Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tattoos and Pain: Do They Hurt, Where Do They Hurt the Most/Least?

 If you are a tattooer, or just have tattoos, you will be inevitably asked, "Does it hurt?".  While this may seem like a ridiculous question (of course it hurts!), it should not be surprising that it would be asked. According to a survey taken in 2012, only 21% of the people in the United States have a tattoo. That means that if you have a tattoo, you are likely to encounter four people who have no clue what the experience of getting a tattoo is like. Given the taboos still associated with tattoos, the rise in cultural awareness and interest in tattoos, and the conflict that arises in a person's mind when they consider that someone willingly endured pain for the sake of adornment, those four people should be naturally curious.

 The initial question, "Does it hurt?", is typically just an ice-breaker. The real question on the non-tattooed person's mind is, "What does getting a tattoo feel like?". The problem is that the experience of getting a tattoo is unique. While the pain can be compared to other common experiences in order to provide some context, ultimately any description falls short of the actual feeling of getting a tattoo.

 In medical terms, a tattoo is a wound, more specifically an abrasion. Though nothing is scraped away by the tattooing process, the damage is superficial, going no deeper than the epidermis. Many people have experienced skin abrasion. The difference between that an a tattoo is that normally the abrasion happens suddenly, while a tattoo is a drawn-out process. The immediate pain of a tattoo is less significant than most people imagine, but the prolonged sensation of that pain is often not accounted for. 

 The tattoo process involves a configuration of needles (typically) repeatedly perforating the epidermis of the skin. Another experience common to most every is being stuck with a pin or needle. That sensation is often far worse and more damaging than the immediate pain caused by a tattoo needle; more often than not such injuries are more grievous than what a tattoo needle causes. Being stuck by a pin or needle may draw blood, while a tattoo needle should never go deep enough for that to happen. Again, the difference is that the tattoo process is repeated at over 100 cycles per second, while the more common experience is (hopefully) only one perforation.

 It is not uncommon for a person getting their first tattoo to report that the experience was not nearly as bad as they imagined. This is also reflected in the fact that those who get a tattoo often will get more than one. The sensation is no longer a mystery or source of trepidation. Yes, you may need to occasionally grit your teeth or clench your fist while getting a tattoo, but it is likely that you have experienced far worse.

 The next question about tattoos and pain will inevitably be about what location hurts the most or least. It should be kept in mind that every person experiences and processes pain in a different manner. Some have a greater pain tolerance than others, while others are more or less sensitive in some areas. Some even find getting a tattoo pleasurable. One of my earliest tattoos was in a spot within the client's pantie-line, and at one point she interrupted the procedure because she was having an orgasm. This was most likely due to the vibration of the machine near a sensitive area, but it demonstrates that the pain from the tattoo was not so great as to overcome other biological responses to stimulation. 

 Given that we each have different experiences with pain, any guide to what will hurt more or less should be considered anecdotal. There are, however, some commonalities to consider.

 How much tissue is between the skin and the bone?

 Tattoos that are in skin that has less tissue, fat or muscle, between the skin and the bone tend to be more painful. This is most likely because there is less cushion to resist the impact of the needle. Hands, feet, knees, collar bones, and the sternum are all typically more sensitive areas. The spine is often doubly so, due to the increase in nerve fibers and the bone being closer to the skin. The head, with very little tissue between the skin and skull and increased sensitivity, may be the most extreme example of this condition.

 How ticklish is the spot?

 The more responsive an area is to stimulation, the more painful tattooing that area may be. Even if you are not generally ticklish, areas of the body that are less exposed to stimulus tend to be more sensitive, and thus more pained when tattooed. The inside of the arm is more painful (typically) than the outside. The inner thighs are painful areas, as are the sides of the torso (or rib-cage... bones!). Add to these areas any inner bend on the body; back of the knee, crook of the elbow, the armpit, bottoms of feet, palms of hands, and especially the neck/throat.

 What is the condition of the skin?

 Skin that has been damaged in the past is often more sensitive than skin that has not been damaged, though this is not always the case. Scar tissue can either be more sensitive or less sensitive (or have variations of both throughout to scar). Mild but chronic sun-damaged skin can also be more or less sensitive. Surprising to many people is the discovery that previously tattooed areas tend to be more sensitive. While this is expected with new tattoos being touched-up, people are often surprised to feel more pain touching-up or covering tattoos they have had for months, sometimes even years. A tattoo, even when fully healed, is still a wounded area of the skin, and thus more sensitive.

 Line work, shading, or color?

 Another concern is the type of work being done, or the phase of the tattoo. Most tattoos begin with line work, tattooing the lines that define the design. A lining needle is a set of needles configured into a point. Most people are more sensitive to this configuration because the needles are perforating the skin in a more concentrated manner. Shading and coloring needles are configured more like a painter's brush, with a wider spread than a lining needle with the same number of needle-points. Shading is often considered less painful both because of the needle configuration and the manner with which a shading needle is used (the stroke tends to be more brush-like and intentionally lighter). Coloring needles, though like the shading needles in configuration, often require more concentration of perforation to achieve a solid color, so is often considered somewhere between shading and lining. However, some report that the shading or coloring is more painful. The reason for this may be that the area being tattooed is more sensitive after the line-work is completed.

 Are you a man, or a woman?

 While this is something that you no doubt have little control over, which gender takes a tattoo better is often something people are curious about. Women take a tattoo better. I believe that this is the result of biological necessity. Men are very capable when it comes to sudden, extreme pain; being punched, cut, etc. Women, on the contrary, are biologically geared toward enduring pain over long periods of time. The tattoo procedure does not cause sudden, extreme pain, but is instead a prolonged irritation, something women are simply better able to handle.

 With these conditions understood, the least painful areas to tattoo are those with large tissues masses under the skin, on the outer edges of the body, with skin that is in prime condition. The skin over the deltoid muscle (shoulder), forearms, and thighs tend to be prime tattoo locations. Interestingly, the least sensitive area may be the inside of the lower lip. This is unexpected until you consider the amount of damage the mouth endures; accidental bites, burns, and contact with certain foods. A tattoo needle will cause relatively minimal discomfort compared to what is typically experienced in the mouth.

 The pain of getting a tattoo, while not something that can always be shrugged off, is rarely so extreme that it cannot be endured. Prior to getting a tattoo, get a good night's sleep, eat a decent meal a few hours prior to your tattoo appointment, be well hydrated, and be excited about the prospect of a new tattoo! The experience is unique, but shortly after the tattoo starts, you will realize that it is nowhere near as bad as you may have imagined.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

It's the Most Wonderful Time for a Tattoo

She's probably covered in ink.
 Each Spring and Summer, thousands of people get tattoos. The sun is out, they are wearing clothes that shows off more skin, they are vacationing... You would think this would be the best time to get a tattoo, right?

 Actually, no.

 If you have a choice (and there are only a handful of reasons you would not have a choice), the best time to get a tattoo would be during the Fall and Winter months (roughly November through March for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere). During the colder months, several factors align making getting a tattoo at that time the smart way to go.

 "But Jason", you say, "I want to show of my tattoo. I can't do that while wearing a parka!" While it may be true that you want to show off your tattoo in the warmer seasons, consider a couple of things your tattooer tells you about your new tattoo and how to take care of it. I am certain the following two phrases will sound familiar to tattoo collectors:

 Keep your new tattoo out of the sun as much as possible.


 Do not go swimming or submerge your tattoo in a body of water for the first two weeks.

Sun... Bad!
 The sun is the enemy of a tattoo, especially while it is healing. Sunlight fades your tattoo, and while the tattoo is healing your skin is damaged. That damage is less resistant to ultraviolet rays and more prone to burn in intense sunlight, which will do your new tattoo even more damage. In the Spring and Summer, the sun is almost unavoidable, but in the Fall and Winter your skin will be well protected from sunlight in clothing designed to keep you warm. This makes healing for your new tattoo easier, and come the Spring and Summer months your ink will look fresh, vibrant, and fully healed.

 Have you seen a tattoo while it is healing? Check out my article about the healing process here.

 Next, no swimming while your tattoo is healing. I cannot count the number of times I have tattooed clients who were on vacation and were disappointed to hear that if they wanted to take care of their new tattoo they could not go tubing on the river or to the nearby water-slide park. A tattoo is an open wound. Until a tattoo is healed, the water you put it in gets into the skin, causing you to share intimately all the fungi, bacteria, toxins, viruses, and other contaminants in said public and/or natural bodies of water. Even if the pool you are in is the cleanest pool to have ever been known by man, that water will still get into your tattoo and carry some of that expensive ink out of your skin.

 So, when you get your tattoo in June, you will need to be sitting in the shade somewhere while your tattooed peer who thought ahead and got their new tattoo in January is enjoying the water and sun with your friends. Worse, if you decide to not listen to your tattooer, you could be facing an infection, allergic reaction, and a costly touch-up. Your friend tattooed in Winter need not worry about any of that.

Get this in Winter, show it off in Summer.
 Those reasons alone should have you considering how to budget your next tattoo into your holidays, but let's also discuss the financial wisdom behind a Winter tattoo. The Fall and Winter is the slow season for most tattooers. I know tattooers who either travel to the Southern Hemisphere or go on vacation during the Winter Months because of how slow things get. On a Saturday night in July, a tattooer cannot keep-up with the number of customers walking through the door, and those customers are paying a premium rate for the tattooer's time and effort.

 In the Winter, through, many tattooers are feeling the pinch of the season. They are buying presents for family and friends and dealing with Winter expenses just like you, but their income is not consistent. During these times, when you might be the only client they have seen in days, a tattooer can be more flexible about pricing a tattoo. During the slow season, your new tattoo can cost you less than what you would pay for it in the Spring. Your tattooer will often have more time to dedicate to your tattoo, giving you more for your money, even at a discount. Financially, getting a tattoo in the Fall or Winter is simply smart.

 So, keep all that in mind for the next few months. If you are thinking about getting a tattoo, now is the time. You will avoid the worst effects of the sun, you will be able to swim when you want to be in water, and you might even get more bang for your buck. Fall and Winter truly is the most wonderful time for a tattoo.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at

Thursday, October 6, 2016 is a user-content driven marketplace where tattoo patrons connect with tattoo designers to have a unique tattoo design created, but you probably figured that out based on the name. The way it works is that a patron creates a "Tattoo Contest", pledging at least $20 (but the amounts go up into the hundreds), and gives designers 10-16 days to create a design based on their concept. Along the way, they offer feedback to the designers who can tweak their designs to meet the vision of the patron. At the end of the contest, the patron picks a design (maybe), and the winning designer is paid for the work.

 Now, I know several of my tattoo friends are looking at all that and saying to themselves, "Why would I do that? I don't get paid for my effort unless I win, and I have better things to do with my time." Ah, but my friends, as one who has worked in several tattoo studios, I know that is not the case for most tattooers. I have found it often surprising how little we do with our down-time. Cleaning, equipment maintenance, and drawing for our next client... That tends to be the extent of what many average tattooers do. It is shocking when I think of all the ways a tattooer can be making money as an artist that are not taken advantage of, especially when I can point to the industry leaders who have built their reputations based on what the do in and out of their tattoo stations.

 But, this is not about the money.

 Seriously, this is not about the money.

 First, the positive view.

 I draw a lot. Not as much as I should, in my opinion, but a lot. I tend to draw pinup art. It is my niche. I think we, as artists, all develop a niche, a thing we are good at. That can be problematic, especially if your niche isn't in vogue at the moment, and your clients cannot see the technical skill and style beyond the subject matter.

 And, we all know that most cannot. provides you are regularly updated list of tattoo concepts that allow you to broaden your scope and refine your style (or, for many new tattooers, begin to discover and define a style). The financial incentive is merely icing on the cake. If you don't win a contest, you still walk away with the following:

 -an addition to your design portfolio.

 -honing of your skill-set.

 -examples of your style be applied to varied subject matter.

 -art which can be applied to other venues (merchandising).

 -an increased public awareness of your name and skills.

 Plus, it gives you something to do with your downtime. Activity attracts activity. 

 And now, the negative view.

 When going through the existing contests, I counted a total of 70+ contests with no winner selected. The rules state that if a patron does not select a design, they cannot legally use any of the submissions.  How many of you have seen that stop a customer from coming in and asking for a tattoo they saw online, or stop less reputable tattooers from copying another person's work? Of those 70+ contests, nearly 900 entries were submitted. That is a lot of effort to have someone just back-out of the process, probably with a tattoo design in hand. 

 This is why it cannot be about the money.

 Most of your competition on the site are clearly not tattooers, that or they are mostly the lowest common denominator among tattooers. Many of the entries are clearly photoshopped copies of designs found on-line. While your initial thinking might be that this would give a solid tattoo designer a huge advantage, most of the winners have been selected from what are low-quality designs. 

 So, then what do I propose as the best way to use the site? Assuming that the contests are being created by actual patrons (and not internally by the site administrators), then it can perhaps be used as a gauge for what are popular tattoo requests. If you post your work to the site through contests, assume that you are giving your work away, but then again this is the assumption every tattooer should make whenever they post their designs online. If you don't post, the site at least provides a source of concepts that you may not have come up with yourself. might be worth checking out, if one's expectations are really low and you are looking for a little creative shot-in-the-arm.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Who's Confident?

 This will be a bit of a rant, so let me set this up properly.

 I get a text message from a friend who asked, "If you were getting a tattoo tonight, what tattoo shop would you go to?" For me, that is both a simple and difficult question. I have a tattooer who is AMAZING but who may not have been available for a walk-in tattoo. His shop was the first on my list in my response. I have the privilege of knowing a lot of great tattooers in Austin, guys and gals who I would happily get work from at any time. From that set, I listed four other tattoo studios that I consider highly reputable and who host consistently great tattooers. My friend hit me up simply because she was confident in my opinion and knowledge about the local tattoo offerings.

 A little bit later, I get another question. "Do you ever setup without gloves?"


 Hell no.

 Being the inquisitive type, I asked why. What was happening was her boyfriend was in the mood for the sweet, sweet feel of a tattoo needle, and wanted to get some ink. Not being familiar with what might be available, especially since I was not (available), they asked my opinion. Trusting me (and that is important), they went to one of the shops I recommended.

 Let me reiterate: I recommended the shop they went to. They went to this shop on my recommendation.

 The tattooer at this particular shop was not the tattooer I would go to at this shop. At the time, that was simply because I did not know the guy like I know one of his co-workers. He does, however, have a favorable reputation locally. He happened to be available the night my friends went to the shop I recommended. When a tattoo design was selected and a price agreed upon, this tattooer went about setting up his station.

 He did so without gloves.

 My friend, herself a tattoo collector, questioned this. She recognized that she was seeing something that in her years of getting ink she had not seen before. Her dude asked the tattooer about the lack of gloves. The tattooer's response?

 "I am confident in my method."

 I am not going to name names, or put anyone on blast. The shop this guy works at is a great shop, and should not be besmirched by this guys lackadaisical attitude and ego. I DID, however, recommend to my friend that she contact the owner. When she asked if they should stay or go (they had not paid yet), my advice was to walk.

 My friends on Facebook agreed (they must read my blog).

People must be reading my blog...

 I am not even going to rail on the BASIC NECESSITY of wearing gloves when you setup, about how your station should be as close to a small surgical bay as possible, and how gloved hands should be the only things that make contact with the tools used to tattoo anytime. No, that is not what this rant is about.

 He said, "I am confident in my method."

 Is he really the one who should be confident in his method? Friends, I do not care how cock-sure your tattooer is, YOU need to be confident about what they are doing. If you feel something is amiss, a professional tattooer will do what is necessary to address your concerns. It is your tattoo. If something bothers you, your worry should not be casually dismissed.

 The proper tattooer response to, "Hey, aren't you supposed to wear gloves when you setup?", is to stop what you are doing, agree with your client, apologize for letting this simple step slip your mind, tear down your station, clean everything your touched, and setup with clean gloves on. There is no other excusable response.

 Gang, I don't care if he had a bucket of hand-sanitizer at his station that he was dipping into every few minutes. He is leaving bits of himself on everything he touches, bits of himself he would then be sharing WITH HIS CLIENT. We make mistakes. The professional thing to do is own it and correct it.

 Blowing-off your client's concern is a dirt-bag move. It suggests a lack of character and confidence; trying to ignore your mistake instead of admitting it. The sad thing is that this guy is a good tattooer, but moves like the ones he is making kill careers.

 Added to this is the fact that I recommended his shop. Maybe not him, but in the minds' of his clients and my friends there is no distinction. If asked again about where to get a tattoo, or getting a tattoo at this particular shop, I would still recommend it.

 But I would add a caution about that particular tattooer. For the sake of my reputation and their safety, I would tell whoever was asking to not get work from that guy.

 To my friends who trusted in my recommendation and had this poor experience, I am sorry. I know this is not my fault, but it is the kind of thing that brings all tattooers down.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tips for Getting Your Next Tattoo

 Getting a tattoo is not a common experience for most people.  You walk into a studio wanting a tattoo, there's art an the walls, tattooed people behind the counter, and no clear instructions on how to proceed.  Professional tattooers will happily walk you through the process, answer your questions, and make the experience a positive one for you.  However, with a little forethought and planning, you can make that experience a great one.

1. Know what you want (at least in general).

 Walking into a tattoo studio just to get a tattoo is rarely a good idea and leads more often to tattoo regret, especially since those that do are often looking for what they can get within their budget rather than a great tattoo.  Have a tattoo concept in mind before you go to a studio.  Know where you want it on your body.  Bring reference material to help your tattooer understand what you want, as well as offer some inspiration for your tattoo design.

2. Do some research.

 Once you have your tattoo concept and know where you want it on your body, it is time to start looking for a tattooer and tattoo studio.  Talk to a few studios in your area and find out about their rates to establish an average price per hour.  Keep in mind that some tattooers price their work by the piece, but most have a general hourly rate they can offer as a guide.  Knowing the local average tells you what you would pay for an average tattoo... And, no one should want an average tattoo!  This will help you gauge your price when you find a tattooer and shop that suits your needs.  Keep in mind that good tattoos are not cheap, and cheap tattoos are not good.  Check online reviews, ask others about their tattoos and their experiences with local studios, and get a feel for what to expect as you shop.

 3. Select a tattooer based on their style.

 Every tattooer develops a particular style that they specialize in, a style that will be apparent in their tattoo portfolio.  A tattooer may be willing to work outside their style, but you may be happier with a tattooer who works in the style you want (as well as get a better price getting a tattoo in the style the tattooer is familiar with). Look for a style that you find aesthetically pleasing, one that you would like your concept translated into.  Be open to your tattooers ideas and suggestions.  As a tattoo-professional, they will have an understanding of tattoo design and placement on your body that will provide a more pleasing result.  Tattooers are artists, and always tend to work better when unfettered.

4. Express all your concerns about the tattoo while it is being designed.

 Tattoos should be a unique expression of your concept by your tattooer.  While you should listen to their suggestions about your tattoo, you should also be confident in discussing what it is you want. Don't settle for a design that you think is "alright", point out the areas you have concern about!  Once you are in the tattoo chair and the needle is in your skin, it is typically too late to bring-up concerns about the design.  Ultimately, it is your tattoo, and if you and your tattooer cannot agree on a design that excites you, you may want look for a different tattooer.

5. A tattoo is an investment.

 Be prepared to pay for the work you want.  If you find a tattooer and a studio you like, then accept the price-point being quoted.  Knowing the average price in your area, you should be prepared to pay an additional 50-100% of that rate, based on the quality of work you seek.  Haggling for a better price is a delicate matter, as trying to low-ball your tattooer or bringing-up the prices offered at other shops almost always leads to a negative situation.  If the price is more than you can afford, tell your tattooer and see what they may be able to do for you.  Your tattooer may be willing to work in sessions, allowing you to pay for the work in installments, or may be willing to come down on their initial quote slightly. Ultimately. however, a good tattoo in the style you like is worth the price your tattooer quotes.

6. Plan ahead for your tattoo appointment.

 Usually, you are welcome to bring a friend, but don't bring your whole crew.  If you have children, make arrangements for childcare. Don't bring your kids to the studio, even if you have a friend to watch them for you (your kids will want your attention).  Plan to allow for as much time as necessary for your tattooer.  A good rule of thumb is to double whatever your tattooer estimated time is (if your tattooer says the tattoo will take two hours, be prepared to spend four).  Have a snack an hour or two prior to your appointment, but bring yourself something to drink during your session.  Let your friends and family know you are getting a tattoo and not to call you on your cellphone unless it is an emergency.

7. Practice some basic etiquette.  

 Arrive for your appointment at least 15 minutes in advance, and be prepared to wait while the tattooer's station is set for your tattoo (calling your tattooer in advance to tell him or her you are on your way can help reduce the wait).  Arrive sober to your appointment.  Do your tattooer a favor and also make certain your have showered recently and brushed your teeth.  They try to smell good for you, do the same for them. Plan on not eating while you are at the studio, or if it is going to be a long session on eating during a meal-break.  Try to keep your breaks to no more than once every hour or two.

8. Be prepared to tip.

 While tipping your tattooer is not necessary, it is greatly appreciated.  10-20% is a fair tip.

9. Pay attention to the after-care instructions.

 The vast majority of problems with a tattoo are the result of the customer not taking care of it while it heals.  Listen to the instructions given by your tattooer.  Do some research about tattoo care prior to your appointment, and ask any questions you may have about what you need to do.  Put clean sheets on your bed before going to sleep.  You've spent some serious money on your art, do what you can to protect it.

10. Celebrate your tattoo and tattooer.

 Your solicitation of a tattooer for a tattoo is a compliment. Your tipping the tattooer after the tattoo is appreciated.  Celebrating your tattoo and your tattooer takes it to a whole new level. Grab a stack of business cards from your tattooer and the tattoo studio on the way out the door, and pass them our to your friends.  Tell people on social media about your experience, befriend your tattooer, like their tattoo pages, and post your tattoo.  Your advertising their work will mean the world to them.

Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him an email at

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Things to Consider About UV Reactive (Blacklight) Tattoo Ink

Skincandy, the only well-known brand I could find.
While the novelty of "blacklight" tattoos seems to have had its day, it remains and option some tattoo collectors consider. For many, it is a conservative alternative to the traditional tattoo; under normal light the tattoo is supposed to be invisible, but under UV light the tattoo glows. This means that one might safely have their arms exposed or neck tattooed while at work or around family where having a tattoo might be inconvenient, but have an obvious tattoo that stands out when at a nightclub.

 This, however, may not be the case. During the tattoo healing process, which can last for months (two-weeks being the common amount of time that needs to pass before a tattoo is healed enough to be touched-up), a UV reactive ink tattoo will have the same potential redness from irritation as a regular tattoo (without the benefit of there being an obvious tattoo to explain the irritation). There is an equal chance of minor scaring or raised skin for a UV reactive tattoo, more so if the artist is inexperienced with working with UV reactive ink. After the tattoo is fully healed, the UV reactive ink in the skin may take on a brownish hue. While typically not dark enough to be noticed from a distance, the tattoo may be visible under regular light to those in close proximity. Colored UV reactive tattoo ink often appears washed-out in regular light, and can also take on a rusty hue in time.

Note the visibility in regular light.
 When selecting the location of your UV ink tattoo, it may be wise to pick a spot that can be easily covered if one has concerns about the tattoo being seen.

 You should expect to pay more for a UV reactive tattoo. UV reactive tattoos are not frequently requested, requiring a tattooer to purchase the more expensive ink specifically for your tattoo (and with a high likelihood that the ink will expire before another client asks for a UV reactive tattoo). The set-up for the tattoo requires the introduction of specific equipment; a UV lamp, in order to see the progress of the tattoo. The tattoo process will also take longer, as the added step of checking line work and the effectiveness of fill and shading require turning on the UV lamp to inspect the work. The tattooer will work in regular light in order to see the tattoo stencil and the needle during the tattoo application. There is also a greater likelihood of the tattoo requiring a touch-up. All of these factors can lead to a UV reactive tattoo costing twice as much as a tattoo using conventional inks.  

 The ink itself may also be a point of concern. A collector needs to be aware that tattoo-ink standards are maintained by the industry itself, not any government regulating body. The only cases in which the FDA has ruled on the use of inks is in the tattooing of food-animals, and in those cases the inks used must be safe for human consumption. This lack of regulation has the benefit of keeping the price of inks (and therefore tattoos) lower than they would be with regulation, but it also means that you, as the collector, need to be confident about what is going into your skin. The chemicals used to make the ink glow, such as phosphor (typically a copper or silver activated zinc-sulfide) can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Insist that your artist use a brand that has a solid reputation for safety and consistency in the industry, and if you are unsure about the ink your tattooer wants to use, ask around. 

This white-ink tattoo shows how UV ink may look  healed.
 Shopping three currently popular tattoo ink brands; Eternal, Fusion, and Intenze, I found that none offer UV reactive inks. Of the companies I did find, Skincandy was the only brand name I recognized. Please be aware that this is not a recommendation or endorsement of their product. 

 The final point of consideration with UV reactive tattoo inks is that they have not been in use long enough to know all the potential long-term hazards. While there is nothing at this time to suggest any long-term risk, we simply do not have the amount of data regarding the UV reactive inks as we do other inks with which we in the industry can be confident about. With UV reactive ink, it is even more imperative that the tattoo collector be aware that they are signing a waiver absolving their tattooer and tattoo shop of responsibility when getting a tattoo. The UV reactivity of the ink may only last for a few years or less, but may still have an unforeseen impact in the future.  

 While the point is often re-iterated in my articles about tattooing, it is worth repeating: think before you ink.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Stick-and-Poke Tattoo Kit. You Have Got to Be Kidding.

 Gang, I wrestled with the need to write this article.  Some of you will skim through this and decide to buy this product.  Please... PLEASE!  Read what I am saying here.  This is simply a bad idea.  Inevitable, yes, but still bad.

 Here's the idea, based on what Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit (that's the name of the company) tells its potential patron up-front.  Tattoos done at home by amateurs are dangerous.  They tell you that the possible dangers include:

 -Blood Borne Pathogens
 -Toxic Ink
 -Inadequate/Unclean Supplies
 -Dirty Needles, Ink, or Thread

 Let's discuss these dangers for a moment.  Blood Borne Pathogens are generally a concern when you are dealing with multiple people getting tattoos.  This is why tattoo studios strive for cleanliness and use aseptic techniques.  Keeping things clean reduces the likelihood of cross-contamination and the spread of blood borne pathogens.  "Toxic" ink must refer to inks that are manufactured cheaply and with little concern about the potential effects of the materials used on the human body.  Inks purchased on-line from unknown sources are often of a low-quality and their safety is suspect.  Inadequate or unclean supplies are a concern when dealing with "kitchen magicians" that use whatever they have around or re-use the tools they have to administer a tattoo to multiple people.  Dirty needles, ink, and thread are right in-line with the previous point.

Because this can happen.
 The solution, dear readers, is to not get tattoos from an amateur "tattoo artist" working from home. And, guess what you are when you administer your own tattoo at your kitchen table! Do not get a "stick-and-poke" tattoo.  Just don't do it.  Get tattoos from professionals in a licensed studio, and if you want to be a tattoo artist have respect for yourself, your clients, and the industry by learning to do so safely and properly through an apprenticeship.

 Companies like Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit only compound the problem.  A kit which provides "professional" supplies to allow you or your friends to tattoo you is a completely irresponsible grab for your money with no regard for your safety.

 The kit includes 1/2 oz of "professional" tattoo ink.  Before we get into what "professional" means, can you be certain?  We are dealing with a company that is encouraging people to engage in an unsafe practice, going against every industry standard in order to make a buck.  Can you trust these people and what they say about anything they offer?

 "Professional" simply means that it is a product most commonly used by professional tattooers.  Generally, such inks come from known and reputable manufacturers who have earned the trust of their patrons through the consistency and performance of their product.  The brands of ink displayed on the Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit site are none that I recognize.  And, I write BRANDS in the plural because there site features at least three different bottle and label types, suggesting at least three different manufacturers.  You cannot even be certain that the product you receive is the product pictured on the site, let alone that the inks are anywhere near the quality used by professionals (protip: that probably means they are not).

Luckily, most of this will fall out.
 You get a 5RL and a 3RL needle.  In the photo, it appears that they are in blister packs common to the tattoo industry, sealed in sterile inert gas.  If so, they are clean... at least until you open the package.  What happens then?  Does Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit assume that everyone knows how to handle the needles in order to keep them from getting contaminated before they are used and while the tattoo is being administered?  Their instructions don't mention how to handle the needle.  These needles are designed for use in a tattoo machine, not to be held in hand.  What is the likelihood that the needle will slip while someone is poking themselves with it?  Fairly high, I would imagine.  When that needle comes into contact with the floor, the kitchen table, or any other non-antiseptic surface, you are inviting problems.

 The kit also comes with two nitrile gloves.  Ask a tattoo artist how flimsy gloves are, and how easily they rip.  This is why a tattoo work station includes a container filled with gloves.  Now imagine holding a thin needle bar in your hand and trying to poke yourself with the needle without sliding down the bar and tearing the glove on the solder point for the needle group.  Will the persons purchasing this kit have the sense to buy extra gloves, or will they just continue the procedure without?

 The aftercare balm is called "hustle butter".  I could point out that again you need to question the source, but need I say more?  Who is being "hustled"?

 You also get gauze, a band-aid, a witch-hazel wipe, two ink cups (aren't those the paper condiment cups used as fast-food restaurants?), a medical surface covering, and an instruction book.  A PDF of the book is on their website.

 The instruction book is 28 pages long.  THE FIRST FIVE PAGES INCLUDE WARNINGS ABOUT THE RISKS OF USING THIS KIT!  Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit clearly does not want you to seek legal damages from them in the event that their product harms you.  They can point to their book and demonstrate that nearly 20% of the information provided was a warning not to use their product.  Buyer beware!

Gorgeous, huh?
 The funniest line in this book is on page 8; "Tips for Your Design".  The sixth and final tip is "consult a professional".  WHAT PROFESSIONAL TATTOOER IS GOING TO ASSIST SOMEONE IN DESIGNING THEIR STICK-AND-POKE TATTOO?  That's right, gang, not one.  You walk into a tattoo shop and ask about advice on your DIY stick-and-poke tattoo design, and the best you can hope for is a lecture about what a moronic idea that is.  This simply points to the probability that the makers of the Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit have no experience with the tattoo industry and is out to simply make a quick buck.

 The instructions include some real gems as well.  "Create a clean area" (but no information on how to properly create a clean area).  "Poke the skin with amount of pressure enough to puncture only the top few layers of skin" (how do you gauge that without any training or experience?).  They also make some solid suggestions that most people will never follow, like take your sharps to a proper sharps disposal facility or mark your container for your used materials with the word "biohazard".  The people who are cutting corners by getting this kit are already beyond any sound advice regarding public safety.

 It is this kind of product that actually threatens the industry as a whole.  Tattooing has gained legitimacy in our society by demanding a rigorous adherence to safety by those who practice the art.  Enough DIY tattoos gone wrong and we will find professional tattoo studios driven back underground as legislators are given an excuse to demand tighter restrictions.  Just keep in mind that the person who purchase a tattoo kit to give themselves a tattoo probably has an idiot for a tattooer.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at

Sunday, May 1, 2016

"Sailor Jerry's Tattoo Stencils" Books I and II

  Before you buy "Sailor Jerry's Tattoo Stencils" by Kate Hellenbrand, you need to understand the title.  I recommend that any aspiring tattooer get a copy of these books, but you need to know what you are getting. This is not, technically, a collection of Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collin's flash.  Rather, these are actual transfers from those flash designs, the first stage of the actual tattoos.  What you will get are raw, unadorned examples of the very foundation of a tattoo.  This collection gathered by Kate "Shanghai Kate" Hellenbrand, demonstrates the root of the "American Traditional" tattoo design, the style that many tattoo purists describe as the defining style of a "good" tattoo.  

 The American Traditional tattoo style developed not from an aesthetic choice, but rather the limitations of the tools used to take a design from paper to the skin.  Before the advent of the thermograph transfer, tattooers would cut their designs into a thin, plastic sheet.  Grooves cut into the acetate would be filled by rubbing graphite into them.  The skin was prepared with a thin coat of petroleum jelly.  The acetate stencil would be laid onto the skin, transferring the graphite from the stencil to the jelly.  This provided a fragile pattern for the tattooer to follow with his needle.

 The nature of this process limited the complexity and detail of the designs.  If a design was too intricate, it would be difficult (if not impossible) and extremely time-consuming to cut into acetate.  Thus, American Traditional designs are defined by simple, bold lines, with often no more than two to three line-widths.  The transfer process and materials also limited selection.  Tattoo designs tended to be limited to what was popular to those getting tattoos in those early years; Naval or other Military images, primitive pin-up girls, and well-known cartoon characters.  The same acetate stencil would be the basis for multiple tattoos, with variation introduced during the tattoo process.

 Color in these tattoos, usually red, green, blue, yellow, and black, were also limited by the technology of the time.  Tattooers often made their own ink, and there were limits to what could be successfully and economically produced.  Again, the American Traditional style was a result not of aesthetics, but of the practical limitations of the technology of the time.  These limitations came to set the expectations of what a tattoo should look like.  Today, technological advancements allows for a variety of styles to be replicated in the skin, but "Tattoo Art" has become defined in the social consciousness as consisting of strong lines, a bold but limited color pallet, and traditional subject matter.  Put simply, this style is recognized as a tattoo, regardless if it is in skin or on paper.

 These collections offer insight into the foundations of an art form.  With an understanding of the technical limitations, they also highlight the innovative and creative talent of Sailor Jerry.  While these books will have very little value to most tattoo clients seeking a design, they represent an excellent resource for the tattooer who wishes to create tattoo designs rooted in traditional methods and recognized as tattoo art.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at

Monday, April 4, 2016

Size Matters

A tattoo that fits the calf.
"But, Tattoo Nerd, it's not the size of the ship. It's the motion of the ocean, right?"

 That is not what I am writing about, my little friend. No, what I am writing about is the size of your tattoo. One major cause of 'tattoo regret' is getting a tattoo that is too small. Getting a tattoo that is too small is a common mistake when people first start getting tattoos.  Whether it is a matter of wanting something small to get past the "unknown" factor, or a matter of expense, first-timers tend to lean toward tiny tattoos.  For many tattooers, the little tattoo that someone gets because they felt the urge to walk-in and "just get a tattoo" is their bread-and-butter.  However, when given the opportunity, most tattooers would prefer you come in and get a tattoo designed to fit the place on your body you want.

 You may be thinking that a tattooer wanting to do a larger tattoo is all about the money.  While it is true that a larger tattoo will typically cost more, that is not your tattooer's primary motivation.  Your tattooer wants to do a tattoo that looks good.  Especially if it is your first tattoo, your tattooer knows you are going to tell your friends and show-off the tattoo.  They want their work to be well represented, and they want you to come back for more tattoos.  Tiny tattoos have their place, especially for women who want that accent tattoo behind their ear or on their hip.  The size of the tattoo should be determined by the location on the body.  A tiny tattoo may be expertly executed, but if it is floating in a large, empty space, it simply does not look as good.  As a customer, you may think initially that a small tattoo is a good way to start or the best for your budget, but odds are that you will regret your choice and blame your tattooer for allowing you to make it.

A tattoo designed to fit the shoulder and arm.
 So, what then is the "right" size for a tattoo?  When determining the size of the tattoo, the tattooer will take in to consideration the natural frame formed by the shape of the body-part being tattooed.  This frame most often matches the muscle-mass beneath the skin.  The frame of a shoulder tattoo is defined by the shape of your Deltoid muscle, and may extend down your arm to form a "sleeve".  The Gastrocnemius and Soleus muscles form the frame of the calf, and may extend down your leg and wrap around to form a "sock".  The Pectoral muscle forms the frame for a chest tattoo.  A tattoo that sits atop of any muscle mass that does not make full use of the shape of the mass (both positive and negative space) will appear to float haphazardly in that space.  Taking into account the size and shape of the muscle mass demonstrates an intentional placement and is more visually pleasing.  

 When getting a tattoo, it is easy to forget about the location when thinking about things like the design and the meaning of the symbol.  A reputable tattooer will discuss with you the importance of size relative to the place you want to get the tattoo, and it is advice you should take into consideration.  Even if it means that you may spend a little more money for a larger tattoo, your tattoo is an investment in you, one which will hopefully be with you for life.  You will want to see your tattoo and know you made a good choice, instead of looking at an ill-fitting tattoo and wondering what you could have done differently.

Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at