Use AI To Your Benefit — AI in Tattooing with Javier Antunez | Painful Pleasures Community

Use AI To Your Benefit — AI in Tattooing with Javier Antunez

AI in tattooing doesn't have to be a threat—some artists use it to their advantage! Check out what artist Javier Antunez has to say about incorporating AI into your design process.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: August 17, 2023

Maybe you’re apprehensive about the idea of AI in tattooing. But it’s all about perspective and how you use this new technology.

We got the chance to chat with artist and creator of Skin Theory Javier Antunez about how he uses AI programs to his advantage. With softwares like Midjourney, ZBrush, and Automatic1111, Javier has made his design process lightning-fast and more creative.

Check out what he has to say about AI in tattooing.

PainfulPleasures: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in the tattoo industry?

Javier: My name is Javier Antunez, and I was born in Miami, FL. In 2007, when I was eighteen years old, I discovered the art of tattooing, and it was love at first sight. At that time, I was attending college to study Video Game Art and Design. However, once I found tattooing, I felt an immediate connection and knew it was where my passion truly lay. Nonetheless, I’ve always maintained a strong affinity for technology.

How did you first get involved with using AI in your tattoo designs?

To me, it just felt like the natural next step in evolution. I’ve always been one to dive headfirst into new tech. When the Pinterest well seemed to run dry, I turned to 3D modeling and ZBrush for fresh designs. Even though I achieved beautiful results with ZBrush, the process was time-intensive. It didn’t make much sense to spend over 20 hours on a design intended for a five-hour tattoo. However, I really enjoyed the 3D process. So, while other tattoo artists might head out for a beer after work, I stayed home, finding joy in tinkering with ZBrush and exploring emerging technologies. And then AI came into the picture, producing design concepts within seconds!

Can you walk us through your design process using AI? What software or tools do you use?

Certainly! I can provide a perfect example, complemented by a few screenshots of an upcoming tattoo I’m working on.

After discussing the concept with my client, we settled on a character from “Tokyo Ghoul.” To expedite the process, I usually source resource models online. This aids in swiftly completing the 3D model in ZBrush, as shown in the first photo.

Javier Antunez using AI to create his Tokyo Ghoul tattoo design

Once the design is finalized and rendered, I take that final render and input it into an AI program named Automatic1111. I utilize the StableDiffusion feature to enhance the final result. It helps clean up specific patterns, like the red tendrils and provides a refined appearance, especially noticeable in the hair.

However, it’s important to note that AI does have its limitations. For instance, it can distort certain elements. In this case, the black face mask and the earring details weren’t rendered accurately. That’s where the touch of an artist becomes essential—to correct and refine these discrepancies. I am also able to create a half-decent stencil with it as well, so that’s a plus!

Final tattoo design created by AI for Javier Antunez's Tokyo Ghoul tattoo

Javier Antunez’s completed Tokyo Ghoul tattoo design

Check out the amazing finished tattoo on Javier’s Instagram here!

How has using AI impacted your work? Has it changed your design style or approach?

Working with AI has transformed how I brainstorm designs with clients, making it a collaborative adventure. My main “AI workhorse” is Automatic1111 (like the screenshots I provided earlier), but I also tap into Midjourney because of its mobility. I can just pop into Discord on my phone and chat with the bot right there.

But I’ve taken it a bit further: I’ve set up a private Discord server and invite my client in. I create a special channel just for them and walk them through how to use the bot. This way, we both have a hand in the creative process. It’s an awesome method to synergize our thoughts into a singular vision. With this approach, it’s a breeze to take what we’ve brainstormed in Midjourney, craft it into a 3D model in ZBrush, and then polish the render in Automatic1111! This is also a fantastic way to stay organized as well!

Javier Antunez using Midjourney to create a tattoo design with a parrot

You’ve created AI reference packages, such as the rose and Zeus/God packages. Can you tell us more about these packages and how other tattoo artists can benefit from them?

Absolutely! By utilizing Automatic1111, I’m able to batch out hundreds of images both overnight and during my time at the studio tattooing. This allows me to cherry-pick the best references that I feel would flow best with the body or that another artist might find useful.

Now, I know anyone can pick up Midjourney and do something similar, but I offer convenience. Along with the 100 images in each reference pack, I also provide the linework (created by AI, offering a great starting point) and Procreate stamp brush sets. This makes incorporating these references into any design as straightforward as possible. I’m well aware that while this tech is easy for me, it’s not for everyone. Whether it’s due to hardware limitations or just the sheer time needed to learn these new tools, I’m here to help. I offer my knowledge and experience to simplify the process for those in our industry as best I can.

There’s a lot of fear and controversy around the use of AI in creative fields. What’s your response to people who are apprehensive about using AI in tattooing?

The fears are completely understandable. However, my advice is simple: “leave the ego at the door and give it a try.” More often than not, I hear comments like “AI can’t do what I can do” or “AI can’t replace me.” I believe the issue here stems from a place of insecurity or ego. It shouldn’t be about “AI can’t do what I can do”; it should be “how can I integrate this tool with my existing ones?” Because, in the end, AI is just that—a tool. Just as wireless tattoo machines didn’t magically produce better tattoos, the artist remains the pivotal factor in the creative process, irrespective of how quickly AI can generate images.

However, a word of caution to artists using AI: scrutinize the output thoroughly. While AI’s proficiency in areas like hand designs is improving, always double-check its work, especially when making it permanent. AI can also bring freshness to common designs; for instance, if you’re tired of tattooing the widely-used St. Michael piece, why not run it through Midjourney and get a fresh take?

Black and white St. Michael tattoo design created using AI

Speaking of amazing St. Michael designs…

Do you have any advice for other tattoo artists who might be interested in experimenting with AI in their work?

Absolutely! Play with it, treat it like a toy, and see if you can push its limits. Explore how you can make it work specifically for YOU. You might be surprised by how much it can help. Even if it’s just during moments of artist’s or writer’s block, sometimes a fresh set of eyes can make a difference, even if those eyes are made of 0s and 1s!

Javier using his iPad to create AI-generated images

Follow Javier Antunez @javi_tattooedtheory here to see more about how he uses AI to his advantage!

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