Oct 16, 2023 - News

Austin's Blackdot aims to redesign the tattoo industry

Tyler Hobbs tattoos, like this one called Flyway, could set you back nearly $10,000. Photo courtesy Blackdot

An Austin firm is hoping to shake up the tattoo industry with a computer-driven pixelation technique that it says can offer more precise body art.

Why it matters: The new technique lowers the barrier to entry for artists whose work would have been tricky to translate to human parchment.

Driving the news: Blackdot emerged from stealth mode late last week, unveiling its patented automated tattooing machine and opening up bookings for the first Blackdot tattoos at its Austin operation.

How it works: Artist designs are scanned into a machine that renders tattoos in many tiny dots — rather than freehand line drawing.

  • The company claims the method causes less pain than conventional tattoos.

What they're saying: "For the cool kids, there's a less-is-more mentality now," Blackdot co-founder and CEO Joel Pennington tells Axios. "What they want is smaller tattoos that are highly detailed — and small details are really hard to execute, with no room for mistakes."

Reality check: The Blackdot tattoos are expensive.

  • A tattoo by Austin artist Tyler Hobbs — known for his use of algorithms to generate imagery — will set you back $8,000 in design fees and another $1,850 in execution, per the Blackdot website.
  • For now, Blackdot's tattoos are not available in color — only in grayscale. Pennington says that's part of the minimalist aesthetic.

The big picture: A third of Americans are tattooed, according to a recent Pew Research study, and the industry is expected to reach $3.9 billion by 2030, per Forbes.

  • "Traditional tattooing will always be mainstream, but there's a heavy appetite for this innovative approach to complement the classic system and to benefit tattoo artists and other artists everywhere," Matthew Stephens, the Austin-based founder of online artist community DeviantArt, said in a Blackdot press release.

By the numbers: The company has raised $4.6 million thus far, chiefly from San Diego-based FusionX Ventures, Pennington tells Axios.

  • Right now its East Austin operation, where the tattoos are actually applied, is open by appointment only — and is a suite situated within a larger building.
  • The company is raising another $3.5 million to open an Austin brick-and-mortar studio. ("We don't use the word 'parlor,'" Pennington says.)

Zoom out: "When it comes to body art, as with self-driving cars or robotics in surgery, trust and confidence in these devices is growing over time," Pennington says. "The fusing together of art and technology is resonating with a lot of people interested in self-expression and using their body as a canvas."

What we're watching: Blackdot's plans to open studios in Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas and Miami.

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