tattoo artist

Needle Technique – How to hold your tattoo machine

Needle Technique – Preface on how to hold your machine:

I’ve read many articles over the years that have laid out certain needle techniques. They are very specific and focused on how to use your needles to achieve a clean tattoo. This is a question that has popped up many times during my travels and I have noticed that many tattooers are quick to dismiss any critiques on this simple yet foundational aspect of tattooing.

Regarding the articles from years back, I noticed while reading them there was a lack of consensus on what was correct. They all had a difference in technique. The articles touched upon the difference between liner and shader needles but left out grouping effectiveness and what to expect when using them in out-of-context ways. Almost none of the articles focused on small-grouping liner needles or the best way to avoid blowouts when using them. I also never caught wind of an article discussing what is necessary to achieve optimal results with different needles.

Before getting into the short article here that broaches the subject of needle technique, you should read our article about tattooing hands and feet, it has a load of info about the skin.

Needle Technique – The article origin

Funny enough, I was at a convention this week and I had noticed many people using many different machines and different needle groupings.

One thing I had noticed was that everyone was running their machines incorrectly. The speed, angle of inflection and hand speed were all inconsistent with how different types/areas of skin should be tattooed. Nearly all of the tattooers I watched work had the same basic misunderstanding of direction, angle and depth.

I avoided giving any critiques, as many of you would agree with, they were unasked for and totally unwarranted.

I wanted to walk up and give a couple pointers because, truthfully, if they were paying better attention to a couple things, that needle would be giving them better, cleaner, easier lines; quicker and faster.

shitty tattoo lines

I know this sounds like a crackpot-asshole calling bluff on a bunch of seasoned artists… I assure you it is not. This is another friendly critique for those out there who want to improve.

So with that preface, on to our article.

Part one – Nah… Another Preface

Let’s start out with liner needles because they are the most commonly overlooked tool. After we work our way through some simple improvements, we will move on the mags. Mags are tricky, mainly because there is many different ways to use them. There is also an inconsistent consensus on how best to use those needles. Some people say “just shading”, others claim ” I fuckin’ line with those bitches!”.

Evidently this is the second preface ( ya, we need a second )

I’m going to skip writing a section on stretching skin. I can imagine that if, by now, you are tattooing full time, that you already have a decent or standing as to how to stretch skin correctly.

If not, Let me know and I’ll work up an article about proper skin stretching. I could cover techniques associated with what type of skin that you’re working with and how your stretch with these different types of skin can affect your quality of work.

Blah…Blah…blah…bl…. *HICCUP!!* get on to it already!

Ok… Onto the article.

Rules of the Tattoo – Liners

Regardless if you use small or large groupings, you will get varying results on the healed end of the tattoo if you don’t follow a few simple needle technique rules.

  • Rule 1- Always run your needle against the tube back. This is called moving forward. This ensures the needle stays in contact with the tube tip while running lines. The tubes work best without the needle bouncing around in the tip.
  • Rule 2- Look at rule 1

I believe, in the beginning of our careers, when we’re all starting out, that we have focus. Maybe even superhuman focus…

What I’m saying may ring a bell with all y’all,  or maybe it is still a thing you live with. There was an ability to focus so hard on all the mechanisms that went into a tattoo that dissipates as we grow in our understanding of the trade.

In the beginning…

In the beginning, we overly focus on what some of us experienced tattooers think of as the mundane. Running lines, whip shading, light source… It something that we may take for granted as practice leads to understanding. That understanding leads to mastery, in most cases.

This leads me to a question: If we are working towards a mastery with knowledge that is incorrect, can we ever obtain mastery?

Funny enough, some of those things that we used to be driven crazy by, when our mentors or just by ourselves we’re trying out new things, have become something that we rarely focus on what we’re doing tattoos as we mature towards mastery.

How often do you pay attention to where your needles are?

Do you only pay attention to what feels right?

 

Liner needles

Let’s move on and take a look at needle technique using Liners

Small needle grouping – Liners

Needle Technique – Standard Angle

When I first started tattooing, I was told that you had to keep the needles in the tube at an angle somewhere between 45˚ and 60˚ (standard angle or SA) when running lines in the skin. This idea seems to be true for most applications when using a tattoo machine.

Always using that SA will result in the most consistent of results. Especially when using smaller groupings.

I personally only use 3 round and 5 around liners for the vast majority of my work. When this practice first started it was nerve wracking and shit was a bit of a disaster for a week. Luckily, every tattoo I did was built to take a 7-9 round so, the repairs were free and embarrassing.

The result of this experience is that I’m very cautious when ever I run a line. My tube is held in the SA and I am always pushing (mostly) when I’m running and/or sculpting lines.

Needle Technique – Shallow Angle

If you’re like most of us, your hand gets a bit tired and those machines start getting heavy.

When that happens, your machine sags and you run your needle too shallow. Shallow is considered <45° angle

So what dude.. The ink is going in. Who gives a shit… right!?

maths needles tech

Nah.. You see, what happens when you run your machine shallow is:

  • Your needles won’t penetrate the correct amount unless you press your tube tip and bury the needle.
  • You lose most of the pigment by increasing the traveling distance of the needle
  • Your machine has to work harder to push the needle in which increases load and decreases machine life.
  • If you are pulling a line, the needle will skip across the skin surface leaving little ink but more trauma.
Shallow

To explain

As you’re moving forward at whatever speed your hand moves, the needle at the end of the tube seems to bounce around. This is because it’s not hitting a directly flat surfaces allowing the needles to penetrate the layer of skin we want, directly.

This also occurs if the skin is in stretched too tight. You see the needles going in but there will be little pigment deposited into the epidermis. The pigment will be trapped in the uppermost layer as the needles won’t get deep enough to deposit the ink properly.

Worse yet, if the needles are running at a steeper angle the needle will just hop along the top not making any sort of penetration, thus leaving any pigment that you want to put into the skin stuck on top of the skin. In this case, the needles just chew up the upper layer of skin for no reason.

Steep angle of tubes

What happens with the needle facing straight-up-and-down to the 90゚ angle, or somewhere between 75 and 90°?

protractor angle

The needle has to work harder to pass through the skin, especially if you have a very tight stretch on a specific area.

When the needle strikes the skin, it doesn’t so much a slide in as it does blow the skin apart to create an opening for the ink to enter.

Steep

To bypass this some artist have lightened their stretch and kept the steep angle when tattooing. This needle technique, which may actually work when using smaller needle configurations, still isn’t totally efficient. You can utilize it when trying to build/sculpt lines, but if you’re trying to do very fine lines…Not so much

A bit about Stretching

What you push the pigment into the skin with the needles at a steep angle, while holding a softer stretch, the skin layers that accet the pigment are out of alignment. You can tell this by releasing the stretch after running a line.

When you release that light stretch you will notice that your lines are wavy or inconsistent. This is because the skin is an organ that is susceptible to stresses, like stretching. When you pull skin tight, you squeeze the layers together making an easier path for needles to push through. If you hold it too loose, or stretch incorrectly, the skin layers will move to the position of

What happens with the needle facing straight-up-and-down to the 90゚ angle, or somewhere between 75 and 90 The needle has to work harder to pass through the skin especially if you have a very tight stretch on a specific area. When the needle strikes the skin it doesn’t so much a slide in as it does blow the skin of parts to create an opening for the ink to enter.

To bypass this effect, some artist have lightened their stretch, which may actually work when using smaller needle configurations. It also may work when trying to build lines, but if you’re trying to do very fine lines, the increased trauma will make it impossible let to heal a long sitting, single sitting tattoo well.

Large groupings

Large liner groupings should only ever be used in one way. Run any of your lines the standard 45 to 60゚ angle with a decent stretch, which is determined by skin type.

angles
Just steep enough to get the needles in for some reverse whip shading

Watch the effects of your lining when you use these angles. From experience, you’re only going to be getting partial saturation. This is due to a lack of full penetration of all needles entering the skin. This is especially evidence and needle groupings that are loose, such as round shaders

What happens when you bog down?

Yes it is true that you can run steep angles with round shaders, or loose groupings, or large groupings of round liners if you take it slow enough. The partial needle grouping entering the proper depth will deposit enough pigment if you go slow enough. However, this is incredibly poor needle technique.

But, this defeats the purpose of using large groupings. You wanna be able to move fast put the ink in the skin and move on to your next tattoo.

I remember back in the day of Spalding Rogers’, National’s and Danny Fowler’s; people would just crank their machines up to 13 just screamed the pigment into the skin.

When your tossing your needle technique out the window like that, regardless of what your angle was at, the ink went in.

Magnum needles

The industry hasn’t reached a proper concensus about how to use needle mags. Regardless of this fact, there is one generally accepted procedure when using them that will ensure quality results, depending on the style you’re working with.

Soft shading

Soft shading can be accomplished using any dispersion of pigment that you have laid out on your table. The trick here is your needle angle when entering the skip.

Softer shading is better accomplished by having the needles at a steeper angle i.e. Between 75 and 90゚. Having the needles at this steeper angle a causes them to bounce off the surface of the skin due to the largest surface area that is being engaged by the needles. This bouncing off the skin ensures that not all the pigment you want to put in will go in it will just sits superficially in the upper layer of the epidermis.

Just like stated above, care needs to be taken as you will burn through that top layer of skin quickly if you keep a tight stretch while continuously running the needles over the skin surface.

Inversely, you can lighten up on the skin and allow the mags to just bounce off the skin surface. This will give you a softer tone while keeping the potential of a hard edge at a minimum.

Color filling

When filling color you can alternate between steep and normal angles 75 to 90゚ (which is steep) or 45 to 60゚ angles (which is standard). The steep angles can be used to feather out colors when blending while the SA are used for full filling.

Be careful when using the steep angle technique for shading. You need caution because the needles are more prone to chew up the skin if you don’t Get the saturation correct on your 1st pass. Use a standard angle between 45 and 60゚ to put color into the skin. Most people work in small tight circles, but with mags, I have found that a Box Motion works better than circles.

Box motion explained

  • The Box motion for filling in color or solid black is as follows
  • Start by pushing forward into the skin with the Magnum needle.
  • As you start to circle back just pull a hard 90゚ right while lifting the needle out of the skin.
  • Finish pulling out of the skin as you pull straight back away from the skin
  • Make another 90゚ turn to start heading towards the skin while dropping your needle depth towards the skip.

Lather rinse repeat.

Proper technique

Using small liners proper technique for putting people into the skin is

Get a stretch on the skin or area that you are planning on Tattooing

Get ink in needles and tubes by dipping and in ink cap.

Start your line with the machine tube set up 45- 60゚ off the skin surface

Only move forward with your liner. You will be pushing the needle against the back of the tube. you can shortcut this and/or cheat it by going in a side to side motion.

Never drag your needles backwards when running lines.

Run your line in a smooth motion. What do I mean by smooth?

It’s easy.

Everyone has a range of motion. When you push past the natural range of motion for any muscle grouping that you’re using, your body has to switch between the one muscle group you are using, to another. That switch is necessary to complete the movement.

When you pull a long line, the transition between muscles happen and you’ll get a little shake. Sometimes the shake can be extremely evident, sometimes, not so much.

Finish your line by feathering the line out. You’ll need to do this with every line. Especially if you have to tie one line into another line to complete a longer segment.

Lather rinse repeat until your job is done

Packing tribal

This one seems to be elusive to most people nowadays. When I started tattooing all we did was tribal. It’s what you cut your teeth on you did it 7 days a week 14 hours A-day and if you couldn’t get it right by God you wouldn’t get a color piece.

Perhaps that’s way tribal is just not so in demand now

To pack tribal you go with a mildly shallow angle

Normally, I’ll use the box method of filling, moving in very tight squares. Those squares create a line pass that overlaps each other. When making a pass over to fill in an area next to a spot already done, overlap the area already filled in 1/4 to 1/2 of the way.

To some, this is the most boring aspect of tattooing but I normally make a game out of it and enjoy large swathes of black!

To keep myself busy most the time when I’m doing tribal such as this, I hum meow mix in my head for hours on end.

The cool thing about this (packing tribal, not humming Meow Mix) is when done correctly, the amount of touch ups needed for the person who is receiving the black work is going to be minimal.

That’s correct if done correctly you only really have to touch up tribal you won’t have to redo the whole sucking thing.

 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus
Website: https://tattooartistsblog.com
https://www.instagram.com/rian_othus


 

Tattooing – Cost of Setup

In this week’s article we look at the cost of setup up for your tattoo!

We have come up with a handy cost of setup calculator located near the bottom of the page that uses the numbers collected in this article to create a total cost. You can modify it and see what a tattoo setup is worth.

To preface this serious tech-type article, I stole every image on here. They are sourced mostly from Amazon but also Alibaba. Why you ask, because ‘Murica, that’s why!

(Any pros out there should get a laugh out of what I did. If you don’t get it, don’t feel bad. Shoot me a message and I will explain it to you)

What’s the cost of setup?

The cost of setup is how much actual money the artist or studio must spend to create that fine ass tattoo you want to get.

While this may not be forefront in your mind when choosing your tattoo or choosing a place to get tattooed, you should know why and how the shops decide the pricing that affects you, dear reader.

What is the real cost for setting up a tattoo?

All costs found are hopefully the highest prices listed. I refrain from attempting to use a potential midground when selecting prices and hope that the high end of this pricing scheme is more beneficial to all who are concerned. We are also only using disposable supplies in this article. The total cost of reusable products is too variable depending on artist habits and traits. Due to the variability, we chose to ignore pricing reusables.

Onto the costs!

Needle Groupings and cost

You usually need a small needle grouping to do a smaller tattoo while you may have to change or utilize multiple needle groupings for larger tattoos. Taking that into account, create a grading system that allows for additional costs to the tattooer. This will be applied per sitting:

For all small tattoos- (Liner Needle X 1) + (Shader Needle X 1)

For all Medium tattoo sittings – (Liner Needle X 2) + (Shader Needle X 2)

For all Large tattoo sittings – (Liner Needle X 3) + (Shader Needle X 3)

Keep this in mind if you want to play around with the calculator.

Cost of Setup – Needles

Most needles chosen by artists come premade and sterilized, individually blister packed and are single use. They range from single needles to multiple needle configurations.

The fine art of needle making is slowly disappearing from the industry as the options for premade needles become less expensive and a better option for conservation of time. We will not be looking into the costs of making your won needles but, please know, the costs of making your own needles is substantially less than anything listed below. The only cost really is time, and time as we know it, is money.

Onto the costs of needles.

Needle Costs – Liners

Liner needles are used to create borders and fine details inside a tattoo. While some of the larger groupings can cover huge areas quickly, they lack the softness given by a shader needle.

Liner Needle on Bar

Liner Needle on bar

The average cost of a single needle on bar, sterilized is:

 $15.00 per box of 50 needles ($15.00/50 = $0.30 per needle grouping on bar)

The average cost of a standard, 7-needle round grouping, sterilized on bar is:

$25.99 per box of 50 needles ($25.99/50 = $0.52 per needle grouping on bar)

The highest cost (I could find) of a large grouping, like the superior graded 14-needle round liner, sterilized on bar, is:

$83.98 per box of 50 needles ($83.98/50 = $1.68 per needle grouping on bar)

Let’s take those numbers and create and average cost of a liner needle grouping, premade and sterilized on bar, at $0.83 per liner needle.

Liner Cartridges

Liner cartridge

Another type of liner needle used is the cartridge type. These cartridges come premade, blister packed and sterile. We will use the same grading and costs system as we used above to come up with an average.

$10.49 per box of 10 needles ($10.49/10 = $1.05 per needle grouping on bar)

The average cost of a standard, 7-needle round grouping, sterilized on bar is:

$20.20 per box of 10 needles ($20.20/10 = $2.02 per needle grouping on bar)

The highest cost (I could find) of a large grouping, like the superior graded 14-needle round liner, sterilized on bar, i:

$22.40 per box of 10 needles ($22.40/10 = $2.24 per needle grouping on bar)

Let’ take those numbers and create and average cost of a liner needle cartridge as $1.77 per cartridge.

Needle Costs – Shaders

Shader needles (associated mag needles and bug-pin groupings) are used to create gradients and\or fill large areas of skin when working through a tattoo. They lack the tightness of a liner needle and cannot do the same level of detail as the liner needles are capable of.

Shader Needle on Bar

mag needle on bar

The average cost of a shader needle on bar, sterilized is:

 $19.00 per box of 50 needles ($19.00/50 = $0.38 per 5 mag-needle grouping on bar)

The average cost of a standard, 9-needle mag-shader grouping, sterilized on bar is:

$34.94 per box of 50 needles ($34.94/50 = $0.70 per needle grouping on bar)

The highest cost (I could find) of a large grouping, like the superior graded 19–needle shader, sterilized on bar, is:

$83.98 per box of 50 needles ($83.98/50 = $1.68 per needle grouping on bar)

Let’s take those numbers and create and average cost of a shader needle grouping, premade and sterilized on bar, at $0.92 per liner needle.

Shader Cartridges

Mag cartridge

Shader cartridges come in a variety of flavors. They are commonly priced below:

$10.49 per box of 10 needles ($10.49/10 = $1.05 per needle grouping on bar)

The average cost of a standard, 7-needle round grouping, sterilized on bar is:

$20.99 per box of 10 needles ($20.99/10 = $2.10 per needle grouping on bar)

The highest cost (I could find) of a large grouping, like the superior graded 14-needle round liner, sterilized on bar, i:

$23.51 per box of 10 needles ($23.51/10 = $2.35 per needle grouping on bar)

Let’s take those numbers and create and average cost of a shader needle cartridge as $1.83 per cartridge.

Now that needles are taken care of, lets move onto the cost of inks (pigments).

Cost of Setup – Tattoo Tubes

Tattoo tubes are used with needle bars. They act like reservoirs for the pigment when transferring between the ink caps (listed next section below) and the skin. They also control the oscillating motion (up and down) the machine provides.

Tattoo Tubes and grip sizes - Taken from Painful Pleasures

Tattoo Tubes – Disposable Costs

The cost of tubes ranges from $0.69, up to $2.50, per unit (with some single units priced at $25.00 being deemed an outlier). The average price being $1.50 per tube. Cartridge machines do not need separate tubes

Cost of Setup – Ink

On average, a single ounce (oz.) of tattoo ink runs around $8.00-$9.00. Taking

 into account that a single square inch of your skin takes roughly 1/25 oz. of pigment to fully saturate. The normal, small sized ink cap (#9) requires 1/25 oz. to fill.

Choosing Ink Caps

When setting up for the tattoo, the artists should pick and fill the appropriate sized ink cap. I personally use only #9 ink caps. One big reason why is dipping.

When working on skin that is being tattooed the needles and tube pick up things that are being excreted by the skin. Your body dumps exudate, a substance made up of cells and fluid ejected during an inflammatory response (like what happens during tattooing). This fluid waters down the pigment you are placing and, when dipping into the ink caps, dilutes your pure pigment.

Back to the math, lets give the average ink cap used a total value.

#9 ink cap filled – average – $0.36 per cap

When doing larger compositions or tattoos that require multiple colors, the cost can be multiplied by how many ink caps are used during the duration.

Cost of Setup – Disposables

Here is a list and the total cost associated with the average disposables used in a tattoo.

Gloves

Gloves are a must have when doing a tattoo. The good thing about the (past keeping you clean and safe from infection) is their low cost. The industry standard is using nitrile, latex free gloves, at a 4 mil. thickness.

 Nitrile Gloves

The average cost for a box of gloves is around $8.50. You may be able to find them at different prices based on your location globally. My location dictates these price estimates.

Cost per glove used during a tattoo is $0.01 ($8.50/1000 per case = $0.0085)

Razors

Razors are used to prep the skin by removing hair from the procedure site. This keeps the needles clean and free from plugs (image a round grouping filled with broken hairs. It forces the needle into a new shape which is not round) and allows better adherence for dressing adhesives after the tattoo is finished.

A razor

**An aside –> There is evidence that using a razor is not as effective as clippers when prepping a site for any procedure. Clippers have been show through meta-analysis to have better results at keeping infections at bay.**

Razors cost on average $0.09 per unit ($52.50/600 per case = $0.0875).

If you are a very hairy person, or are getting a large area prepped, you may use more than a single razor per tattoo session.

Dental Bibs

Dental bibs are used to cover prep areas, clean sites for placing instruments and other spaces that may encounter bodily fluids.

Dental Bibs

Dental bibs cost on average $0.05 per unit ($23.95/500 per case = $0.0479)

I use at minimum 1 dental bib per procedure. On average 3 per tattoo session but each artist has different habits.

Drop Sheets

Drop sheets are larger than dental bibs and are used to cover procedure areas.

The cost of a drop sheet per unit, on average, is $0.52 ($78.00/150 per case)

I use a single drop sheet every tattoo.

Clip cord Sleeves

These are used to cover and protect the cord that powers the tattoo machine. While you have two options when choosing to purchase these disposable covers, I will stick with the precut option.

On average a clip cord sleeve costs $0.02 per unit ($28.50/1500 per case = $0.019)

Bottle Covers

Bottle covers… cover bottles. They look like ziplock baggies without the ziplock. Surprisingly, there were little to no usable pictures from Alibaba or Amazon I wanted to throw up here.

The average bottle cover costs $0.02 per unit ($25.50/1500 per case = $0.017)

I typically use 4 bottle covers per tattoo. 2 for each wash bottle.

Barrier Film

Whether it be a load of saran wrap (not up to industry standard) or proper tack-back barrier film, this is used to cover things that may be a weird shape or are unable to be fitted with a cover.

Barrier Film

A roll of barrier film (tack-back) costs $0.01 per sheet. ($45.00/4500 sheets = $0.01)

I typically use 5-10 pieces a tattoo.

Plastic (or Clingwrap) is used by many artists. Go to Costco and you can find the megalithic rolls for sale at a cost of around $15.00 for 36,000 sq/ft. That’s equivalent to 4.16^e-4 per sq/ft. (Jesus that’s cheap… No wonder they last 6-12 months when used frequently)

A&D\Vaseline

This product is used to fix ink caps to a station and lubricate the skin during a procedure. (hydrophilic substances repel the water-based pigments so they don’t dye the skin during a procedure)

A box of A&D packets

The individual packets are priced at $0.07 per unit ($63.00/864 per case = $0.07292).

I typically use a single packet for a small tattoo, 2-3 for a medium sized tattoo sitting and 4-5 (or more) for a large sitting.

Face Mask

Face masks should be used in every tattoo session. While most tattooers do not, those who sit especially close to the skin they are working on should really consider getting some. (wear a plastic face shield for a day tattooing and see how much crap gets built up on the outside of it).

Face masks cost around $0.09 per unit ($4.50/50 per box = $0.09)

I am guilty of using face masks only occasionally but after reading this number… I feel obliged to start wearing them for every client.

Disposable Sleeves

Disposable sleeves are used to cover the arms during a procedure. These are key to infection control like the above stated face masks.

Disposable sleeves cost around $0.07 per unit ($7.00/100 per bag = $0.07)

Tongue Depressors

While I do not utilize tongue depressors, many people do. They are used to get products out of containers or move things around in the procedure and equipment site. They are sticks and I hope that all artists get the sterilized version.

A sterilized tongue depressor costs $0.04 per unit ($25.50/600 per case = $0.0425).

Aprons

Aprons keep our clothes clean and are essential for infection control. Please don’t use leather aprons as they cannot be properly disinfected!

Disposale apron

Disposable aprons cost around $0.10 per unit ($9.99/100 per box = $0.0999)

Rinse Cups

These are used to rinse out the tubes when switching between pigments (inks). They are also used by some as a way to wet towels to clean an area during a tattoo (better infection control)

Rinse cups are cheap, and you can get them everywhere. They way to make thee a bit more expensive was to price Red Solo Cups. I know, that is ridiculous.

Rinse cups cost $0.05 per unit ($12.99/240 per bag = $0.054125)

Bandages – Dri-Loc

Dri Loc bandages

Used to cover a tattoo after the procedure. (I have left out the Tegaderm/Saniderm pricing for now. Maybe I’ll add it into the spreadsheet if people call for it.)

Dri-loc bandages cost roughly $0.07 per unit ($41.70/600 per case = $0.0695)

These cover roughly 12 sq/in (or 3 inches linear) of skin when used.

Medical Tape

Medical tape

Used to stick stuff to you or things!

Medical tape costs around $0.13 per yard of 1-inch wide tape. ($93/720 yard per case = $0.12917)

I split the 1-inch thick piece in half and use the two bits for a small tattoo (approx.)

Cohesive Bandages

cohesive bandages

Many artists are using these to pad their machine tubes.

Cohesive bandages cost approximately $0.18 per yard ($32.95/180 yards per case = $0.1830 per yard)

Paper Towels

Paper towels

We use a lot of paper towels in the industry. Most choices are not similar to the Scott Blue Shop Towels some artists use, but those are the most expensive, so they are determining prices here.

Shop towels cost around $0.03 per sheet ($17.99/550 sheets per case = $0.032709)

I can admit that the shop towels do last longer, that price is just nuts! So here is another cost analysis of Costco brand paper towels, per sheet

Costco Brand Paper Towels cost $0.01 ($18.99/1920 sheets per case = $0.00989) àLiterally 30% the price so stop using those shop towel ya wierdos! (It’s still not as wild as the pre-packaged sterile towles that go for $0.25 per sheet)

Disinfectant Wipes

These are used to clean up the area and disinfect all surfaces exposed or used during a procedure.

I’ll use Opti-cide3 wipes versus any you-make solutions as I really like the brand and I don’t know how you mix your solutions.

Per sheet, Opti-cide3 costs nearly $0.09 ($105.00/1200 sheets per case = $0.0875)

Cost of Setup – Non-Disposables

This is going to get a little tricky. I am going to get assumptive here and apply lifetime values to various things so we can get a depreciation value that applies to a single tattoo. These may be far from correct and if so, I apologize.

Machines

This one is going to get me in trouble… I know it.

Coil Machines

coil tattoo machine

Coil machines, if used properly and have their routine maintenance done by someone who knows what they are doing, last forever. Seriously. The average price for a decent machine runs from $250-500 and they last 30 years. Springs are about the only thing that breaks on these machine types and those cost around $2.00 to purchase. I have had springs last 5 years at a stretch.

Cost per tattoo @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.05.

{[$500/(365*30)]+[(6*2)/(365*30)]} = $0.046758

Rotary Machines

rotary tattoo machine

Rotary machines have a variable lifespan. Their DC motors have something called a mean time to failure (MTTF) which can make assumptions about how long the motor will last. I won’t go into detail about how you should run your machines but, be warned: The larger the grouping and bigger the needle (larger load placed on the machine) the shorter it’s lifespan will be. I have had a rotary for a few years and have been murderous to it. In 3-years I have replaced the motor once. A replacement motor cost me about $15.00. If the wiring starts to go you are in for a whole new model.

The Rotary machines run about the same price as a coil-based machine and can have an assumed lifespan for those not mechanically inclined of 5-7 years.

Cost per tattoo @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.21.

{[$500/(365*7)]+[(15*2)/(365*7)]} = $0.2074388

Cartridge Machines

cartridge tattoo machine

These are dressed up rotary machines with a great ability to run smooth and act like a coil machine. The issue with these machines comes from their smaller load capacity and higher initial load placed on the motors. Remember above? The MTTF is dictated by load forces exerted on the machines during use. Higher load = Shorter lifespan.

Cartridge machines run around $500 and have a lifespan of 1-3 years. Replacement repairs are free if the device is deemed worthy by manufacturer. You are still stuck with the shipping costs for rebuilding/replacement which is around $30.

Cost per tattoo @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.46.

[$500/{3*365)] = $0.456621

Power Supplies

National Tattoo Power SUPPLY!

A good power supply should last you forever. I have a friend who is 3rd gen with an analogue National “brick” power supply. It cost him $100 bucks. My power supply is digital and cost around $250 and feels kind of cheap. If I get 5 years out of it, I will be happy.

Cheap Power Supply

Just like everything in life now-a-days, manufactured obsolescence is a part of any new purchase.  You can expect a half-decent power supply to last 3-5 years and at a cost around $250 per unit.

Cost per operation of tattoo power supply per day is approximately $0.14.

($250/(5*365)] = $0.1369863

Clip Cords

Clip cords connect the machine to the power supply. They come in a couple varieties such as 2 prong, RCA, Phono, etc. Clip cords commonly cost $20 and have a lifetime of around 5 years.

The cost per day of using a clip cord @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.01

[20/(5*365)] = $0.0109589

Foot Switches

tattoo foot switch

Foot switches connect to the power supply and are used to operate the tattoo machine. Foot switches commonly cost $50 and have a lifespan of 10 years if cleaned and maintained.

The cost of operating a foot switch per day @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.01

[50/(10*365)] = $0.01369863

Arm Rests

Tattoo arm Rest

This shop furniture is used to prop body parts up for easy access during a procedure. Arm rests cost approximately $150 and have a usable lifespan of around 15 years. Longer if they are well maintained.

The cost of using an armrest per day @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.03

[150/(15*365)] = $0.02739726

Massage Tables

Massage Table

Massage tables are going to be listed here versus barber chairs because I hate moving barber chairs.

The average massage table costs $250 and has a lifespan of around 10 years if cared for properly.

The cost of using a massage table for tattooing @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.07

[250/(10*365)] = $0.0684931

Lamps

Medical Lamp

Lamps are bright. We use them and they need bulbs. The LED lightbulbs they utilize now in these exam lamps are rad and have a lifespan of nearly 10 years. Which, coincidently, is about the same lifespan of the fixture. Exam lamps run around $170.

The cost of using an exam lamp for tattooing @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.04

{$150/(10*365)] = $0.04109589

Cost of Setup Calculator

I did up a little calculator on Google Sheets. It can be clumsy but it works well.

Here’s the link – It’s external and hosted on Google Sheets:

 

Some Questions about Cost of Setup

Let’s toss out a few questions that I have heard from clients regarding the cost of setup . Here is a few that I have heard to start us off:

All shops charge the same rate near where I live… Isn’t this an industry standard?

No. There is no industry standard that dictates what a shop or artist can charge. On average, shops and artists charge what is common to keep competition focused on artwork or style. This way most of the shops in an area fill a specific demand and leave little for those less qualified.

Why would we want to talk about the costs with the artist? It makes me uncomfortable to discuss money!

If you are concerned about the price or if you have a budget, speak up. There is a need to be upfront with a person that is going to mark you permanently. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing something as trivial as pricing when marking yourself permanently, wait for that tattoo.

They claim to use only the best supplies, is that why the cost is so high?

Most likely not. Sometimes artists charge what they do because they are really good. Other times it is because the area of operation influences the prices.

Think about large cities like New York or San Francisco; would you want to get a tattoo from a person who charges $50 an hour when the tattooers on average charge $250 an hour? Probably not.

Why charge so much

This will be covered in the next article. We have almost hit 4000 words and I bet, dear reader, you need a break.

Go, have fun looking at the cost of setup and don’t break my fucking calculator!

Like, Share and Comment if you feel like a real badass.

Thanks!

 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus
Website: https://tattooartistsblog.com
https://www.instagram.com/rian_othus


 

Body Mapping Tattoos– Basic Version #1

Body Mapping – Artist Version

Hello artists! Today we are going to be looking into the allusive body mapping techniques used by the great artists worldwide. This isn’t a complete, in depth article but more of an introduction into the world of mapping. Sit tight and get ready to practice your hands off. This topic is crazy difficult to wrap your head around when designing tattoos but gets easier with practice.

Introduction to Body Mapping

Have you ever seen a tattoo on the web, social media or in real life, that just looks good? The subject matter may be simple and the work may be mediocre but there is something about that tattoo that just… well it works!

More than likely the tattoo you are seeing has been place well by a skilled and knowledgeable artist. Their understanding of simple skin mapping can take an ordinary design to new levels by having it work with the body.

Concepts to know before moving on

Focal Points:

A point in a design where you want the viewer to focus. It usually has a great amount of detail and has the job of explaining the design to the viewer. Are you tattooing a humming bird and flowers with a washed-out background? What part of that tattoo would you like people to focus on? The bird, the background or the flowers? Whatever the choice is, dump your details into that part of the design. By doing so the viewer will be directed to look at that part of the image first. The other aspects of the design will fill in the blanks and create a whole composition.

Transitions:

Aspects of the design that lead a viewer through the design. If you want to join multiple focal points, use these transitions to point and flow between every focal point. They can be subtle bits of soft shading or a foreground element that literally points to the focal point you want to be seen.

Viewpoint:

This is where, when the body is at rest, the focal point is viewable.

We now have that cleared up so, what is placement and why does it matter in tattooing?

Body Mapping Basics – Elements

The skin

The skin is an amazing organ. It covers our bodies, keeps us warm and makes sure we don’t get sick from all the pathogens that lurk in every crevice of our existence. It also carries those rad designs we cover our bodies with. While I won’t go into detail about the mechanics of the skin and how pigment interacts with it, I can tell you that your skin and how it interacts with your underlying tissues and bones influences how the tattoo will look once completed.

Look at my best friend’s forearm in all its glory!

A Forearm

To the untrained eye, it is just an arm. I want you, the studious tattoo artist, to look at bit deeper and compare it to your arm.

Ask Yourself

  • Is your arm and theirs the same?
  • Do you have the same skin?
  • Is it the same length?
  • No to all the above. That was a simple set of answers, right?!

Body Mapping – We are not the same

If this arm and yours are not the same, how can we accurately place the same tattoo on both of your forearms and have them produce the same effect?

The answer is you cannot. There would have to be some modifications done so that any and all designs are custom fit to each client. This is the true idea behind “custom tattooing”. It has little to do with artwork that is custom made (anyone can draw an anchor), the tattoo is supposed to be custom tailored to the individual. It is supposed to fit the contours and movement of the specific individual. In the case of a custom tattoo, it is one size fits one.

Things under the skin that influence tattoo designs.

The Muscles

What is underneath your skin? Yes, that is correct, muscles and bones. Muscles are responsible for your ability to move through the world. Your mass and strength can influence how your tattoo ages and how it is viewed by the world. Simply put, the muscles underneath your skin create hills and valleys that can distort an/or create movement in a design.

Do not let this deter you though; knowing how these will influence the movement of your tattoo can add to the aesthetic and decrease the awkward effects of aging.

Bones

What is everything stacked on inside your body. Bones. They add structure and support, so you don’t end up a gelatinous mass, quivering on the floor. The bones are connected to the muscles by tendons, and to each other with ligaments. All that gooey mess inside your badass self is covered by your skin and gives you structure so you can move through the world.

What’s on top

Hair

Some people are sasquatches. That dense blanket of fur can affect how you view the image. Want to use a bug pin single to line this crispy daisy tattoo on ol’ biker Tom? Think again. That hair acts as a buffer that distorts any image you put into a person’s skin.

Scars

Burns, scrapes, cuts and gunshots. These marks left over by your lazy ass body trying to fix some nasty wound can affect the results of your tattooing effort.

Knowing how the skin reacts to stress, as well as how it changes with age, will help you plan the perfect “custom” tattoo for your client, because we know “custom” means “custom fit!”

Light details about what’s underneath

The muscles:

The muscles are a variable that changes constantly in all people. If you start working out, stop working out, get hurt or, as is the inevitability of all humans, age, your muscles will change in size and affect the skin above it. If that is so, how do we include this ever-changing variable into the design concept and placement?

First, look at the muscles in the area you are placing a tattoo. The muscle groupings have a stacked effect and create a crisscross pattern over most body parts. Where the lines following the muscle groups meet, a grid of offset perpendicular lines is formed.

Those perpendicular lines that form by tracing the edges of the muscles, gives you what I call distortion areas. These points are prone to movement whenever a person flexes or extends this part of their body.

Movement and body mapping

If you rotate your arm, pull or push your hand or grasp something with your fingers, those muscles are going to move. These lines can be placed anywhere the client may want to be tattooed as they all are boundaries as to where a muscle will affect the skin above it.

Putting a focal point or a static part of the image you are working with on top of these lines will create distortion whenever the person moves, so avoid that. These areas are best left for organic shapes and transitional elements of the tattoo that would benefit from distortion.

Work with the body

If you must place part or all of a focal point on top of a distortion area, do your best to place whatever curve or organic shape in line with what is going to move. It will cause a distortion but placing an aspect of the tattoo which is contrasting to the natural curves and movements of the body will make the final tattoo look out of place and age it prematurely.

The appendages

Keep in mind that any point between 2 joints creates stress to the skin with muscles contraction. Your hands and feet are the greatest example of this as they are highly mobile, have many bones and a ton of muscles.

Moving in closer to the heart, the forearms and lower legs have a higher incidence of torsion stress (twisting). You can see the torsion stress decreases as you move further in. Look at the gastrocnemius in the legs or the brachioradialis, flexors and extensors of the arm. The lines that they draw across those areas of the body show a distinct increase of torsion the further you move past them however, they are easily dealt with if approached correctly.

Connecting to the core

The upper thigh (quadriceps on the front and hamstrings in the back) and upper arm (biceps on the front and triceps on the back) create a great amount of compression stress. Images placed here will crush and stretch to a higher degree than the other parts of the extremities.

The buttocks and Iliac muscles, The shoulders and chest

You can apply the same tracing aspects when mapping the buttocks or shoulder. The leg areas are broad, flat and have torsion and compression stress. The shoulders work in tandem with the back and chest to rotate the upper arm so you get a good amount of torsion stress when those are engaged. You also get a ton of compression on an image when someone lifts their arm in the air.

Remember to pay attention to the amount of compressions and movement each of the places on the body exert.

The chest and back, midsection and neck

This shit stretches and twists a lot. These parts of the body are hypermobile, like the fingers, when compared to the upper and lower extremities.

We will go into greater depth later in this article about how those movements affect your design, so read on!

“For those that want an in depth look at muscles and how they interact with our body, follow this link”

<link>< https://www.visiblebody.com/learn/muscular/muscle-movements>

For more information.

The Bones

While the bones are relatively static throughout our adult lives, they grow and change constantly during our childhood and early adult years. The bones behind an image being placed onto the skin create stresses that modify the image. Look at how the bones connect at different pivot points, and with your new knowledge of how muscles work, see how the bones and their attachments affect the movement of muscles.

We attach a straight line to any bone when mapping that follows its course and a circle for any junction point that they attach to (joints).

For an in depth look at how the bones age follow this link

<link> < https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991386/>

To an article about bones and aging.

Onto Body Mapping

This may seem like a large order, asking an artist to take the initiative in understanding what is going on with the placement of the tattoo, but there is a reason for such a task to be undertaken by you, dear reader. If you gain a working knowledge of this practice your tattoos will be better fit to the body, legible from a distance and age better than others place incorrectly.

Let’s look at my besties arm again:

A forearm with no markings.

Imagine how the muscles contract and where things twist or bend. Where do the muscles underneath the skin cause distortions that could affect a tattoo. Do you notice something unique? How do you feel it is best to approach this aspect of mapping?

Let’s go into the paint program on my phone and start detailing a few aspects of this arm.

Body Mapping- What to look for.

As stated before, the joints on the body are usually denoted with a circle when mapping designs on the body.

A forearm with basic mapping done.

The muscles create perpendicular lines that traverse the section of body you are working with and move in opposite directions

The bones create the limitations in movement and structure that effects the muscles under the skin.

Creating a mess

If we put all of these together, you end up with a bit of a mess. It kind of looks like a demonic symbol, eh?

A forearm with all aspects that cause distortion mapped onto the skin.

I know, I may have lost you there but stick with me as you already know about the muscles, how they move and what stresses the exert on the body. We can utilize our knowledge to create a complex image that will age well.

Mapping with foreground and background elements

We use something that approximates a distorted figure 8, a loose “s” curve or infinity symbol, when mapping out a design that is custom fit for the body

Finding Muscle Lines

By utilizing the muscles, and their contraction lengths, we can map and place foreground and background elements. Trace the flow of each muscle grouping you are working with and find the points that the muscles crisscross to create perpendicular lines.

A forearm with a basic mapping done by the elbow.

The perpendicular lines create the crossover you see above. Those lines and where they cross over each other can be made into directional foreground or background elements in a tattoo design. These secondary elements can be utilized to create movement through and around an image by placing them on top of the muscle contraction lines you had mapped out (the dotted lines with arrows above).

Creating Flow

These flow lines indicate movement through the design and are able to move with the muscles as they contract or extend, giving the applied tattoo the ability to breathe and move with the person as the interact with their world and age. The flow lines also create a way of bypassing the joints that move through the appendages, so the designs can continue past the normal boundaries applied by the mobile joints.

A koi fish tattoo with foreground and background elements.

Finding Focal Points

Back to the arm again. I drew directly onto my friends skin to show you how i would approach finding the focal point areas and mapping where we can place those focal points to create multiple viewpoints.

A forearm mapped with marker.

I start mapping the body with finding the joints and drawing on an organic line that follows the contraction points along a muscle grouping.

One thing to notice is that the focal points aren’t aligned. This is important because the points where you want to put detail inside a tattoo aren’t competing for space.

To explain image focal point competition:

When you have a design placed that has a ton of detail occupying the same linear space as another design that is detail packed, your eyes will be forced to pick one.

A problem with competition

Our brains draw an imaginary line through the image that will bisect it as it tries to rectify what it should focus on. If you have multiple detailed designs that are competing for space, the brain (which is lazy) will try to look at both simultaneously.

By doing this the brain takes the competing images in and levels them out on the same plane of space. This makes an image look flat. Contrasting that idea, when you have multiple aspects of the tattoo that are working together with foreground and background elements, you end up with an organic piece that is mapped to the body and moves well with it. It gives depth and dimension to a piece and will work well as the tattoo ages.

(Focal point competition is an advanced concept, so I will leave it at that and explain it further in another article dedicated to design and mapping later.)

Body Mapping and Distortion

Every part of the body you want to tattoo has different muscles that overlay different bones. This technique isn’t relegated to the arms or legs though, all sections of the body can be approached and mapped in the same fashion. Practice mapping out different areas and see how you can manipulate the more static parts located near the transitional areas where muscles contract and extend.

You can take your time and experiment with where each one of the different parts of your tattoo interact with the skin by placing different stencils of the same image onto people’s skin and have them move around with them. Try moving foreground elements higher or lower, change the focal point locations you have worked into the tattoo and see how the design moves when placed onto different parts of the body.

Body Mapping – Conclusion

Taking in all of this information might give you a migraine , so work towards understanding the application slowly. Take a few minutes before and after each design you do and check to see if you can better map it to a body part. Is there anyway you can increase the depth of the image or create better transitions between elements? Is there any competition between your focal points? Does you image look good from a distance as well as up close?

If you are lucky enough to have a tablet for producing artwork, take some pictures of legs and arms and back etc. and start drawing design directly mapped to body parts.

In conclusion

This is the end of the introduction article. We are working on a complete guide to body mapping right now and will post it once we get it finished.

Let us know how we are doing.

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Or, send us an email with a critique or recommendation for an article.

 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus
Website: https://tattooartistsblog.com
https://www.instagram.com/rian_othus


 

 

Tattoo Checklist – Artist Version

We present to you the tattooing checklist for you tattooers, tattoo artists, tat bros and kitchen magicians! As you may notice after reading this article, there is no Teen Vogue esq writing. This is straight to the point and not dressed up. There is also a printable version at the end of the document.

Today we will be going over a simple checklist for your upcoming tattoo appointments. Let us skip past the initial consultation stage and assume you already have your deposit, an agreed upon art piece and time booked for the appointment.

2 Days Before the Tattoo Appointment

  • Check in with your client. Has something come up where they cannot make the appointment? Are they sick? Are they nervous?
  • Do they have any changes that they want to see in the design? Find out and get to work when you have a chance.
  • Get all drawings done and sent off, if needed to the client for approval.
  • Amend any pricing at this time and come to an agreement as to what the final price is, if changed.

The Night Before the Tattoo Appointment

  • Get your client information setup. I use manila folders to keep all of the artwork, client contact information etc. on hand. If you utilize any cloud-based appointment applications, Google Calendar, OneDrive or if you store everything on your tablet.
  • Sterilize all equipment that you will need for the coming day.
  • If you are industrious, prepare the stencil and set it aside in a safe, clean location, for tomorrow’s work.

The Day of the Tattoo Appointment

  • Get ready. Clean your space, disinfect everything.
  • Get all positioning of furniture done and do a simple mockup of what you are going to use for the tattoo.
  • Throw down a dental bib, stack the pigments, machines, needles, tubes, wash bottles as well as whatever else you need for the tattoo.
  • Do not get setup yet.

The Client’s Arrival

  • Greet your client and go over everything that you plan to do for this session.
  • Ask if they have any questions about what is going to take place, if they have any concerns about the design, placing and pain.
  • Keep them occupied as you clean and prep the area to be tattooed.
  • Do a quick muscular mapping and get that stencil on their body.

The Setup

  • Setup all equipment in from of the client.
  • Break open needles and tubes so they can see that you are using clean gear.
  • Dispense pigments and break off some paper towels so you aren’t pulling from the roll.
  • Stay clean and wear gloves. Change them as needed to ensure sterility.

The Tattoo Procedure

  • Do what you do, when you tattoo.
  • Treat the encounter like an Uber ride. Let your client dictate the pace of conversation, topics to be discussed and when the breaks should be taken.
  • If you must answer phones, keep it to the shop line only and make sure to deglove when picking up the handset.
  • Keep your music to a level that doesn’t interfere with the ability to talk if needed. Better yet, let the client decide what you should listen to and how loud it should be.
  • Put your phone on silent and don’t check it while active in the procedure. If you need to check your phone, do so during a break.

Break Time

  • Take only necessary breaks during the tattoo.
  • 5 minutes or less every 1.5-2 hours, if needed.
  • 1 longer break at 3-4 hours in (30-45 minutes for a meal)
  • Stay off social media and your phone. You will lose track of time.
  • Make an effort to check in with your client during this time to see if everything is good with them. Ask questions and ensure they understand where you are in the process.

The Breakdown

  • Discuss your aftercare in detail with the client and answer any questions they may have regarding the care of their tattoo.
  • Clean hand. Dirty Hand.
  • Break down and don’t get a needle stick.
  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces.
  • Sweep and mop your area.
  • Take out the garbage if you utilize an open-top trash receptacle and replace trash bag.
  • File all relevant paperwork in the DONE pile.

Collecting Payment

  • Ask them how the experience was and anything they feel you could improve upon.
  • Give any media links, business cards and aftercare sheets.
  • Get your Google, Yelp or business reviews.
  • Collect payment. If you are a soloist, contracted artist who handles payments or at a convention, give the client time to offer a tip without any leading.
  • Setup any additional appointments as needed.
  • Take a picture of your work.

After They Leave

  • Start post work on any images collected, if you do such things.
  • Post to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter at your normal intervals with what you accomplished, if necessary.
  • Keep artwork and photos in relevant client folder / cloud location.
  • Send outreach email if needed to client 1-2 weeks after completion.
  • If needed, schedule a touch-up.

Tattoo Checklist – Artist Version

We present to you the tattooing checklist for you tattooers, tattoo artists, tat bros and kitchen magicians! As you may notice after reading this article, there is no Teen Vogue esq writing. This is straight to the point and not dressed up. There is also a printable version at the end of the document.

Today we will be going over a simple checklist for your upcoming tattoo appointments. Let us skip past the initial consultation stage and assume you already have your deposit, an agreed upon art piece and time booked for the appointment.

2 Days Before the Tattoo Appointment

  • Check in with your client. Has something come up where they cannot make the appointment? Are they sick? Are they nervous?
  • Do they have any changes that they want to see in the design? Find out and get to work when you have a chance.
  • Get all drawings done and sent off, if needed, to the client for approval.
  • Amend any pricing at this time and come to an agreement as to what the final price is, if changed.

The Night Before the Tattoo Appointment

  • Get your client information setup. I use manila folders to keep all of the artwork, client contact information etc. on hand. If you utilize any cloud-based appointment applications, Google Calendar, OneDrive or if you store everything on your tablet.
  • Sterilize all equipment that you will need for the coming day.
  • If you are industrious, prepare the stencil and set it aside in a safe, clean location, for tomorrow’s work.

The Day of the Tattoo Appointment

  • Get ready. Clean your space, disinfect everything.
  • Get all positioning of furniture done and do a simple mockup of what you are going to use for the tattoo.
  • Throw down a dental bib, stack the pigments, machines, needles, tubes, wash bottles as well as whatever else you need for the tattoo.
  • Do not get setup yet.

The Client’s Arrival

  • Greet your client and go over everything that you plan to do for this session.
  • Ask if they have any questions about what is going to take place, if they have any concerns about the design, placement or pain.
  • Keep them occupied as you clean and prep the area to be tattooed.
  • Do a quick muscular mapping and get that stencil on their body.

The Setup

  • Setup all equipment in from of the client.
  • Break open needles and tubes so they can see that you are using clean gear.
  • Dispense pigments and break off some paper towels so you aren’t pulling from the roll.
  • Stay clean and wear gloves. Change them as needed to ensure sterility.

The Tattoo Procedure

  • Do what you do, when you tattoo.
  • Treat the encounter like an Uber ride. Let your client dictate the pace of conversation, topics to be discussed and when the breaks should be taken.
  • If you must answer phones, keep it to the shop line only and make sure to deglove when picking up the handset.
  • Keep your music to a level that doesn’t interfere with the ability to talk if needed. Better yet, let the client decide what you should listen to and how loud it should be.
  • Put your phone on silent and don’t check it while active in the procedure. If you need to check your phone, do so during a break.

Break Time

  • Take only necessary breaks during the tattoo.
  • 5 minutes or less every 1.5-2 hours, if needed.
  • 1 longer break at 3-4 hours in (30-45 minutes for a meal)
  • Stay off social media and your phone. You will lose track of time.
  • Make an effort to check in with your client during this time to see if everything is good with them. Ask questions and ensure they understand where you are in the process.

The Breakdown

  • Discuss your aftercare in detail with the client and answer any questions they may have regarding the care of their tattoo.
  • Clean hand. Dirty Hand.
  • Break down and don’t get a needle stick.
  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces.
  • Sweep and mop your area.
  • Take out the garbage if you utilize an open-top trash receptacle and replace trash bag.
  • File all relevant paperwork in the DONE pile.

Collecting Payment

  • Ask them how the experience was and anything they feel you could improve upon.
  • Give any media links, business cards and aftercare sheets.
  • Get your Google, Yelp or business reviews.
  • Collect payment. If you are a soloist, contracted artist who handles payments or at a convention, give the client time to offer a tip without any leading.
  • Setup any additional appointments as needed.
  • Take a picture of your work.

After They Leave

  • Start post work on any images collected, if you do such things.
  • Post to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter at your normal intervals with what you accomplished, if necessary.
  • Keep artwork and photos in relevant client folder / cloud location.
  • Send outreach email if needed to client 1-2 weeks after completion.
  • If needed, schedule a touch-up.
 

 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus
Website: https://tattooartistsblog.com
https://www.instagram.com/rian_othus


 

Tattoo Bros: My Thoughts. Tattoo Artist Version

This is my first article and it’s about tattoo bros. My first article is what I hope to be a recurring effort regarding the state and my personal interpretation of the tattoo industry. While this article is filled with sarcasm, I hit my actual point at the end. I hope it is entertaining and informative. SOOOO, here we go.

 

The Tattoo Bro

Hello tattoo artists! While this post is focused more on you than the clients, I will be doing up a similar post that is client-centric soon. This week’s article is based off a simple question I ask every client who comes in to get tattooed:

If a stylist treated you like most tattooers treat their clients, would you let them do your hair?”

I know this may seem like a silly question but, really, where are we in the industry right now?

 

So, you may be a tattoo bro?

I have found the overarching theme of “Tattoo Bros” permeating my conversations and consultations recently, and it concerns me. What is a Tattoo Bro? Let me give you a few examples my clients gave me:

 

  1. They wear Affliction and Ed Hardy shirts with bedazzled pants/jeans.
  2. They are beyond well coiffed and smell of aftershave and cologne heavily.
  3. Their shops play metal/deathcore/Limp Bizkit on repeat all day.
  4. They drive expensive cars with loud exhaust and post pictures of said cars instead of tattoos or artwork on social media.
  5. They use Facebook. Like, they really use it.
  6. They do one style. THEIR STYLE
  7. They may carry a gun.
  8. They expect the world wants to get in their pants. That includes you, dear reader.

This list goes on and on, but I should leave it there. I fear that I may summon a Tattoo Bro by speaking of their person so specifically. To summon one, you would be suddenly be surprised… like…

LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU, HE’S WEARING 27 GOLD CHAINS AND IS SINGING AVENGED SEVENFOLD!”

“OH SHIT, HE’S COMING. HE WANTS TO TALK ABOUT HIS DOG AND HOW VULNERABLE HE IS AFTER HIS BREAKUP!”

 

tatbro1-buzzfeed2
The Ultimate Tattoo Bro https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/does-adam-levines-tattoo-spell-bro-with-his-nipple-as-the-o/

 

The prrroooooofffff – AKA We have one spotted.

OK, before I go off the rails and start writing a movie plot, let’s get back to reality.

You can’t summon Tattoos Bros, and to be honest, the majority of them aren’t all that bad. It’s just that they seem to be so common, and, like shit, the bad floats to the top and sticks out, hence this article.

These specific people (Tattoo Bros) use the industry as a way puff up their ego. The infamous rock star. Inside of the industry we can usually spot them quickly, whether at a convention, in public or by chance meeting when they stroll into the shop looking for a guest spot. They stick out pretty readily and I don’t know if it is because they dress/walk like they do, or if you can just feel something that is out of alignment in the universe when they walk past. Regardless of their wraith like tendencies, some people have come to think of these folk as the standard norm inside of tattooing. Helpless clients seek the bros out and expect little regarding the experience. You just sit down, shut up, don’t make eye contact and get an overpriced tattoo that is (hopefully) excellent in quality.

That was, like, the introduction. Shit. Maybe I can go back and edit this before it goes live… onto the body of this sucker.

Now that we have identified the Tattoo Bro, let us posit the simple comparison again:

“If your hair dresser/stylist were to treat you the way a tattoo artist does, would you let them style/cut your hair?”

This may seem like a trivial thought experiment but i assure you there is a bit of meat here to chomp on.

 

Tattoo Bros – It’s a service not a style

We tattooers work in the service industry. Our product is a form of art that you, our friendly and discerning clientele, will sport for your lifetime (if all goes well). Our product may speak for itself but, we as tattooers, have come to a point where service is focused upon lastly and the idea of being an artist is paramount. What do I mean by that? Well, to start, how many friends do you know that have gotten a tattoo? Lots right! Out of those friends, how many of them openly talk about how wonderful the entire experience was, not just the end result? This is where we as tattoo artists, tattooers, ink slingers, tat gods and rock stars need to focus our attention.

 

man holding tattoo machine and tattooing person arm
Photo by Djordje Petrovic on Pexels.com

Our clients don’t have to put up with shitty experiences when getting worked on ( I am speaking to the bros). In fact, they have the right to enjoy the entirety of the process. They should be educated about what we are doing and why we are doing it. They should know, not intuit, what is going to happen to their bodies. If we take the time and do our jobs, which are in the service industry, the clientele should walk away better, well informed and content with their choice of artist rather than being upset with the one they are saddled with.

So how do we do that? Let’s break down a single tattoo and redesign the encounter focusing on the client instead of our own egos.

 

The Process

 

A walk-in for the tattoo bros

The conversation starts with either a walk-in consultation or the bread-and-butter walk-in tattoo. Most commonly, in what I have seen, a short conversation comes about by a befuddled tattoo artist and a tuned up client. (tuned up can be translated as excited, scared, worried, sad etc… maybe I should have used emotional?) This conversation is kept as brief as possible. The ego of the tattoo artist involved slowly takes over and their inner monologue descends into grief, disturbing imagery and thoughts of escape, yet they are tempered by the idea of making some actual money. Here, they smile and take the information given to the back to start drafting a tattoo leaving the client to wait in their own emotionally charged mind.

Okay. Stop.

 

How it should be done

Here is where a conditioned artist can take a break, they can let go of the inner beast who wishes that a goddamned tat-crazed behemoth of a client would walk in, toss this client aside and ask for a rad tattoo. Something along the lines of Jesus shooting laser eyes while riding a mutant horseradish. They can realign their priorities and focus on their job, not their wants.

To start, address any anxiety or emotional state the client may have. Talk to them like:

You are here for their tattoo,

not,

They are here for your tattoo.

This will create an active and engaged situation. You will be listening to what they are trying to achieve. Ask good questions and get to the root of what they truly want. By doing this you are ensuring that the client will be in a better position to walk away far more content compared to what is now a normal encounter. Take notes, throw out alternative ideas if needed and fully describe what you are capable of and comfortable doing. This is not a time to throw in any bias as to what you think or want to do. The body of the client is their property and they can choose to do whatever they want with it.

 

photo of man riding motorcycle
Photo by Ryan Lim on Pexels.com

 

Next up, consent

This brings me to another thought:

“How can someone give informed consent without knowledge of what they are consenting to?”

To the best of our abilities, we have an obligation as service professionals to adequately inform and educate any clientele or potential clientele. This should be a common practice but I feel that it is overlooked by most people. I won’t jump to any conclusions but I do feel like the egocentric part of being an artist forces us to automatically assume all clients have a vast wealth of knowledge about tattooing. Regardless if they do or do not we can assume they can intuit the answers to simple questions. This is wrong.

Any question that should be asked, should be asked. Don’t bro out, please! We, as an industry need to get into the habit of going through all aspects of the tattoo procedure and work tirelessly to ensure client satisfaction. Some topics that we should cover include:

 

  1. design
  2. application
  3. body mechanics
  4. skin types and tones
  5. musculature and the effects of proper placement

This list is actually pretty long. As I write articles about any of the above topics, I will add to this list and attach links to the posts.

 

The reality of tattoo bros.

I understand, not every tattoo artist works in an elite, top shelf city shop with gilded wall coverings and an international presence. The vast majority work inside a simple street shop and have ambitions of becoming great. Some people really do not have the time to get into the meat and potatoes of a client’s request. Whether is be an overbearing shop owner, stress from life or just a general unwillingness to connect with a client, time is money… Right!? What you can do is create a short checklist that ensures you are doing your due diligence when first connecting with a client.

We know most tattoo bro’s already have these questions at their disposal:

 

  1. Is this your first tattoo?
  2. Why are you getting this tattoo?
  3. Do you have any references of tattoos or tattoo styles you like that you can show me?
  4. Are you open on placement?
  5. Do you like my style (or, I only do this MY WAY)

We should also be asking questions like:

 

  1. Are you scared?
  2. Is there any questions you may have regarding your tattoo?
  3. Do you need any more information regarding my process?
  4. Would you like a more in depth explanation as to why I would choose this style or placement personally?

Reading that second list you can see a difference in feeling with the questions. When you ask more personalized questions, you increase your ability to connect with your clientele. When you do this your client should open up more and become engaged with any discussion topics you may want to cover. They may also be more open to changes, additions and/or style changes you feel more comfortable with.

So we are all happy so far, right?

 

Drawing up the tattoo

Onto the drafting phase. You are out of the clients eye shot /ear shot. Its time to bro’down! Let’s talk some shit about their stupid idea and slam how they dress or how jacked their haircut is!

No. Please. Stop.

Carrying all of that pent up energy will affect your ability to do good work. Walking into a design, you will want to just crush through it, giving little effort or thought about how your lack of care will affect the outcome of this tattoo. So let’s slow down and take a breath. Think back to where you came from.

 

Tattoo Bros – The beginning

Almost all of the artists (tattoo bros included) who attempt to join the elite ranks of the world-famous start out here, on the floor of a walk-in establishment, honing their techniques until they can open their own shop or move to greener pastures.

They (not just tattoo bros) have had a joke apprenticeship (or are self taught) and have had to figure out almost all of their techniques solo, usually by experimentation. This is evident with the young-en’s and tattoo bro’s inside the industry. We have many colloquially abusive names for them, which if you are clever you can probably figure out. To be honest, without any effort you can figure it out. (shithead, duckfucker etc…) While I won’t be going into the idea of apprenticeships and what artists have come to know as the norm in this article, I will jump into it later and put a link here when it is completed.

These new artists and trained artists alike approach their job with the same enamored glee as a stalker lurking in the bushes. Get that money and get that client the fuck out! Turn and burn! Rip that shit!

 

Tattoo Bros – A Comparison

If we were to apply that same talk to any other industry, how would you feel? How would you feel if you were the one being treated like this?

 

Examples!

Plumber: “Well sir/mam, I hate to be contrite but this is my only style of water heater. I know you are without water but its all that I use. It’ll cost you $8000 and please, don’t check its reviews on Amazon or Google.”

Stylist: “Ya, I know its not exactly what you wanted it to look like, but it’s my style and you should have known what you were getting into. Don’t you know who I am!”

Driver: “Well, this is the only route I take. Pay me and get the fuck out of my car.”

I have literally listened to these same arguments given by tattoo artist to their clients. Literally.

 

Custom custom

How would you feel if your home builder just traced a home plan off of Google and started mocking up your custom built home that you saved so much money, for so long, to build? Would you enjoy the “custom” craftsmanship? I think not.

Take your time and focus on what is at hand. Something permanent that is not for you. Have you taken the time to ask questions and get a good feel for the client? Do you know how long they saved to get this tattoo? Are they sacrificing something to pay you for your expertise? Get past your ego and give these paying and possibly adoring fans something that they will enjoy for a lifetime rather than crushing a design off of Google.

 

Tattoo Bros – Get that critique!

So you put in the work. Now it’s time to take that magical walk back up front and get a critique. Take that masterfully crafted design and show it to the client. If they hate your ideas or your style. Give them what they want! Listen to your client! They want a shitty unicorn? Do it. They want you to do 5000 infinity symbols rolling up their torso spelling out “Dank AF”, do it! It is their body, not yours. Unless you have thousands of people hitting you up for your signature style, do what they want. You are not that important or special. Your best practice is to do what they want better than they expect it can be done.

 

In closing

If there are any changes that need to be made, open up that discussion power you established earlier. Discuss any changes and give them feedback on what you think is the best course of action and why you may wish to do it another way. Don’t give inauthentic truths to mollify or manipulate your clients into doing what you want. Give them information and allow the client to take control of their own body.

Now it’s time to discuss pricing.

Shit.

 

Tattoo Bros – Price dat shit.

 

Alion tattoos at different costs. The cheap one is horrible.

Cheezburger Bad Tattoo Supplied this image^^^

Don’t do what your thinking bro. You aren’t that special. Yes, you put in time and effort. Yes you listened to their thoughts and wishes. You were a good person. Don’t up charge your empathy. set an estimate of time based on the best artist’s speed you know of, at the quality you are able to pull off. Unless you discussed an artwork charge prior to the completion of a design, don’t tax your client. Do you charge $100 an hour? Good, charge that and multiply it by how many hours you took to do the tattoo. Simple. That is what we call an estimate. Alright bro, if all parties are in agreement, let’s get onto tattooing.

To be continued!

 

Thumbs Up!

 

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus
Website: https://tattooartistsblog.com
https://www.instagram.com/rian_othus


 

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