In this series, we’ll be breaking down the tattoo process, from start to finish.
In this first installment we will be giving a general summary before we start to move into more detail about each step of the process.
In the past two decades, tattoos have become far more mainstream and accepted than they once were.
It wasn’t so long ago that most people associated tattoos with bikers, sailors and sideshow artists.
These days, the people that get tattoos are just as diverse as the styles and designs on offer.
Even people who would never think of getting a tattoo for decoration are now getting eyebrow and lips tattoos as permanent makeup, so tattoos have become far more socially acceptable, and they’re here to stay (literally!).
How are tattoos created?
A tattoo is created by injecting ink into a person’s skin. An artist will use an electronically powered tattoo machine (or in some cases, bamboo with a needle).
The electric machines move a solid needle up and down to puncture the skin anywhere between 50 and 3,000 times a minute.
The depth of the is around 1mm and on each puncture, a small drop of ink is deposit into the skin.
Tattoo machines are constantly being developed to be quieter, lighter and more efficient, however, the fundamental principle of them has barely changed since the late 1800s.
The original tattoo machine as we know it was invented by a man called Samuel O’Reilly and was based on the “autographic printer”, which was an electric engraving machine invented by Thomas Edison for engraving onto hard surfaces.
O’Reilly decided to modify the original design by changing its rotary-driven electromagnetic unit to drive the needle up and down in his new tube system.
A modern tattoo machine has several components that are common to almost all machines:
A tube system, which is what draws the ink through the machine
A sterilized needle/needles
A foot peddle which controls the movement of the needle
An electric motor.
What are you seeing when you look at a tattoo?
When you see a tattoo, you are seeing the ink that is in that person’s “dermis,” which is the second layer of their skin. You can see the ink through their thin “epidermis” which is the top layer of skin.
The reason the tattoo is put onto the dermis is that the cells are far more stable than the cells of the epidermis so that the ink will stay in place with usually only minor fading and some dispersion over the course of the person’s life.
In the next part of this series, we will be talking about how the artists prepare and create the tattoos.