What is a Tattoo...?
Well, a common dictionary definition reads;
"A permanent mark or design made on the skin by a process of pricking and ingraining an indelible pigment or by raising scars.
A design made on the skin with a temporary dye such as henna or ink."
Put technically; "A tattoo is a design or marking made by the insertion of a pigment into punctures or cuts in the skin. In technical terms, tattooing is micro-pigment implantation"
Ask almost any Tattoo appreciator though, and they'll likely give you a more heartfelt and individual take on what it means to be Tattooed, how being tattooed represents them, and what having a Tattoo entails. (And they won't just mean sitting still and gritting your teeth for a few hours)
Some tribal cultures traditionally created tattoos by cutting designs into the skin and rubbing the resulting wound with ink, ashes or other agents; some cultures continue this practice, which may be an adjunct to scarification. Some cultures create tattooed marks by hand-tapping the ink into the skin using sharpened sticks or animal bones or, in modern times, needles. Traditional Japanese tattoos (irezumi) are still "hand-poked," that is, the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-made and hand held tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel.
The process can be summarised thus:
The most common method of tattooing in modern times is the electric tattoo machine, which inserts ink into the skin via a group of needles that are soldered onto a bar, which is attached to an oscillating unit. The unit rapidly and repeatedly drives the needles in and out of the skin, usually 80 to 150 times a second. Disposable needles are now available meaning that cross contamination is as close to nil as is reasonably possible bearing in mind the whole process.
The modern electric tattoo machine is far removed from the machine invented by Samuel O'Reilly in 1891. O'Reilly's machine was based on the rotary technology of the electric engraving device invented by Thomas Edison. Modern tattoo machines use electromagnetic coils. The first coil machine was patented by Thomas Riley in London, 1891 using a single coil. The first twin coil machine, the predecessor of the modern configuration, was invented by another Englishman, Alfred Charles South of London, in 1899. It was heavy and was often used with a spring attached to the top of the machine and to the ceiling to take most of the weight off the operators' hand.
Most tattoo guns can control needle depth to almost any degree and thanks to this control, tattooing has become a very precise art form, so precise that facial tattooing has become popular. The procedure is called dermapigmentation or "permanent cosmetics". Basically the machine works similar to alternating current— charge causing magnets to pull downward on a bar, which disconnects the circuit and allows the upward force of a spring to pull the bar upward.
The frame can be of a conductive material such as iron, brass or copper and plastic bushings at the contact points are to be used to isolate the current from the frame. The capacitor regulates current flow. The needle tube provides a grip for the artist's control, and a small reservoir at the tip for ink.
Ink is inserted into the skin via a group of needles that are soldered onto the bar, which is attached to this oscillating unit. The unit rapidly and repeatedly drives the needles in and out of the skin, usually 50 to 3,000 times a minute.
Little wonder then that there is an inevitable degree of pain - some (including myself) class this pain as a pleasure - still hurts but the whole experience makes the pain a sufferable and pleasurable one.