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Magic Ink: The tattoo that can be turned on and off thanks to engineering lab in Boulder

CU Boulder assistant professor teams up with famous tattoo artist to explore disappearing tattoo ink
Magic Ink: The tattoo that can be turned on and off
Posted at 11:01 AM, Sep 11, 2023

BOULDER, Colo. — After roughly six years of work, an assistant professor from the University of Colorado at Boulder has developed a tattoo ink that allows body art to disappear and reappear using different kinds of light.

Originally from Loveland, Dr. Carson Bruns wears several hats, including the role of an assistant professor of mechanical engineering with the ATLAS Institute at CU Boulder. He is also the co-founder, president and chief scientific officer of HYPRSKN, a company that licenses technology from the college. It has a brand called Magic Ink, a project Bruns has been working on since joining the staff at the school.

“This was kind of my baby," Bruns said about Magic Ink. "It felt like something nobody was working on yet, but something that I was really qualified to do.”

As a nanoengineer, Bruns was able to replace the pigment nanoparticles of standard tattoo inks with nanoparticles they build in the lab. Magic Ink can be turned on using UV light, and is turned off when exposed to bright white light or sunlight. It is patented and in the process of commercialization.

“This gives you an option to just turn it off when you don't want it to be visible, when you're at your grandma's house or when you're in the courtroom or whatever, but have it be visible when you want it to be,” Bruns explained. "It's great for those people who might be a little less committal about a tattoo."

Bruns is also excited about what Magic Ink could mean for cancer patients going through radiation treatment.

“A lot of patients who have to get radiation therapy get these small dots or crosses the first time they visit the radiologist to align the beam for therapy," Bruns said. “Most of these patients find these permanent tattoos they received from the radiologist to be permanent reminders of trauma, and they don't really want them.”

Around a year and a half ago, Bruns entered a partnership with Keith “Bang Bang” McCurdy, a renowned tattoo artist who has studios in New York City. McCurdy has tattooed stars like Rihanna, Lebron James, and Miley Cyrus.

"We're getting pretty close to revealing the first body art tattoos that have been made with Magic Ink," Bruns said. "Within the next three to six months, I think you'll start seeing a lot of images come out of the body art that's been made with this ink... It's really a dream come true for me to know that really talented artists are using this invention that we created in our lab.”

Magic Ink has been tested on over 50 people.

Another project Bruns is researching is permanent sunscreen.