My son had been asking for one of these 'Gr8 Kit Tat2' sets, made by the Character Options brand, after seeing it advertised on TV. I paid around £15 for this kit from Toys R Us a few months ago but I've seen the 'Gladiators' version for sale on Amazon for prices as low as £5.99 recently.
The toy is essentially a battery operated tattoo pen, designed to mimic the genuine article without any sharp implements or permanent staining, obviously. I can appreciate that some parents might not be so keen on the idea of encouraging youngsters to have an interest in tattoos and, if my kids go on to have Love and Hate tattooed on their knuckles, I may well live to regret this purchase! As it stands, I shall use my own childhood experiences as a guide - I spent many happy moments pretending to smoke Superman candy cigarettes and managed to avoid a twenty a day habit in adulthood. On that basis, I was hoping the Tat2 pen would provide hours of innocent amusement rather than being the beginnings of any untoward obsessions.
The Tat2 pen was received with great delight by my oldest son on his seventh birthday. We'd had the foresight to purchase two AA batteries in advance as the usual 'batteries not included' applies here. The batteries are inserted into a plastic base with a single switch which controls the speed of the pen and the pen itself is attached with one of those twirly whirly plastic coils, similar to those used on traditional telephones. Three coloured ink capsules are included in the kit which need to be clipped into the pen unit, in accordance with the instructions. The instructions themselves are pretty comprehensive if a little too detailed for a child to follow without adult help. After the initial fitting, my seven year old was more than able to set the kit up himself for each use and could change the ink colours easily so it seems to be one of those situations where the set-up instructions make the whole process seem much more complicated than it actually is. Once switched on, the pen vibrates and makes convincing noises and your child is expected to use one of the four rubber stencils supplied as a guide (or just draw random designs) and rub the pen over their skin to create a temporary tattoo.
The whole thing, from the base unit to the pen and the ink, has a very cheap, plastic look about it but as this is a child's toy that, in itself, isn't a major issue. The real problems begin when you try and use the kit as advertised to 'create realistic tattoos.' Now, obviously, I'm not expecting a kid's toy to produce 'Gr8' art but the ink included in this kit is basically felt-tip pen. This has two immediate drawbacks. Firstly, as with any felt-tip pen, if the lids aren't properly attached after each use they will dry up making them useless (and your average seven year old isn't usually brilliant at remembering things like this.) Secondly, despite the product's claims that the tattoos produced are 'washable', felt tip doesn't wash off skin particularly easily, leaving some red skin behind in its wake. The other critical failing is that felt-tips aren't particularly renowned for their precision and also smudge very easily. Fair enough, this is a kids' toy so it isn't going to produce tattoos worthy of being shown on 'Miami Ink' but the end result just looks like my kids have been let loose on the felt tips and covered themselves in the stuff (so pretty much an average day in my household.) That's not just a result of childish enthusiasm, even an adult using the stencils and strapping them to a child's arm can't produce anything that even vaguely resembles a tattoo. My husband did his best and managed to produce something almost identifiable on my son's arm using one of the stencils but the 'tattoo' immediately smudged, leaving behind the trademark nondescript blob. The fact that the colours supplied with the kit are actually blue, brown and pink (with no sign of any black ink) doesn't help to make the finished article look any more authentic. Kids do want their tattoos to look like tattoos, after all. The kit does include an order form to purchase replacement ink but we certainly won't be making use of that offer.
To be fair, my son did enjoy playing with this for a few days, even though he did admit that the tattoos weren't particularly good. My youngest son particularly loved it - every time I turned my back, I would find him with his trouser leg rolled up, giggling away as his brother tattooed random squiggles over him! Had my son continued to play with this and got good entertainment value out of it, I might have been prepared to overlook the fact that it is actually pretty terrible at the task it's designed to do.
Unfortunately, the pen stopped working completely after about ten days of use for no apparent reason. Changing the batteries had no impact and this pen simply hasn't worked since. So, all in all, a badly designed, poor quality and unreliable toy that I couldn't recommend! I would definitely scratch this one off Santa's list this year.
The manufacturers recommend this for children aged six years and older but I wouldn't recommend it to anybody.