As innovative people come up with an ever increasing number of applications for 3D printers, a group of design students in Paris have taken things a step further by turning a Makerbot 3D printer into an autonomous tattooing robot called Tatoue.

Appropriate Audiences, a design group that takes its name from the movie trailer classification system, explains that the idea came about at a 2013 Paris design school workshop organized by the French Ministry of Culture. The goal of this workshop, which was called Public Domain Remix, was to use images, videos and sound from the public domain and use them in a ‘Mashup.’ Students were given eight hours to gather digital materials to hack or remix.

Appropriate Audiences came up with the concept of a machine that could autonomously create and ink tattoos (taken from a bank of images) on real skin. Representatives from Le FabShop – a digital manufacturing expert who was there to help students with their projects – explained that this idea was more than feasible, and could be prototyped using the school’s equipment. It took just one afternoon for the team to hack a 3D printer and enable it to trace onto a skin-like artificial surface using a pen instead of an extruder.

After deciding they wanted the machine to be able to produce real tattoos on real skin, the team borrowed a manual tattoo machine from an amateur tattoo artist and found some artificial skin made from silicon to test it. It was a success, and led to the first image being tattooed onto a person - a circle design to test the precision of the process.

When tattooing a person, the main issue the team faced was enabling the printer to register the curvature of human body parts – they didn’t want the printer to treat human skin like a flat, 2D surface. To overcome this, the studio added a sensor to the needle attachment that lets the printer trace the curves and contours of whatever is being tattooed and adjust accordingly.

Once a limb is inserted into the printer, ink is pumped out of the needle directly into the skin 150 times a second. Autodesk 3D CAD software has been adapted to convert tattoo designs into a digital form.

"The idea of our machine is to give tattoo artists a new tool that offers plenty of new possibilities," the designers told Dezeen. "Anything you want can be designed on the computer, and replicated onto the skin. We are still working to develop the software in order to produce something that is more user-friendly, particularly for tattoo artists."

Since the initial tests on human skin, the designers have been working on developing more sophisticated machines that could potentially tattoo other areas of the body and create more complicated designs, according to Dezeen. With the success that Tatoue has seen so far, there's every chance that the machine could end up becoming a common sight in many tattoo salons.

Check out the video below to see Tatoue in action.