Sound Wave Tattoos — Is It Worth The Ink?

Skin Motion, a mobile app developed by Nate Siggard, gained the world’s attention for its apparently innovative use of sound wave tattoos to save and playback music, recently in May, 2017. More and more people are getting encouraged to head to the tattoo shop and have those less-than-a-minute recordings permanently imprinted on their skin.

But is it worth it?

To answer that question above, let us first analyze the technology behind this rising trend.

How It Works

First thing everyone should know about this Skin Motion app is that the sound wave tattoo itself that’s imprinted on your skin is not the actual recording. In other words, it could be any pattern aside from a soundwave.

Each recording corresponding a tattoo is user-submitted and saved to a database set by the devs of Skin Motion itself. After uploading the recording, users are also required to upload a pattern, a photo that will be used to match the tattoo later on.

This works in the same fashion as the existing technologies of QR Codes and Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Now, if Skin Motion has to expand the service and has to accommodate millions of users, soundwave-patterned tattoos will soon overlap with each other, with similar-looking soundwaves downloading the wrong recording. Therefore, Skin Motion will have to use other patterns and images to match a certain recording that isn’t a soundwave. Plans to expand the current limit of one-minute audio will also pose some problems like a longer recording will require a wider skin area, more ink and a wider camera resolution.

Critics have pointed out that it’s not worth the cost (and skin) only to save a less-than-a-minute or so recording.

You might just want to print the soundwave anywhere else or to something else and keep your skin blank. It should work all the same since, as we have pointed out, the Skin Motion technology works just like other existing pattern-recognition technologies, that has no respect to where the patterns have been actually printed and scanned.

The Alternatives

Before Skin Motion, QR Codes have long been dominating the world of pattern-recognition. There have also been a rising trend for QR Code-inspired tattoos that saves any data, not just a sound recording. It could be a plain text, an encoded text, an email address, a phone number and a URL.

Now, the Skin Motion actually works similar to a QR Code scanner that only returns certain URLs. This URL will then be used to access the file database and download the recording that corresponds the pattern. But as we have pointed out, Skin Motion does not work exactly like QR Code as the soundwaves are not printed as 2D/3D encoding maps but as symbols. Skin Motion is, therefore, more similar in fashion to Google’s Reverse Image search.

Now, in terms of printing space, QR Codes wins the game as every QR Code is always square map which can be scaled to any size. A Skin Motion soundwave can only be printed on a flat surface that can accommodate the size of the soundwave in respect to its audio length. The longer the audio, the longer the tattoo, and thus, the lesser your choices are as to which part of your skin would you want to print it.

QR Codes containing URLs can raw URLs as long as 2000 characters or shortened URLs that will forward to another URL of any length. This URL will then download any data of any format, from text files, audio files, image files, an ebook, a PDF, an application, or anything you can imagine. The size of the file does not matter.

And the best part here is there has already been a wide support for QR Codes that it only takes seconds downloading the right QR Code scanner app for your device and you’re good to go.

QR Code encoder apps are also long free and widely available that you don’t need to expensively pay a tattoo artist to print it on your skin. (It doesn’t mean you can’t. The only difference is that it doesn’t require a tattoo artist trained in printing QR Codes just for you to have it. Skin Motion can only be printed by trained ones.)


In summary, there clearly are much more smarter options to save and print memories of your loved ones (their voice recordings, videos, or photos) than Skin Motion, but no one is stopping you to try and go on with the current trends.

As an old adage goes,

Don’t make permanent decisions based on temporary emotions.

We know that social media advertising and business nowadays are based on the freshness factor of a certain trend, with the term “fresh” there actually refering to the degree of unawareness of many to the existing, cost-friendly alternatives.

Social media business also feeds on the sentimentality of people in the same old way that a salesman do the salestalk until you’re convinced that you want (or need) the product.

Sentimentality and freshness are two temporary factors that should be well-thought and thoroughly considered before opting to subscribe to products as permanent as a tattoo.