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The Tattooing Process – Everything You Need to Know


We’ve all heard about tattooing and some of us have considered getting at least one. However, how many of us know what the actual tattooing process is like? Of course, we might know the basics – the insertion of ink into the skin using a needle with the end result being an image of something. But, that’s a very watered down version of the entire process.

In this article, we’re going to try and give you a more comprehensive version of how the whole thing works. So, read and get informed.

Choosing a design 

The very first step of the tattooing process is to select an image/design that you want to be tattooed on your skin. This could include your own sketches or something personal. Some tattoo parlors even offer a “flash”, which is basically a collection of designs or artwork created in advance. The point is there really are very few limitations to what you can have tattooed on your skin. You can even describe something original and have the tattoo artist sketch it on paper for you.

 Sailor Jerry tattoo flash

All you need to do is find a tattoo artist who can meet your expectations and make a decision on what you want tattooed.

Receiving the tattoo 

Once you’ve decided on what design/image to get tattooed, the next step is to actually go in for the tattooing session. But, before you do so, make sure the tattoo parlor practices good hygiene and safety. For example, the parlor should have equipment such as an autoclave, which is used for sterilization.

Tattoo artists should also use fresh needles and ink for every customer they work on. They shouldn’t work without gloves and these gloves need to be replaced for each new client. Even if you have the slightest doubts regarding your parlor’s hygiene and safety practices, don’t hesitate to look for a better option.

 Ivan Trapiani has the hygiene covered

Now, getting back to the topic, the first thing that the tattoo artist will do is prepare the skin on the area that you intend to have tattooed. He/she will clean the area and shave off hair, if present. Once the area has been cleaned, the artist will place an outline of the chosen design over it. This outline will be drawn with the help of a special kind of paper using a special kind of ink. The idea is to create a temporary tattoo of sorts before creating the permanent version.

 Jaime Tud shows how a stencil is made

Once the outline has been placed, you will be allowed to take a look and give your approval. Once the approval is given, the artist will start “inking” the image/design onto the skin using a tattoo machine. A tattoo machine is kind of like a sewing machine, it uses needles to “inject” the ink just a wee bit below the surface of the skin.

 Work by Georgi

There are various kinds of tattoo machines out there. For example, you have rotary tattoo machines and coil tattoo machines. Rotary tattoo machines are very advanced and they are extremely quiet. Modern coil tattoo machines are just lighter versions of older coil tattoo machines. However, the working principle is the same for all tattoo machines. They use needles to inject the tattoo ink. The variation lies in how they get the needle to do it.

 Daniel Paarup with his machine

Generally, there will be either a group of needles or a single needle that will be soldered onto a bar. This bar will be fixed onto an oscillating unit. Every time this unit oscillates, the needle or needles move in and out of your skin. The average speed at which this happens is estimated to be around 80-150 times per second.

The needles, as indicated earlier, are for a single use only, which means the artist needs to change them for every session. The autoclave, which we also spoke of earlier, is used to sterilize the equipment itself.

Now, you’re probably wondering how a mechanical device can be used to create intricate designs. Well, this is where the artist’s skills come in. The tattoo artist guides the machine to create the design. This includes everything from creating the finest lines to even shadows.

There are also different sized needles that the artist will alternate between to create a more detailed representation of the chosen design/image. Depending on the complexity of the design or image, the entire process can end up taking anything from a few hours to even days.

 Picture borrowed from


Traditionally, tattoo ink was obtained through natural sources, which caused limitations in terms of color variety. However, thanks to modern technology, you have inks of all colors and shades available. In fact, tattoo artists mix available colors to create their own unique pigments that aren’t likely to be found in the commercial market.

As for the types of ink, you have inks made from inorganic materials such as iron oxide and titanium dioxide and other options such as acridine, carbon black, quinolone, azo dyes, naphthol derivatives, phthalocyanine and even ash. However, iron oxide dyes are used the most.

 Radiant Colors - picture taken by Pato Bejar


Getting a tattoo is painful and that’s how it’s going to be for some time, at least till someone comes up with a painless technique. The pain, obviously, is caused because of the needle going in and out of your skin. However, pain itself is subject to perception, which means there are those who probably don’t feel too much pain. Also, the location of the tattoo plays a key role in how much pain you experience.

 Work in progress by Emanuel Oliveira at SublimeVilla 

So, when you’re getting a tattoo, don’t hesitate to ask for a break. You might need it more than you think and your artist might need it too.

Once the tattoo is done, do expect the area to be a mildly bruised. Your artist will place a bandage over it for better healing. He/she will also prescribe an ointment or solution to be rubbed over the area for a few days. You might be advised to avoid the sun as well.


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