Tattooing is a form of body modification that involves injecting ink under the skin. The ink creates a permanent design. Tattoo artists use an instrument with a needle that repeatedly punctures the skin and injects the ink. For a large, detailed tattoo, the process can take many hours. Tattooing is often painful.
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Clients can work with tattoo artists to create custom designs, or they can chose images from flash, the tattoo designs displayed in a shop. An artist draws or stencils the design onto a person's skin, because the skin can stretch while the tattoo artist uses the tattoo machine. The tattoo artist must also know how deeply the needle needs to pierce the skin throughout the tattooing process. Punctures that are too deep can cause excessive pain and bleeding. Punctures that are too shallow can cause uneven lines.
The tattoo itself involves several steps:
- Outlining (also called black work) is when the artist uses a single-tipped needle and a thin ink to create a permanent line over the stencil. Most artists start at the right-side bottom of the tattoo and work up (left-handed artists generally start on the left side). This way, artists don't smear the stencil while they clean excess ink from the permanent line.
- Shading is when the artist uses a thicker ink and several different types of needles to create an even, solid line. If a new artist uses an improper technique during this step he or she can cause shadowed lines, excessive pain and can delay healing.
- When applying color, the artist cleans the tattoo then overlaps each line of color in order to ensure solid, even hues with no holidays. Holidays are uneven areas where color has lifted out as the skin heals or where an artist might have missed a section of skin.
- Before the customer is finished, the artist will use a disposable towel to remove blood and plasma that might have come to the surface of the skin. The artist then covers the tattoo with a sterile bandage. The slight bleeding that always occurs during tattooing usually stops within a few minutes.