When you are getting a tattoo, for the first or fourth time, you might be wondering what exactly is happening as I stick a needle into your body over and over until we get the pretty picture we want.
Well, bear with me as I remind you of freshman biology (pay attention, there will be a quiz); there are three layers of skin, the epidermis (the outer surface), the dermis (the middle), and the hypodermis (the deepest).
We are chiefly concerned with the middle child of the skin, the dermis. When the ink on the needle is placed into your skin, it needs to be applied to the dermis layer for the pigment to become trapped, this happens because the ink is the perfect size for the body to accept it, it is not big enough to be ejected and not small enough for the body to absorb it *insert Goldilocks joke here*.
Sadly, the body is great at healing itself and as your skin cells naturally die, the trapped ink gets released and is absorbed by the surrounding cells. This is why your tattoo will tend to blur over time. The good news is that tattoo artists, myself included, will use this bio lesson to our advantage and factor it into the designing process (who said that class was useless? not me). This means that we avoid pieces that are too small or cluttered because the details will smudge together and one day you will wake up with a very stylish but sadly unreadable blob.
A good rule of thumb is to look at your potential design and think, how would those lines look if they were made three times thicker? If your answer is “urgh” then consider making the image larger to ensure that you have a piece that just gets better with age.
Now, something that I hear a lot is “Oh, don’t worry, I can just get it touched up later,” while I appreciate that you want to keep money in my wallet, it is not that simple. If the problem was that there was too much ink in an area that is too small, then putting more ink won’t actually help, leading people to need a cover cover-up up or total removal.
For lettering, another good rule to keep in mind is to have the height of the letters at least a half-inch to ensure you have a long-lasting and readable piece. Although everyone can agree that the tiny lettering is cute in theory, keep it off of your skin or you might wake up in ten years with a total mess.