Review: HP Printable Tattoos
Pros: Fully user-customizable iPod stickers that are fairly priced and relatively easy to use - if you have a color printer and decent ink.
Cons: Not entirely intuitive to create or print the Tattoos, which don’t fully cover any of the iPod’s surfaces and provide little protection for those they do cover.
Gadgets are cool, but gadgets you can buy in your choice of colors are inherently cooler. Half the fun of buying an iPod mini is picking the one that suits your fashion sensibilities, but until the recent introduction of Apple’s black-faced iPod U2 Special Edition, the only full-sized iPod color was white.
Hewlett-Packard was supposed to change all that with its HP-branded version of the iPod, which was announced and shown in a “HP Blue�? color. But the company instead opted to go with Apple’s iPod Signature White at the last moment, releasing the “iPod+hp” in a highly familiar form. The theory, right or wrong, was apparently this: everyone wants the iconic white iPod, and if someone wants to customize its color, let him or her do it post-purchase.
To that end, HP has released HP Printable Tattoos ($14.99), a package of ten printable stickers that transform the face and sides of any fourth-generation iPod (including the iPod+hp, Apple’s 20 and 40GB iPods, the U2 iPod and the iPod photo) in literally any way you can imagine. Using either a free do-it-yourself template or a web-based application (both available at www.hp.com/music/ - look for the tattoo image and links), you can take any artwork or digital photo you possess and turn it into an iPod Tattoo with any color inkjet printer. Additionally, HP’s site lets you download and print free, pre-formatted Tattoo artwork featuring or inspired by famous musicians, if you want something less custom and more trendy.
We received six pre-printed Tattoos and a package of ten blank Printable Tattoos for testing. The pre-printed tattoos, which are being given away by HP via its web site and also through some resellers’ iPod+hp promotions, included at least four recognizable artists: Lloyd Banks from G-Unit, Vanessa Carlton, The Hives, Gwen Stefani, Keane, and Ashlee Simpson. HP’s Printable Tattoos package included a booklet of printing instructions and a practice paper printing template. The company advises users to photocopy and test the printed template with their printers before wasting actual paper; use of the electronic version on the company’s web site will help you lay out your artwork, too.
Pre-printed Versus Printable Tattoos
HP’s pre-printed and Printable Tattoos are only a little different from one another: the Printable ones are butterfly-shaped with soft curves and edges, while the pre-printed ones have slightly different curves and sharper edges. Both cover around 95% of the 4G iPod’s face (not including holes for the screen and Click Wheel), but the pre-printed ones cover a tiny amount more of the iPod’s back and sides, and slivers more of its top above the screen, and bottom next to the Dock Connector port. Neither fits perfectly on the iPod’s Click Wheel – both have holes just a little larger than the Wheel’s diameter. And in neither case are the Tattoos an adequate substitute for a protective case: they both leave the iPod’s screen, controls, corners, metal bottom and top, and large parts of its back entirely exposed.
Properly viewed, then, both Tattoos are just decorative, fun, and casual iPod enhancers with no greater protective aspirations. The pre-printed ones are fairly scratchproof and glossy, while the printable ones are less glossy and more easily scratched. Neither is likely to peel off until you remove it, but removal is actually both clean and easy: start at any corner and pull upwards, and the entire Tattoo comes off without leaving any adhesive residue on your iPod whatsoever.
Testing Pre-Printed Tattoos
Since we wanted our 4G iPod to look its absolute best – and forever display the image of a recording artist likely to be influencing music for the next quarter-century – we tested HP’s pre-printed Ashlee Simpson sticker first. It was fairly easy to remove the sticker from HP’s page and position it on our iPod: even when the initial alignment wasn’t quite right, the adhesive and Tattoo paper were forgiving enough to let us reposition without tearing or losing their stickiness.
The end result looked better than decent: a photographic quality image on the face of the iPod, showing only small white corners and wrapping around its sides and back. Because of the pre-printed subject matter and inexpensiveness of the products, we get the impression that adults won’t care much for the Tattoo concept, but younger iPodders will like them a lot, especially given that the Tattoos are thin enough to be coupled with transparent cases such as Contour’s Showcases.
Other than their choice of artists and their inability to fully cover the iPod’s white face (the latter of which we still would like some company to remedy), the pre-printed Tattoos have only one major limitation, common to the Printable versions as well – the shape of the iPod. The need to cut out holes for the iPod’s screen and controls creates a very odd artistic surface, and the Tattoos show that: Lloyd Banks’ head is sliced in half and a Tyson-sized chunk of his ear torn off, and so on. You may be better off creating Tattoo art for yourself – and thankfully, HP lets you do that.
Testing Printable Tattoos
Since they give you the freedom to create or choose your own artwork, HP’s Printable Tattoos are the more significant offering of the bunch. But this isn’t necessarily a simple process: you’ll need your own color inkjet printer (any brand will do), sufficient ink to print a 5.5�? x 8.5�? page, and sufficient computer tools to lay out and otherwise edit your art before printing.
HP tries to ease this process by offering not only artist-specific downloadable artwork, but also an online tool that helps you create Tattoos without additional software. Available from HP’s Music web site, the tool lets you lay out, crop, re-size, rotate and flip whatever art you have on your computer, then create a PDF format file that can be printed out onto a blank Printable Tattoo sheet. Our testing of the tool found that while it was better for novice users than a full-fledged Photoshop-style program, it was unable to simultaneously let you resize an image and see the correct size of the Printable Tattoo’s template; if you try to flip back and forth between these two screens with your browser’s back button, the application crashes and you have to restart. Properly implemented with a transparent template overlay for graphic resizing, this tool would significantly ease the Tattoo creation process for many users.
The other complicating factor will be your printer. Our test printer was low on red ink and had never been used to make a print on half-pages (the size of HP’s Tattoos) before. As a consequence, when we printed from the PDF file we created online, we did screw up a Tattoo page when the printer’s default settings re-oriented and mis-printed the picture, and the color was off. Admittedly, if we were using HP’s practice page, the first issue mightn’t have been a problem, but we didn’t want to photocopy multiple practice pages on our own. It turned out that we had to stop the printer from centering and rotating images; once we did that, Tattoos printed perfectly. Similarly, the color wouldn’t have been a problem if we had more ink, but that’s the hidden cost of these Tattoos – you’ll need a good printer and other supplies to really make the most of them.
Once we fixed the printing orientation, downloaded an electronic version of the Tattoo template from HP’s site, and switched to another application to lay out our artwork on the the Tattoo template for printing, layout was simple. It helped to make our artwork temporarily translucent and overlay it onto the Tattoo template to see what would be cut out by the screen and Click Wheel holes. Our second print came out perfectly but for the color, and we were ready to apply it to the iPod’s face.
The Printable Tattoos were as easy to apply as the pre-printed ones, and added a nice hint of professional gloss to our sample artwork. Having previously tested Skin EFX’s 3G iPod Skins (iLounge rating: C+), which were pre-printed with a limited variety of patterns, as well as MacSkinz PodSkinz faceplates (iLounge rating: B), which were similarly pre-printed and made from hard plastic, we actually liked the look of HP’s Tattoos the most. While not as protective as the PodSkinz, their prints were generally more detailed, better colored (thanks to our decent printer), and less expensive. And though not as shiny as some of the metallic stickers offered by Skin EFX, they covered more of the iPod’s body, offered the prospect of far more appealing graphical choices – whatever we desired, and have a lower per-sticker price – without leaving any of the nasty residue we experienced with the Skin EFX products. Additionally, HP’s Tattoos can even be re-used if you remove them carefully enough, while Skin EFX’s PodSkinz almost certainly cannot survive initial removal.
HP’s Printable Tattoos for the iPod do what they promise to do, providing an affordable, potentially reusable and ultimately disposable sticker surface that you can customize to your heart’s desire. Sold as ten-packs, they encourage users to experiment, download and create art of their liking, and we think that certain people will really like them.
If we had to change one thing about the Printable Tattoos, it would be their surface area coverage: their butterfly shape intentionally but awkwardly straddles the line between covering the iPod’s whole body and not, leaving odd slices of metal exposed while other parts are covered. Since they’re not especially protective, we wouldn’t consider keeping them on our own iPods for daily use unless something else was covering them, or HP offered an expanded version that covered all of the iPod. Power Support’s screen and wheel protectant Films go part of the way, but additional coverage is still needed for the iPod’s top, corners, bottom, and back.
Even though HP’s Tattoos aren’t for everyone, and they’re not a replacement for permanently dyed iPod bodies, they are one of only two current iPod covers (albeit a partial cover) that you can customize with art or photography of your choice. iLeath’s leather Print Cases (iLounge ratings: B, B-) are comparatively less impressive aesthetically, but more protective. We recommend HP’s Printable Tattoos most heavily to younger users with color printers and aspiring artists eager to put their own gloss on the iconic iPod. Others may want to wait for HP to release another, more protective generation of Printable Tattoos, or some equally interesting alternative.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.