A temporary tattoo is a decorative image that can be applied to the skin for short periods of time. Most temporary tattoos are novelty items made with a special type of decal. A process known as screen printing is used to create the tattoo image on paper coated with a transfer film. The transfer film allows the image to "slide" off the backing paper and onto the skin when moisture is applied. After drying, the film holds the image on the skin through several washings.

For centuries, men and women have added decorative illustrations to their skin for religious or cultural reasons. One common method of decorating skin is tattooing, a process which involves injecting patterns of dye directly into the skin using a needle. Although this technique was originally practiced in ancient Egypt, the term tattoo is actually derived from a Tahitian word that was most likely spread by sailors in the Pacific. Many other cultures have their own unique tattoo techniques. For example, Eskimos use bone needles to draw soot-covered thread through the skin and the Japanese use fine metal needles to deliver colored pigments. Regardless of which technique is used, all tattoo processes deposit colorants below the surface of the skin to create intense, permanent images. While tattooing remains a popular art form today, it is also expensive, time consuming, and may be somewhat painful. For these reasons, permanent tattoos are not necessarily desirable for every individual.

Temporary tattoos were created as an alternative way for individuals to decorate their skin. Temporary images can be produced by several methods. For example, they can be hand drawn and painted using a brush with water insoluble dyes or pigments. Although this method requires a talented artist to create a high quality image, it does produce a picture which can be removed fairly easily. A better way of achieving a temporary tattoo is by decalcomania, which is the process of applying a decal to the skin. This approach allows the user to apply a preprinted image to the skin at their convenience. Decal-style tattoos are so simple to apply that even a child can use them and the image that is produced can be easily removed with soap and water. Therefore, temporary tattoos can be easily changed to suit the whims of fancy and fashion. Decal-style temporary tattoos are made by printing an image onto special paper coated with a transfer film. To apply the tattoo the user simply moistens the paper and the film slides off the backing layer carrying the image onto the skin.

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