Smart light-emitting tattoos

Supriti Tripathy

8th Apr'21
Smart light-emitting tattoos | OpenGrowth

Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. Tattoos have a power and magic of their own. They decorate the body and enhance the soul. To add to this concept, scientists have given a new dimension to the trend of body ink. They call it the world’s first light-up tattoo. A stamp-sized skin patch enabled with sophisticated sensors and circuits, these wearable patches have applications for computers that are touch-based and can monitor metabolic functions by a color change.

Researchers have created this temporary tattoo which contains OLED(Organic light-emitting diodes) technology that is widely used in TVs, monitors, and smartphones. The OLED tattoos are imprinted on a temporary tattoo paper and can be transferred easily to any surface by adding a dab of water and some pressure. 






It can signal dehydration in an athlete via a sweat sensor when tattooed on him/her. Tattoos on fruits or packages can signal the expiration of the product. Or wear the tattoo to simply flaunt it. However, the device stiffness can act as a roadblock. Addressing the thickness, increasing the flexibility of displays are some of the fundamental components that scientists are pursuing. 


The Invention of OLEDs and their application

The proof of concept device has five layers. In the first step, the researchers treat the commercial tattoo paper with an inert polymer and prepare a surface. Onto this surface, a transparent electrode(the conducting polymer layer) is ink-jet printed. The conducting polymer is then covered by a photo- electroactive polymer( the green-emitting active layer) via spin coating. Finally, the researchers patterned an aluminum reflective electrode on top using thermal evaporation giving rise to about 2.3 micrometers thick transferrable OLED tattoo. It is like one-third of the length of a single red blood cell. 

In the experiments, the team applied the OLEDs tattoos to a glass slide, an orange, a plastic, a paper package as well as demonstrated the device on a freestanding nanosheet. Once applied to any surface, once the devices are wired and supplied with power, the tattoos glowed green- this was termed as “ the first light”.


Application Areas

Following are the areas where the usage of the tattoo can act very beneficial.

  • The tattoo can be imprinted on the skin and when combined with light-sensitive therapies, cancer cells can be targeted. In healthcare, a patient’s condition can be determined with the help of glowing tattoos. 
  • Sports also can make effective use of this. A signal of dehydration can be recognized by using these tattoos with sweat sensors. Using these tattoos, athletes’ performance can also be tracked.
  • Other applications include using them on handicapped people to understand their needs
  • Monitoring sunbathing limits of the wearer
  • Reducing waste by tracking the expiration of food products.



oled tattoo



Effective utilization of resources

The Light-up tattoos make effective utilization of resources. The invention can be applied in sectors where sensors did half the job. An alert over a patient’s condition or an athlete’s situation can help us be prepared with our next course of action. The tattoos can be created in huge numbers as it’s quite cheap and fulfills a plethora of purposes. They can also be combined with other forms of tattoo electronics for a wide range of possible uses. It could be for fashion- (for example providing glowing tattoos and light-emitting fingernails) or for real-time challenges.



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How well does the future look?

With such an invention, scientists have opened the doors for possibilities. The features of OLED tattoos can be molded to address a variety of problems. For instance, adding a battery or supercapacitor to these OLEDs and protecting them from degrading due to air exposure or for photoactive curing of surfaces. Another interesting possibility is the use of OLEDs in visible light communications or LiFi. It implies that these tattoos can be used to establish temporary communication links.

The experiments conducted are the demonstration stage i.e. the first stage. The first stage is all about encapsulation where low-performance materials are configured in a standard testing environment to analyze the potential of OLEDs. The next step is efficiency with high-performance materials and advanced architecture. Here, the results would be better in magnitude as the process would have improved post the demonstration stage.


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A believer of good things and pursuer of diverse avocation, she is a fiction lover and a simple writer. Supriti has a number of professions to her list and she feels challenges are the only answers to failures.