Tattoo Inks: Types and Methods of Tattooing

Thursday 12th of March 2009 06:44:53 PM [Add To This Article]

If you are thinking about getting a tattoo, you may not have put a whole lot of thought into the type of ink that you will be using to permanently mark your body with a unique piece of self expression that will last a lifetime. It is probably not nearly as important a consideration for you as what to get tattooed on your body, where to get your tattoo and who will be inking your tattoo design. However, it does pay to know a little bit about tattoo inks and the advantages and disadvantages of certain forms of tattoo ink in order to get the best tattoo for you and also so that you understand exactly what getting a tattoo entails. Professional tattoo artists are generally restricted to FDA-regulated inks, so you do not have to worry about your safety when you are getting tattooed as long as you pick a tattoo parlor that is sanitary and abides by legal requirments, but you may enjoy the experience more knowing a little more about your inking options.

Most tattoo inks are made of carbon based pigments. They are regulated by the FDA, and they are colored using a variety of natural and manmade components that make the colors stay in one place under the skin and, to the extent possible, prevent fading, running and blurring over time. These inks are non-toxic, but they are also restricted to epidermal (skin level) use since they are not meant to be injected into the body but rather to remain just below the surface of the skin. For this reason, you should always get tattooed by a professional tattoo artist using professional grade equipment rather than with homemade guns that may be somewhat ramshackle and unpredictable. Carbon based tattoo inks are generally used for artistic tattoos and they create beautiful and striking tattoo designs like butterfly tattoos and other lifelike images.

If you are considering cosmetic tattooing, such as permanent lipstick, eyeliner or blush, then your tattoo artist – who may also be a cosmetic surgeon – will likely use an inorganic dye based in compounds like titanium dioxide or iron oxide. These dyes are extremely permanent and are used for very fine work such as eyeliner or lip liner. These compounds are also found in many high quality mineral makeup products. This type of tattooing is, in many ways, completely different from artistic tattoos that are based on vivid colors and beautiful imagery. Because color is less of an issue, but permanence and total lack of “motion” in the tattoo are more of an issue with cosmetic tattooing than any other form of tattoo art, these inorganic compounds are used in very small amounts to make the cosmetic tattoos as natural, beautiful and unchanging as possible.

Another type of tattoo ink uses azo compounds, which are nitrogen based and often found in artists’ paints. They are also used as dyes. These compounds are less common and while they are not strictly prohibited by the FDA, not many tattoo artists use them because they have not been as extensively researched as the carbon based pigments. Another interesting but not particularly common tattoo ink are “Chameleon Tattoo inks,” which are black light sensitive and only appear when they are exposed to a black light. These inks can be used to create entire “invisible” tattoo designs or to supplement a more traditional tattoo with an intriguing glow. They are very popular for supplementing images like lizard tattoos and other animal tattoos that can be easily accented.  However, these dyes also are somewhat controversial since they have not been on the market on a wide scale for very long, and some users report that the inks “spread” and blur relatively quickly, leaving a black light sensitive smear on the skin rather than a surprising design.

Finally, there are completely unconventional tattoo dyes, such as those used in prison tattoos. These can be made of anything from ashes or clay, such as indigenous tribes have been using for thousands of years, but are more often made of ink from pens or even melted checkers. These inks are very risky because they cannot be sterilized and also can easily lead to major infections at the tattoo sites. Furthermore, these types of tattoos are very perilous because they often are performed using shared needles or makeshift needles that also are not sterilized and can quickly spread diseases and infections like hepatitis among an entire prison population.

If you visit a professional tattoo parlor to get a tattoo, then you can ask about their tattoo inks and will likely find that they are highly regulated both by the artists themselves and the legal system. Most shops follow a rigid code of ethics when it comes to tattoo inks, and will only tattoo with the most time-tested and researched forms of tattoo inks. If you are looking for a more experimental type of tattoo, you will not only need to research the tattoo parlor doing your tattoo much more carefully, but the burden of researching the ink will also be on your shoulders as unproven inks are not popular with mainstream artists. Work with your tattoo artist and even a doctor, scientist or other researcher to make sure that if you choose to use an unconventional tattoo ink, you are fully aware of the ramifications of doing so.

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