How Tattoos Work

We all know that getting a tattoo is no walk in the park. And if you don’t have one yet, don’t worry, it really isn’t as bad as you think…but it definitely isn’t pleasant. Let’s talk about the process of a tattoo, and how it’s done. Sometimes if you understand how something works, it makes the process a little less scary.

Tattoo Machines

A tattoo is created by injecting ink into a person’s skin using an electrically powered machine. In today’s tattooing community, there are two main types of machines that are used – rotary and coil. A traditional coil machine uses electromagnetic currents passed through a pair of coils to trigger a draw and release of the machine’s armature bar, creating a hammer-like effect. With the release of the springs, the armature bar essentially taps the tattoo needles that are attached, into the skin. The coil tattoo machine makes a loud buzzing sound, that you probably recognize the second you walk into a tattoo shop.

Rotary machines are quite the opposite, and are really quiet. There’s a small motor on each rotary machine that moves the tattoo needles up and down in a smooth pattern. These tattoo machines move needles in and out of the skin more fluidly than coil machines.

Coil Tattoo Machine

Rotary Tattoo Machine

Into The Skin

In order for a tattoo to be permanent, the ink needs to go into the dermis layer of the skin. This is deeper than just the surface, and it’s actually the second layer of skin. The top layer, or epidermis, is constantly shedding old skin cells and regenerating new ones. If a tattoo was on just this top layer of skin, it would disappear in a few weeks! So for a tattoo to last a lifetime, the tattoo machine has to penetrate the skin’s top layer and get to that second layer.

Needles 101

Now onto the needles, the mode of transportation for ink. It’s a common misconception that the needle used is just a singular needle. They’re actually just one piece of metal that have several ends to it ranging from 3 and all the way up to 25! The ones with more ends are generally used for shading and coloring, while the ones with fewer are used for outlining.

And that’s essentially how a tattoo is made! A tattoo artist uses a machine (not a gun!) with a needle, dips it in ink, and turns the machine on. The needle makes thousands of tiny pricks while dragging down ink into the dermis layer of the skin, giving you a beautiful, permanent, tattoo!

So…do you feel better about getting a tattoo after this…or worse?!