Temporary Tattoos: A brief history

Did you know that the first temporary tattoos were found in bubble gum?


Though it is difficult to determine when the first temporary tattoo was printed, we do know that they have been designed and manufactured since the turn of the 20th century. Of course, tattoos of the early 20th century were of poor quality and quickly faded as soon as they were rubbed or got wet. My, have tattoos evolved! But before we get to the quality temporary tattoos that are available today, we have a few more decades to weed through. Temporary tattoos as giveaways in conjunction with snacks or other toys remained the cornerstone of temporary tattoo usage for decades. In addition to snacks, television programs, sports teams and cartoon characters started to use temporary tattoos as promotional tools. For example, not only did sports card packs include chewing gum, beginning in the 1970s, many included temporary tattoos. Smurfs, PeeWee’s Playhouse and the Bionic Woman also included temporary tattoos in their card packs.


In 1980, temporary tattoos were created using different and exotic ink systems. 3M designed and developed a special coating called Micro-Fragrance® that made scratch-n-sniff technology possible. The temporary tattoo industry adopted the scratch-n-sniff concept and a few companies released scented tattoos. Around this time advances in ink and screen printing were also developed. These advances made the tattoos last longer and look more realistic. As tattoo quality increased, so did demand. People began seeing temporary tattoos as a product that could be used outside of inexpensive giveaways. Enter the era of universal demand and consumption.

Today, temporary tattoos are sold everywhere from vending machines to check-out counters at mass retailers to high-end boutiques. A tattoo exists for every demographic; Superhero tattoos for young boys, glitter designs for girls, cool temporary tattoos for trendy adults and clubbing designs for young people. Temporary tattoos have become a healthy activity for children and a must-have accessory for adults. From bubble gum prizes to high-end accessory pieces, temporary tattoos have a diverse and rich history.

They’re here to stay, that goes without saying. The question is: what will we see next?