From design to application here’s everything you need to know about the tattooing process
At Tattoo Temple it has been our experience that, irrespective of the amount of research previously completed, numerous technical and emotional questions regarding the tattooing process can remain. Knowing as much as you can will allow you to make informed, educated decisions. When chosen correctly, a tattoo can be a permanent work of art that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. And the only way to make a decision you will be happy with for that length of time is with the right facts and a clear view.
Even the most experienced artists were not born in tattoo studios. Everyone at some time or another has been in your position asking the same questions. Like every person before you there are many facets, tools and systems of a tattoo studio to be learned. A veritable plethora of information about the tattooing process exists and even the heavily tattooed might not fully understand them all. The following pages will address questions about the tattooing process as well as offer a brief introduction to the artists’ world.
Firstly, Tattoo Temple believes that tattooing can and should be a passion. In the same way as your favorite painting, song or movie invokes an emotional response – tattooing in its’ purest form can be the physical manifestation of this highly personal interaction. If you have chosen a tattoo artist who is able to create a unique design then part of your body and by extension you, are essentially turned into a living work of art.
The purpose of this introduction is to clarify the decisions, process and care needed when choosing and receiving a tattoo. The end goal is not only knowing what makes a hygienic studio but also the recognition of genuine tattoo art.
Are Tattoos Safe?
Yes: provided that you choose the right artist and studio. As a practice tattooing inherently holds no more risk than any comparable cosmetic treatment. But in the same way that one would choose to receive a surgery from a reputable doctor – choosing a bad tattoo studio can cause serious damage. And with tattooing the evidence of the wrong choice is more or less permanent.
Does it hurt?
This is perhaps the most common question for people interested in getting a tattoo who haven’t had one before. The answer is yes. But pain is relative. At Tattoo Temple we have had manly weightlifters that start to cry after an hour. And we have had older women fall asleep when getting a tattoo at on the exact same place.
There are three factors when considering the pain of a tattoo. The first is that most anticipated pain often seems to greater in one’s mind than it actually turns out to be. Quite commonly the case has been that the expectation is more intense than the actual physical pain from the tattoo. This usually leaves most pleasantly surprised. Secondly you need to consider your motivation behind receiving the artwork. If you are nervous, have chosen the wrong artist or otherwise unsure the pain for some can be close to intolerable. However if you are confident in your artist, excited for the design and can’t wait to have the piece – then you will be relaxed and the pain will be comparatively miniscule. Most often a hugely influential factor regarding pain levels is basically the way one views and chooses the tattoo. Thirdly, and this is the most fundamental, pain levels felt when getting a tattoo can be down to the skill of your artist. If the artist doesn’t know the levels they should be pushing the needle to, is too rough or simply doesn’t care then they can cause bleeding and scarring. The tattoo needle shouldn’t cause you to bleed. Tattoo ink is placed on the second or middle layer of skin away from the blood vessels. If the artist doesn’t know the various skin thicknesses, how to set the needle or how far to push then it can cause some serious problems. If the tattooist does not know the physiological variations then this will cause unnecessary pain during the process.
Can I use some kind of numbing cream?
At Tattoo Temple we occasionally are asked this question but the fact is that these kinds of products do not work. Tattoos are permanent because they rest on the middle layer of skin. Very simply the top layer of human skin is constantly shedding, the middle layer is stable and the base layer connects the blood vessels and nerves. Numbing creams are applied and work on the top layer of skin only. The tattoo sits on the second layer of skin. Lidocaine is the most common active ingredient in numbing creams and only works on a tiny portion of skin. It does not cut off all sensation to any area. Additionally lidocaine has the potential to cause unwanted side effects and health complications. Anyone who promises a pain free tattoo is being dishonest. At best numbing creams are an unnecessary and weak crutch. These have more of a placebo effect than actual pain alleviation.
How much does a tattoo cost?
Transfer this question to any other art form. Think of the difference between asking your friend to draw a picture – or commissioning Picasso. Single tattoo pieces of course are not comparable on a purely financial scale to the current price of a Picasso but the contrast of recognizable quality and artwork holds. You can either commission an artist or you can pay a much smaller fee to someone who knows how to trace a picture. If you do not want to pay for quality do not get a tattoo. You are deciding on something you will wear and display for the rest of your life. This is the last place you want haggle for a cheaper price. And although there is not a 100% positive correlation between the price and quality of the artwork – the two usually match up. Meaning if you think you’ve found someone that is offering a great deal below the average price then the quality is highly likely to be below market standard. What tattoo would look good on me? Where should I get it? When you are creating your piece a good artist will sit down and discuss these options with you. However you will need to bring some information to the table. Ask yourself what you personally find beautiful, appealing, powerful or inspirational. What do you want to be reminded of or carry with you the rest of your life? Your artist can guide and advise you for the style and direction but in the end you are the only person that can state your preferences. Irrespective of their skill level no artist can tell you what you think looks good.
Where can I find tattoo designs?
Every time this question is asked at Tattoo Temple the answer comes with a caveat – please use any images you find for reference only. Tattoo Temple has close to 200,000 images of tattoo designs and artwork freely available online – not including artist’s portfolios. Yet none of these images should be transferred directly into a tattoo. Images can be used by you and your artist to guide and direct your design. At times we have found there to be a few exceptions. This would be when a family crest, emblem or a very meaningful design element is requested to be incorporated. Alterations to any such element are of course not necessary. The overarching principle is that tattoos are not something chosen out of a book. They do not have to be repeated and they should not be chosen quickly. It is going on your body. Make it your tattoo – not a copy of someone elses’. And if you think someone else might have had this tattoo done before, chances are that they have. With a world of possibilities dare to create something just for yourself.
Are there anythings I can’t do once I have a tattoo?
No. The only consideration is that to keep your tattoo in optimum condition there are a range of aftercare procedures you should follow. The purpose of the aftercare instructions are to ensure that the tattoo remains in good condition. At Tattoo Temple we have faced numerous ‘urban legends’ about various restrictions placed on people with tattoos. These include the myth that you can’t give blood (it is only sometimes recommended that for plasma donation you wait up to 12 months after that tattoo application appointment). Long story short, tattooed people face no physiological restrictions because of their tattoos.
When should I get a tattoo?
There is no one time of the year that is necessarily better than an other. Factors to consider here are lifestyle and skin conditions. A tattoo needs to be allowed to breath, it needs to be kept clean and lightly moisturized particularly for the first 28 days. If you work in an office then you spend most of your time in a climate controlled environment so there would be little season affect. If you work outside during the summer and are sweating constantly, then wait for winter.[/expand]
How Do I Know If I’m In The Right Tattoo Studio?
To paraphrase: when it comes to matters of opinion there is no accounting for taste. Everyone will have varying requirements when it comes to choosing their tattoo art. However no matter what studio you do end up in how you got there should be from an educated decision.
Any extra time spent researching artists and studios will pay off. Remember that like any other industry there are reputable studios and ones that you should stay well away from. Find an artist with a style that speaks to you. There is often an excitement that accompanies the prospect of getting inked right away. Instead of making quick decisions try and transfer that energy into the design itself. Quality must come before speed.
A good tattoo studio will always take the time to answer your questions, schedule a free artist consultation and provide or point you in the direction of any tattoo related information. Artist’s portfolios should be readily available online. At any time if you feel the studio is not being forthcoming with any information or unable to answer your questions – go to another one.
No matter your level of experience bad tattoos are easy to spot.
Are the lines of the tattoo straight and clean? Good work will retain the same shape and flow you find in any other artwork. Is everything in proportion? There are natural bodily contours and curves that have to be accounted for in tattooing yet aside from where the tattoo is placed on the body consider the tattooed image or design itself. Does a hand look like a hand or are there some anatomical anomalies. Is a bird’s wing in the right place or does it look awkward. Does the piece look like it was drawn with unnatural angles? Common sense goes a long way. Does a face look like a face? Portraits are sometimes easier for most people when gauging the quality of a tattoo as the human mind is predisposed to recognize human faces. One can usually tell quite quickly if something about a human face is not right. Is the shading smooth? Good artists can create a range of tones using just black ink. This is the smooth shading depth and effect found in ‘grayscale’ works. And the list goes on.
What about the complexity and positioning of colors? Good artists can, if they work with color, create an amazing array of complex colors. There are various shading and alignment techniques but in general look for pieces that don’t simply consist of large areas filled in with solid block colors.
The Rationale Behind Tattoo Recommendations
Amongst all the tattoo studio related advice most people fail to take the time and explain the reasons behind it. The following is an attempt to take the most commonly shared tattoo advice and offer an insight into why the recommendation is there in the first place.
Make sure the studio uses an autoclave
Why this is important: What’s an autoclave? An autoclave is an expensive sterilization tool used in hospitals. It is basically a powerful steamer that ensures all reusable items in the tattooing process are properly cleaned between clients. Tubes and grips are the two items most commonly sent through an autoclave. The use of an autoclave is the only method that guarantees hygiene when cleaning reusable equipment. You cannot boil the tools, place them in an ultrasonic cleaner or under UV lamps. If someone is working from home or a small studio the chances are they cannot afford to have an autoclave. This is why they can probably offer such a great deal on the ‘work’.
The artists should be wearing gloves and masks
Why this is important: This is standard hygienic practice. To stop the transmission of any bacteria it is crucial that the artist use these protective barriers. You are undergoing a procedure where you skin is being pierced. The use of gloves and masks protects both you and the artist. If an artist is not wearing gloves or a mask during your appointment – chances are they didn’t for the last customer either!
Find out if the artist has been trained in other areas
Why this is important: Tattooing is an art form that has traditionally been passed down from master to student. But the modern tattoo studio and working environment should be held to the same levels of cleanliness and hygiene as any doctors office. Today there are numerous courses in sterilization, studio maintenance and first aid. Quality studios will promote these kinds of certificates and training for all employees.
Has everyone been vaccinated for Hep B?
Why this is important: Hepatitis B is an extremely serious infection. It is spread through contact with infected blood and bodily fluids. It is absolutely essential that your tattoo artist be vaccinated for Hepatitis B.
All inks should be in disposable caps during your appointment
Why this is important: You’ve probably seen photos of rows of tiny white or clear caps on an tattoo artists work station. Tattoo ink is placed into these caps because throughout the tattooing process the artist has to constantly dip the tattoo needle into the color of ink they’re using at the time. Like the old fountain pens, tattoo needles keep a very small amount of ink on the tips that have to be constantly replenished. There is no ‘in needle’ ink well or ink delivery system. The needle vibrates too fast to allow the necessary hydraulics of internally stored ink to work in tattooing. If they were to keep dipping the tattoo needle into a central, main pot of ink it would then cross contaminate every client. Ink, cream and other materials used throughout the tattooing process must be divided into separate containers for each client.
New sterile needles must be used
Why this is important: This is for the same reason as above – only the risk that would arise should needles be shared is far more direct. As tattooing needles pierce the skin they can be exposed to bodily fluids. Needles must be in sealed containers, opened in front of you before the tattoo and disposed of in a proper receptacle afterwards.
Always see examples of the artists’ finished work
Why this is important: Full portfolios should be readily available. The best artists’ work will be displayed in a variety of sources. A quick internet search should yield plenty of results. Judge the work for yourself and don’t necessarily presume that notoriety is always associated with quality.
Introduction To Aftercare
The tattoo studio should explain the aftercare procedures when you’ve completed the tattoo application appointment. Remember the artists’ responsibility for the care and condition of the tattoo ends as soon as you walk out the studio. You are in charge of caring for what is essentially, in regards to the condition of the skin and particularly for the first few days, an open wound. If you do not properly take care of the tattooed area it can lead to infection. If a few simple guidelines are followed this will remain a source of pride for all your years to come.
The First Three To Four Hours
After your tattoo application appointment the artist will wrap your tattoo with a protective bandage. This prevents infection from air borne bacteria and pathogens. Leave this bandage on but only for the first three to four hours after the tattoo.
Clean And Breathing
Once the time comes to remove the bandage you can rinse the tattooed area. People often ask if they can shower normally and the answer is yes. But be sure not to soak the tattooed area. You want to avoid prolonged submersion. Depending on your skin type and climate you may or may not want to use some antibacterial soap to clear any excess ointment or cream. Always pat the tattooed area dry as rubbing can cause irritation.
A thin layer of moisturizer should be applied to the tattooed area ideally three to four times a day. The key healing time is the first few days. However the tattoo will not completely heal until one full skin cycle or 28 days after the procedure. Keeping a light layer of moisturizer on the tattooed area throughout the first four weeks is highly recommended.
You have a tattoo because ink was pushed through the top layers of skin and deposited on the second or middle layer. When the needle was pushing through some ink will have been temporarily retained by the top layers of skin. In the first few weeks the top layers of skin over the tattoo will start to flake and peel. This is completely natural. Your tattoo is not falling off. Do not pick or scratch the area. Instead, let it flake naturally.
Stay Out Of The Sauna
Saunas, hot tubs and swimming pools can be breeding grounds for bacteria. Normally your skin protects you by providing a waterproof barrier. However your skin has been punctured during the tattoo process and the tattooed area is therefore susceptible to infection. The same applies to baths and even showers but the exposure is shorter and far less intense so the risk is minimized.
Say No To Tanning
The first 28 days are crucial and you should limit exposing the tattooed are to the sun as much as possible. Once the tattooed has healed applying an SPF35+ suntan lotion is recommended prior to hitting the beach. Plenty of tattooed people also have sun tans. But staying out of the sun for the first few weeks is critical. The reason that direct sun is bad for a tattooed area is that the sun will heat up the tattoo ink. This will cause the ink to move, just as when any element is heated. When this happens your body reacts and treats the ink as a foreign element. It will then attempt to digest the ink so as to ‘flush’ the intruder. This is why tattoos exposed to sun will start to look faded. They are literally being absorbed.