It is surprising to me, the number of people that get tattooed, that still don?t understand all the steps taken in applying ink to skin. I suppose if one doesn't ask why the artist is doing what he/she is doing, when they're doing it, they won't know the procedure and steps taken in achieving the finished product. Bare in mind that this file is about only one style of application, artists may be taught differently, but the end results are still the same.
At this point, the needles have been soldered to the needle bars and all the necessary steps have been taken for sterilization. The first step is to prepare the area of skin where the tattoo is going. The artist sprays the area with a mixture of water and antiseptic green soap, then removes hair using a disposable razor (hair clogs up tubes and hinders application of stencil and the actual tattoo).
Once all hair is removed, a light coat of speed stick is applied. The only purpose for the speed stick is to enable the stencil to stick to the skin. The stencil is usually onion skin paper with an outline made by a hectograph pencil, or hectograph carbon paper. This method produces a nice, clean, sharp image of the outline and is less prone to be accidentally wiped off like the charcoal stencils of days gone by.
Now that there is a temporary outline of the tattoo in place, it is time begin. Using a single needle, the artist will start at the bottom right hand side and work up (south paw artists would start at the bottom left hand side), so the stencil won't be lost when the artist cleans a permanent line. With single needle work, a thinner black ink than what is used with shading is used, because the thinner ink can be easily wiped away from the skin without smearing (as well, thinner ink is less prone to 'bleed' under the skin as compared to a thicker ink). The tattoo machine should be making a nice, clear, 'buzzing' sound and lines are placed smooth and evenly by landing the needles in the same fashion as an air plane. Gradually piercing the skin, applying ink, then gradually lifting out of the skin in a smooth consistent motion. For a line to go in straight and have proper depth, it is imperative for the tattooist to have the experience and understanding on how deep the needles actually need to go in order to produce a permanent line. Not deep enough will create scratchy lines after healing, and going too deep will cause excessive bleeding, and unnecessary discomfort on the client's part (Hence the term 'it hurt like hell!', this pretty much tells me the person giving the tattoo was an amateur). The skin should be stretched and a thin layer of Vaseline placed on the area to hinder irritation which is common in receiving a professional tattoo. I say irritation, because a professional tattoo should not 'hurt', unless you are hung-over, tired, or have a really low pain tolerance level.
Once the outline is complete, the area is thoroughly cleaned with green soap and water. Next, the outline is thickened and shading added. Depending on the size of the art work, the artist will use combination of needles in a flat or round cluster (one's, three's, five's, seven's, or more). To make things simple, I will explain the use of a three needle combination. Please remember, that in making needles, there are several minute procedures and steps taken to correctly solder a combination to a needle bar. If it is not done right, uneven, shadowed lines, unwanted pain, and prolonged healing will most definitely occur (Once again, find an artist who knows exactly what they are doing, most scratchers do build their own needles, and you may find out the hard way if they have done the job properly).
Using a thicker, blacker ink, the artist will go over the outline with a tightly wrapped cluster of needles. This allows an even solid line to be applied over the entire tattoo. For shading, a round cluster of needles which are “fanned” out is used, giving the effects desired in the artwork. Not all tattooists work in the same manner or style, some use round clusters, flats, or magnums. It all boils down to personal preference, and who they apprenticed under.
After outline and shading is complete, and the tattoo once again cleaned, it is now ready for colour. Tubes and needles are constantly placed in the ultra sonic cleaner during the tattoo process to remove ink and foreign particles. When applying colour, the artist may use the “fanned” cluster of needles and operate the machine in a figure eight motion, over-lapping each previous line of colour to insure solid, even hues with no “holidays” (if needles are improperly soldered together, or barbed, what will occur is flesh being removed and chewed up). “Holidays” are uneven areas where colour has either lifted out during healing, or where the tattooist simply missed that particular section of skin.
The tattoo is now once again sprayed and cleaned and pressure is applied using a disposable towel to remove any spotting and plasma which has been excreted during the tattooing process. Under normal conditions, a new tattoo will have completely stopped spotting blood and plasma within a few minutes after completion. “Abnormal” conditions may be alcohol in the system, which thins blood and lowers pain tolerance levels, tattooing over scar tissue (which can be done, only very carefully), fatigue, not eating properly prior to getting tattooed, having a cold or the flu, being pregnant, or being high on prescription or illegal drugs(anyone who is sick, drunk, high, or pregnant should not be tattooed). If the tattoo is properly taken care of, it will be as vibrant in years to come as it was the day you got it.