guide to applying transfers:

  1. Cut the transfer out as close to the edge of the design as possible. There is usually a clear protective layer over the face of the tattoo which can be peeled off just before application.
  2. Apply the transfer to the skin. Some transfers go directly onto clean dry skin. Conversely, others go onto wet skin and here you need to wipe the skin first with a bit of water or IPA and leave it damp. Check the instructions before you start to see which method is needed.
  3. Apply transfer to skin and press down, keeping it in position to prevent the tattoo shifting.
  4. Press a wet sponge or cloth to the back of the tattoo until the backing paper peels away. The transfer is now on the skin.
  5. If any area of the tattoo is lifted, use the damp sponge to press it down, but do not rub.
  6. Let the tattoo dry thoroughly.

Colouring Freehand

If you are super talented, or it’s a small or simple design and there are no major continuity requirements, then you can simply draw your tattoo freehand. Alternatively, you could create a template on the skin first by using a stencil or tracing paper – the design can then be completed freehand.

  1. Print out the design as a mirror image.
  2. Place a piece of tracing paper over the design and carefully trace the design using a sharp pencil. This results in a template to put on the skin.
  3. Clean the area of skin to be used with alcohol and let it dry completely before proceeding.
  4. Apply a little clear stick deodorant to the skin. This helps transfer the graphite from the pencil template to the skin.
  5. Place the tracing paper transfer face down onto the skin and press firmly, smoothing from the middle to the edges to ensure a good template is made.
  6. Remove the transfer and you should have a faint tattoo template on the skin.
  7. Complete the design using your tattoo makeup.

Finishing Touches

  • The tattoo looks a bit shiny simply dust the tattoo with translucent colourless powder and let it sit for a few seconds before brushing the excess powder off.
  • Fade a tattoo to make it look older by pressing some translucent powder into the tattoo once dry, which helps softens the tattoo, making it look slightly faded.
  • Seal the tattoo with a sealer to help the tattoo last longer.


Makeup tattoo products can last a few days, though it depends where on the body the tattoo is situated. They also tend to last better on dryer skin types. Certainly, the more care a temporary tattoo is given, the better it should last. 

Some tips to helping your temporary tattoo last longer:

  • Don’t rub or pick at the tattoo, leave it be as much as possible.
  • If it gets wet, gently pat it dry, rather than rub at it.
  • Don’t use any lotions, oils or soap on the tattoo as this will damage it and even remove it completely.
  • You can shower, but don’t use any products on the tattoo area and pat dry afterward. You could cover the tattoo over with a waterproof dressing or a plastic bag, sticking it down with medical tape. Obviously, don’t stick the tape directly over the tattoo, as the adhesive could lift the transfer.

Removing Temporary Tattoos

Any good temporary tattoo product will tell you how to look after and, ultimately, remove their tattoos. Generally, you can rub oil (like baby oil or vegetable oil) or alcohol into the tattoo and it will break down the transfer and colours. Soap and water can also remove some tattoos.

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2 thoughts on “Creating Temporary Tattoos for Film & TV”

  1. To be honest, the majority of tattoos you see in movies are not real. It’s an effects makeup studio that offers prosthetics, tattoos, synthetic bodies, monster suits, and classic makeup. When I admire someone with a beautiful tattoo, I generally get a bespoke fake tattoo from It appears to be very accurate and identical to the pattern. It’s ideal for usage during a movie prequel.

  2. I would like to know if I can send them my designs and you print them. ? Of course I would still pay for them. it seems to me that they lack more designs. We are ready if you want new designs. Thank you .

    What are the chits made of?

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Using temporary tattoos