- A tech startup has developed an erasable tattoo ink that can be zapped away in a single removal session.
- Inque is going after what it believes is a multi-billion-dollar market — people who want tattoos but choose not to get them because of a fear of permanency.
- The company based in Lowell, Massachusetts, is raising early-stage funding with the goal of opening its first tattoo parlors in early fall 2020.
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A tech startup wants to give you a tattoo you will never regret, in part, because the ink can be "turned off" instantaneously.
Inque is a venture-backed company that has developed an erasable tattoo ink. It's already tattooed about 3,300 volunteers over the last few years as part of product development, and is gearing up for its commercial debut sometime next year.
Inque is betting that while there are many tattooed Americans, the population that wants a tattoo but has chosen not to get inked accounts for a much bigger market.
About three in 10 Americans have at least one tattoo, roughly the same share of people with iPhones in the United States, according to an online survey by the Harris Poll in 2015. Tattoos are especially popular among the younger generations, it found. A rise in demand injected $1.7 billion into the U.S. tattoo market in 2019.
"There are people who want that tattoo but are frightened away out of a fear of permanence or a fear of safety," said Robb Osinski, chief executive of Inque's parent company, Bambu Global. "We have proven out that there is a latent market for people who want tattoos and have chosen not to get them for those reasons."
The company based in the unusual startup hamlet of Lowell, Massachusetts, has set out to raise early-stage venture funding with the goal of opening its first dozen tattoo parlors in early fall 2020. They will be scattered across the Boston, New York, and Philadelphia metro areas.
Inque had already closed $6 million in convertible debt financing from a group of unnamed angel investors in 2019.
Inque is not the first tattoo company to go after commitment-phobes.
Biomedical engineering students out of New York University developed a tattoo ink that fades and can be easily removed or changed. They said in old interviews that they expected to make the ink available by 2017, but their company, Ephemeral Tattoos, doesn't appear to have updated its website since that year.
How does it work?
Inque's tattoo ink doesn't fade, rather, it can be removed in a single session.
The ink is needled into the skin in the same method of traditional tattooing, but its molecular structure is different, Osinski claims. A low-power laser sends a specific wavelength of light to the ink particle, triggering a chemical reaction that makes the ink invisible. The process doesn't bombard and break apart the particles like conventional laser tattoo removal, which typically requires many sessions over months or years. The ink stays in place just under the skin but is turned off. This video shows it in action.
The tattoo business is invulnerable to the decline of brick-and-mortar retail
The plan is to open a dozen tattoo parlors across the Northeast where artists will use Inque's ink exclusively. Having its own studios will allow the company to control quality and technique, Osinski said. It's typical for tattoo artists to blend inks from different manufacturers to make new colors, but doing so would prevent Inque's ink from working, "which would ultimately bastardize the brand," he said.
Osinski, who said he is not tattooed, said the business isn't threatened by the closing of retail stores across America.
"People still have to go somewhere to get a tattoo," he said. "You can't do that online."
Still, the company's success could hinge on one factor: the artists it recruits.
People put their trust in artists to make permanent changes to their bodies. They often follow artists on social media before making a selection and return to artists they like for future sessions. Inque will still need to hire artists with a following or a brilliant portfolio to show it can deliver on skill and style as well as easy removal.