By Jake Meeks —
Topics: Tattoo Saturation, Geometry, Tissue Depth, Ink Vacuum, Dermis, Epidermis, Skin Healing for Tattoos
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There are some tricks to tattooing that you only understand if you've been in the game for a while. Most tattooers know that the area of the body you're tattooing changes the way you tattoo, including the angle at which you hold your machine.
The general rule of thumb is that holding your tattoo machine at an angle gives you a greater chance of good ink saturation. Conversely, the more perpendicular you come at the skin, the less ink saturation you'll end up with.
There are a few reasons why angle matters. One has to do with the vector of the force. When you're tattooing at a 90 degree angle, the vectors are pointing straight down and are absorbed by the skin. However, when you tattoo at a 45 degree angle, the vectors are pointing up and out, or away from the skin, which means that they compress the skin less.
The other reason has to do with geometry. When you come at the skin from an angle, the needle is creating an elliptical hole. This elliptical shape allows for more ink to be deposited in one pass.
There are other instances in which needles are designed to cause the smallest amount of injury feasible. The hypodermic needle, for example, is intended to rapidly and painlessly slide into the skin.
A hypodermic needle has a chamfered or beveled tip. The needle gets finished through beveling, which adds a sharp point to the tube by creating an angle on the surface. The bevel angle allows the needle to puncture the skin while reducing the amount of trauma.
There are two main types of bevels used for hypodermic needles.The short bevel has a tip angle of 30-45 degrees. Then, the long bevel’s tip angle is from 12-15 degrees. Outside of those two categories, there are other specific types. The lancet bevel provides the sharpest point for a hypodermic needle. It features a 15-degree tip angle. The more extreme the angle is the sharper and less traumatic it is to the skin, leading to greater suction and greater tattoo ink saturation.
We're trying to get optimal saturation into the dermis but we're passing through quite a few layers of epidermis. What happens to those particles of ink? Do they sink down into the dermis or do they slough off with the skin?
The epidermis is replaced roughly every 30 days as new skin grows in. Whatever you're seeing through that entire column of cells at the top is gone, and once the epidermis has been worn off, it's simply been replaced with newer skin. So, your aim and objective is to make sure that whatever's in the dermis has the highest degree of saturation.
The next question a tattooer might ask is: How MUCH of the skin is being sloughed off, and how much ink is really being deposited then?
Roughly 30% gets metabolized or sloughs off. Another possible way to think of this would be in values. If you start with a dark black (value of 10), what you should really be expecting in the healed tattoo is a value of 7. This is one reason a tattoo will look different when it's healed as opposed to when it is fresh.
- Shawn Bellina, S8 Chemist
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The Fireside Tattoo Network is home to the Fireside podcast, Fireside Technique video series and our Fireside Weekly blog.
The Fireside Tattoo podcast is hosted by veteran tattooer Jake Meeks, check out our episodes where we discuss, argue and wax philosophical, from tips for all levels of artists to trends in the tattoo world. Many guest artists have sat down for interviews and in-depth conversations and many more are planned…check back often!
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