How Do Tattoos Work?

Tattoos are unique and amazing works of art that transcend all other art forms that have been around for thousands of years [Read about History of Tattoos here]. But have you ever wondered, how does tattooing work?  How does this ink stay in my body for the rest of my life?  To be frank, the answers to these questions are quite simple.

How Tattoos Work

Tattooing is a relatively straightforward process that involves ink and an electronically driven needle.  The needle, or groups of tiny needles, punctures the top layers of skin with ink and deposits the ink within the skin. During the process of the tattoo, the punctures occur anywhere from several hundred times to a couple thousand times per minute, in order to create the design. 

How Many Layers Of Skin Does A Tattoo Go Through? 


The skin has two major layers, the epidermis and the dermis. The epidermis is the outer layer and the dermis is just underneath that. When the needle punctures the skin, it goes down into the dermis so that the ink will last. Once in the dermis, it is protected from weathering and will last your whole lifetime! While it may slightly fade with time, the ink is there to stay.

Tattooing Techniques

There are several techniques a tattoo artist can employ to create professional, smooth looking tattoos:

  • Lining: This is one of the most basic techniques in tattooing, but also very necessary. Lining is essentially creating the outline of the designs, somewhat like a child’s coloring book. Although outlines are often done with black ink, almost any other color could work.
  • Coloring: Just like it sounds, coloring is filling in certain areas of a tattoo with color. Tattoo artists usually work from darkest to lightest to prevent the different shades from mixing.
  • Shading: This is where it is extremely important you find a great tattoo artist (link to Tips on finding a tattoo artist). Shading is what gives the tattoo depth and is essential to perfecting the design. It’s somewhat like coloring except that it uses black ink to create the shadows. Shading is used to make the tattoo pop and take on a life of its own.
  • Lettering: Although this is more of a style than a technique, it requires a specific set of quality skills. A tattoo artist needs to understand spacing and how to write the words in an attractive fashion. Spelling is also a must!
  • Dotwork: A style of tattoo shading using pointillism, or a series of tiny dots to add depth, dimension and contrast.
tattoo lettering

What Do Tattoos Feel Like? 

Everybody wonders what getting a tattoo feels like, especially those pondering their first one.  So does getting a tattoo hurt?  Yes, it does.  While some have a relatively easy time with it, others may call the pain excruciating.  However, depending on where you get the tattoo, your body type and pain tolerance, the pain may be quite minor!  Some say it feels like pinpricks, cat scratches, paper cuts, or just like it is, a needle stabbing your skin.  Don’t let this scare you off though, because having an awesome tattoo for life greatly outweighs the pain you only feel during your session.

girl with tattoos

Fun Facts About Tattoos:

  • More women than men are tattooed in the United States
  • More than $1.5 billion is spent every year on tattoos in the United States alone
  • Some of the most popular tattoo designs are hearts and angels
  • The word “tattoo” is one of the most misspelled words in English
  • The most tattooed man lives in New Zealand with 100% of his body covered in tattoos.
  • More than 20,000 tattoo parlors exist in America, with more being added every day.

Tattoo Terminology

If you’re thinking of getting a tattoo for the first time, here's a list of terms that might be interesting to you:

  • Aftercare: Caring for your tattoo after getting tattooed
  • Body Suit: A tattoo covering most of a person’s body, from the neck down to the ankles
  • Custom Ink: A tattoo design that has been personalized, either by you or the artist
  • Flash: These are documented designs that you will find hanging around in the tattoo parlor
  • Ink: Another name for a tattoo
  • Machine: The tattoo machine (The pros don't call it a "gun")
  • Sleeve: Related tattoos that cover the entire arm
  • Tac: Another name for tattoos and ink
  • Tramp Stamp: A negative term for a tattoo on the lower back of a woman

Why Tattoos Are Worth the Pain

Tattoos are well worth the pain.  They can be symbols of your personal injury, loves, passions, telling the story of where you’ve been. They can be used as motivations and inspiration.  Tattoos are yours for life, something you get to keep forever.  They are how you express yourself to the world in one of the most unique ways.

how do tattoos work

Read up on how to best take care of your new tattoo here.

Tattoos can have a meaning behind them, just look awesome, or be both.  At the end of the day, no matter what reason you get a tattoo for, they are your ultimate avenue of expression.  While it may be painful during the process, the lifelong designs you invest into your body are your marks of individuality about you and what you love.




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