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Body art is just that, an art, but there’s a surprising amount of science that goes in to how tattoos are made. While the techniques behind tattoos are among the most ancient known to man, modern science and technology has contributed a great deal in making tattoos safer and longer lasting. Figuring out exactly how the tattooing process works isn’t difficult, but it takes a little background to grasp completely. At its most basic, a tattoo is a drawing, in ink, done on skin. Unlike drawing on you hand with a Bic, the tattoo is functionally permanent barring expensive and painful procedures.

To understand exactly how a tattoo works, you need to learn a little about the skin. More properly called the dermis system, your skin is a distinct organ. It’s the largest organ in your body, covering all of you in a series of different layers. Depending on the location, there are between 4 and 5 layers of skin at any given point on your body. The outer layer is called the epidermis, and that’s the layer we’re most familiar with. The epidermis protects the body from infection and houses follicles where hair grows. Under the epidermis is a thicker layer known as the dermis.

Tattoos are made when a hole is created through the epidermis and into the dermis. While the epidermis dies and flakes off regularly, the dermis remains constant, which keeps the pigments from the tattoo from disappearing as skin flakes away with time. Tattoos are made when the proper type of ink is injected under the epidermis through a hole made with a a needle. Most modern tattoo systems are ‘needle guns’ that use electrical motors or air pressure to drive a needle like a sewing machine. The needle, loaded with ink, delivers the color to the right layer of skin, making a permanent image. No matter what happens to the skin’s outer layers, the ink will stay in exactly the same place.

Modern tattoo guns are pretty impressive machines. Depending on the settings and set up, they can run at between 50 and 3000 PPM (pokes per minute) and deposit their ink about a millimeter below the outer layer of the skin. Each poke places one drop in the desired location. Believe it or not, the modern tattoo gun was based off of a design by Thomas Edison for an engraving machine. This design was modified and perfected by Samuel O’Reily, the proper father of modern tattoo technology.

Modern tattoo guns offer a lot of advantages over older methods of tattooing. The metal is easy to clean and sterilize, the needles can be easily replaced and the control methods allow tattoo artists to perform with greater control and accuracy than most of the old methods. Needle depth and size can vary the thickness of different lines drawn on the skin, allowing for heavy line work or delicate shading as necessary. Tattoo guns also simplify the process of changing colors, speeding up the process and reducing the damage to the body from a tattoo.

There are other ways of making tattoos than the modern needle gun, often favored by traditionalists of some stripe or another. Many schools of Japanese tattoos use small pads of tiny needles like a prop from a magician’s trick. These pads are tipped with ink and worked into the skin. Other, even older methods for tattooing use slices across the epidermis instead of the needle technique. Cutting the skin lets the pigment into the dermis and creates an image that is both colored and raised from tissue scarring.

The science and technology of the tattoo is an important component of getting body art done, as you should always understand what you’re getting into before making such a major decision. Once you understand the how of tattooing, however, you’re better able to understand what is and isn’t possible for body art and you can work with your tattoo artist to make sure you’re getting what you want.

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This entry was posted on Friday, April 9th, 2010 at 4:23 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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