A tattoo is a huge commitment, but does it have to be? Brothers Tyler and Braden Handley came up with the concept for Inkbox, their temporary tattoo brand based in Toronto, to address that very question. Tyler wanted a tattoo—a “super geometric one” to be exact—but was concerned he’d grow to regret it in five years.
“It was too trendy. It’s like getting a Mumford and Sons tattoo. It wouldn’t age very well,” Tyler says.
Inkbox, founded by the Handley brothers in 2015, uses an active ingredient derived from the tropical Genipa americana tree to stain your body’s epidermis, fading naturally as your skin turns over in the course of a few days. When first applied, tattoos look blue-black, developing a richer color over the next 24 to 48 hours, as the dye reacts to your skin’s proteins and collagen. The result is a tattoo that’s vibrant, dark, and shockingly realistic—until your skin naturally exfoliates, and the design gradually fades away.
The company joins other high-quality, design-focused temporary tattoo brands, like Ephemeral, which uses the same needle application as a regular tattoo to inject ink that fades away over the course of a year, and colorful, trad applications from artist-driven Tattly.
Inkbox, which has raised $13.5 million, employs more than 100 people across Canada and the States. It also works with tattoo artists and graphic designers—vetted by Inkbox’s design team—from across the globe, helping to distribute their designs in the form of temporary tattoos; Designers receive 5% of royalties for each tattoo sold. About 80% of Inkbox’s designs come from independent artists, who retain all their original IP; the other 20% of tattoos are designed in-house. The company says it pays out more than $1.5 million in commissions each year. For three months during the pandemic, it gave full proceeds to its partner artists, who were struggling without in-person customers.
In addition to high-profile launches like the BTS tattoos, Inkbox has recruited well-known and sought-after artists, like Girl Knew York (a favorite of Ariana Grande) to create designs. Tyler says that color tattoos are also in the works, as well as an update to Inkbox’s DIY product, Freehand Ink, which allows artistically inclined consumers to doodle.
I slapped a small Inkbox sun design on my arm and left it on for a little over an hour. The process is familiar if you’ve ever used a temporary tattoo: Peel off a protective backing, and the light adhesive surrounding the tattoo sticks to you skin. Then you wait—and don’t sweat or move—for an hour before peeling the sticker off. Mine turned from a faded blue to a charcoal gray in 12 hours, and is virtually indistinguishable from the real tattoo on my other arm. I’m already plotting my next Inkbox tattoo.
Want to give it a go and don’t know where to start? Here are three Inkbox artists worth checking out.
This Toronto-based artist has a distinctive, sometimes retro-futuristic, sometimes pop-art style. Inkbox has a set of powerful, racial justice-inspired artwork from Sappy; 100% of profits go back to Justice 4 Jamal Francique.
Charity “Cake” Hamidullah
Atlanta artist Cake created a collection of intricate, imaginative illustrative works inspired by mental health awareness and self-love for Inkbox.
New York-based artist Mars Hobrecker’s work celebrates body positivity, queer love, and vintage iconography.
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