TUCSON, AZ -- For Vending Supply the secret is in the ink. While ink isn't something that is often discussed in the world of temporary tattoos, Vending Supply's attention to this often overlooked detail is one of the reasons the company's vending products continue to stand out. Having established itself as a leader in temporary tattoos, it aggressively pursues color formulations that add value to its licensed and generic products.
A division of TM International (TMI Acquisition LLC), Tucson, AZ-based Vending Supply is the largest manufacturer of temporary tattoos in the world with its products sold under the Tattoo Manufacturing brand, as well as the California Tattoo, SAVVi and Vending Supply names. TMI reportedly produces some seven million temporary tattoos a day and exports to 80 countries for sale through both retail and bulk vending channels. It also provides manufacturing services to other vending companies that market tattoo products.
"In general, there are two sides to tattoo ink," said TMI director of manufacturing Sean Johnson. "First, compliance today is much narrower than in the past. Certain ingredients have been banned, so tattoo inks are safer than they've ever been." And since many of the company's products are exported, its tats have to meet the even tougher European Union safety standards.
Secondly, Johnson pointed out, there are a limited number of ingredients that can be used to manufacture safety-compliant ink. The challenge is working with these ingredients to create new colors or concepts. "We also have a limited color range we can use, so how do we take those colors and manipulate them to come up with a new color?" Johnson said.
Developing colors is not as easy as it appears, even for production pros like Johnson. A printer's limited palette includes cyan, magenta, yellow and black. It's from this color model (the same one used to print this magazine) that Vending Supply is able to replicate licensed designs, such as those from Bullseye Tattoos, and to develop innovations like its new neon colored tats.
Neon is a mixture of certain colors, explained Johnson, who is careful not to reveal the full formula. "We have a base body and then add color to it. We constantly modify the ink, and there are certain parts we can't reformulate." He said the technique is cutting-edge.
In addition to the neon tats, some of the more significant results of mixing and ingredient additives have included the company's metallic tattoos and its glow-in-the-dark varieties. Also notable is Vending Supply's "sugar" technology, which produced a temporary tattoo has no ink at all -- only glitter. The company's Sugar Tattoos, which were recognized by the bulk vending industry as the best flat vending series two years in a row (2010 and 2011), are among the most popular items on routes. The glitter line, introduced eight years ago, remains one of Vending Supply's best sellers today.
PHOTO: Sean Johnson, Tattoo Manufacturing International's director of manufacturing, reviews the "final exam" in the G7 Master Printer qualification process. Attaining the G7 qualification helps guarantee the closest color match possible from proof to press for TMI's temporary tattoos, which are sold to the industry under the Vending Supply name. The designation is awarded after passing a thorough annual audit that includes an evaluation of calibrated printing systems by a G7 expert.
Johnson likens the temp tattoo process to the way consumers mix paint at the local hardware store to come up with the right color for a kitchen or bedroom. Vending Supply boasts a full in-house R&D department. "We're developing things that aren't in the marketplace right now," he said.
And then there are Vending Supply staffers like Melissa Mouradian, who continues to challenge the production department. Always on the lookout for new trends, Mouradian brings in the latest fashion concepts and colors for adaptation into tats. "I'll see a trend in fashion, a trend in design, and go to Sean and say, 'Come up with this hot design and make it happen for me,'" she said.
It's all about what colors are hot in clothing and fashion, Mouradian told VT. "Now we're seeing the neon trend in sneakers, jewelry and even in makeup. I was at a trade show in Mexico City and they were selling hot pink eyeliner. I don't think there's a part of the body not being decorated with neon colors right now."
GEE, IT'S G7!
A point of pride for the Vending Supply design team is the company's G7 rating. The qualification was introduced by the Print Colorimetrics Working Group of IDEAlliance (International Digital Enterprise Alliance), a not-for-profit organization representing information technology and publishing since 1966.
Instituted to ensure consistency in color and printing, the qualification identifies best practices from content creation through production and distribution. Meeting the standards goes a long way toward ensuring that the first tattoo off the press will look the same as the millionth, and the 10 millionth.