Tattoos have come a very long way in recent years, both in terms of technique and social acceptance. Most people have a good idea of what tattoos are and how they’re applied now, but many have questions about the fine details of the tattooing process. What should you know about ink? How do tattoo needles and ink interact with your skin while you’re being tattooed? How will a tattoo change as time goes on and you begin to age?
What Should I Know About Tattoo Ink?
Different tattoo inks can have different ingredients, and some ingredients are more likely than others to trigger an allergic reaction. It’s important to do your research ahead of time to avoid problems while being tattooed or immediately after getting a new tattoo.
If you’re trying to decide between getting an all-black tattoo and a color tattoo, here are a few things to keep in mind:
~ The skin holds black tattoo ink better over time, which means an all-black tattoo will look sharper/brighter for longer than a color version of the same tattoo.
~ Color ink tends to fade more easily naturally and it’s more susceptible to sun damage.
~ Color tattoos that aren’t outlined in black, like “watercolor” tattoos, may need more touch-ups than tattoos with solid black outlining.
~ If you really want color, consider getting a solid-color tattoo; it will have a much better chance at a long life than a tattoo with color shading.
To find out more about tattoo ink safety precautions and ingredients, visit our blog page Tattoo Inks – Why Choosing the Right Artist & Studio Matter and our Tattoo Ink section.
How Is Ink Injected Into the Skin?
The needle (or set of needles) in a tattoo machine moves in a very similar motion to a sewing machine needle; it goes up and down at high speed, but instead of inserting thread into cloth, it deposits ink. With each puncture, ink is drawn down into the tattoo machine’s tubing system, out through the tip of the needle attached to the tube/grip/tip that holds it, and roughly 1/8 of an inch below the surface of the skin.
Each minute, a tattoo needle can rise up and down anywhere from 50 to 3,000 times. The rate varies as an artist works and adjusts the speed via a foot pedal that’s also similar to that of a sewing machine. Different techniques require different speeds as well as different needle configurations. For instance, an artist may use a high speed for filling in a solid block of color, and then slow down the movement for finer details like shading and line work. Likewise, an artist may use multiple needles in different configurations to achieve certain results.
During the tattooing process, the tattoo needle(s) puncture the epidermis (outermost layer of skin) and deposit a drop of ink into the dermis (secondary, lower layer of skin). The epidermis sheds skin cells fairly quickly, so it wouldn't be suitable for holding ink. The dermis is thicker, more stable, and comfortably covered by another layer of skin, which protects the ink and prevents a tattoo from being prematurely sloughed off along with dead skin cells.
Old skin cells die as we age, and new ones form to replace them. Unfortunately, this process makes fading inevitable with time. When cells separate, small fragments of ink slowly split off along with the dying cells; what were once hard lines become blurry looking and colors fade. It’s not something that happens overnight, though. On average, a good tattoo can last 20 to 30 years and sometimes longer without needing a touch up, but a tattoo’s life depends on a lot of factors. If the area of the body being tattooed has bone immediately beneath it (e.g. hands, feet, forehead, etc.), the tattoo artist is limited on how deeply s/he can inject ink into the skin. If an artist isn’t very experienced, s/he may not inject the ink deeply enough into the skin even if there’s room to insert the needle(s) a little more deeply. Whichever way they come to be, “shallow” tattoos will fade more quickly than tattoos that are inked more deeply.
Other factors that affect the lifespan of a tattoo are how you care for it during the healing process, the quality of the ink used, and sun exposure.
~ Keeping your tattoo clean and well moisturized during the healing process will preserve it and lock in color. We recommend following our Tattoo Aftercare tips and using Original Tattoo Goo during the initial healing process. For optimal results, continue moisturizing your skin regularly with something like Tattoo Goo Lotion well after your tattoo is fully healed.
~ Staying out of the sun completely during the initial healing process and always keeping your tattoo covered with clothing or high-SPF, tattoo-safe sunscreen thereafter will prevent the sun from breaking down cells prematurely and accelerating the aging process.
For more information about the tattooing process, tattoo aftercare and everything else tattoo-related, visit the Tattoo Information section of our Help Center. For more great products, check out our Tattoo Aftercare and Anesthetics section. We also carry a full range of wholesale supplies for professional tattoo artists, including:
- Tattoo Machines
- Tattoo Machine Parts
- Disposable Tattoo Tubes
- Tattoo Needles
- Tattoo Power Supplies
- Tattoo Flash, Stencils & Accessories
- Tattoo Grips & Accessories
- Tattoo Ink, Cup Holders & Tools
- Tattoo Kits & Practice Skin
- Tattoo Books
- Tons of Other Tattoo Supplies