Anyone with a tattoo will tell you that the most common question they're asked is, "Did that hurt?" Chances are, it did, and with good reason: tattoos are permanently etched into the deepest layer of skin with a series of fast multi-needle pricks. Modern tattoo machines hold up to 15 individual needles. Just as a painter selects different paintbrushes for various effects, a tattoo artist uses different types of needle configurations to create outlines, solid colours and shading.
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A quality tattoo begins with an experienced artist, a steady hand and a perfect outline. Round lining needles trace a precise, bold tattoo perimeter. Three to nine individual needles are grouped in a disclike configuration. Lining needles have a long taper, usually 4mm. This results in sharp lines since less of the needle -- and thus less pigment -- comes in contact with the skin. Lining needles can also be used for precision detail work in colour.
"Magnum" needle configurations efficiently fill in large areas of solid colour, and usually contain between five and 15 individual needles in either a single-stacked or double-stacked formation. Single stacks are composed of one straight line of needles, with every other needle bent slightly. Double stacks consist of two straight lines of needles, with slightly offset rows. Colouring needles have a short taper, generally 2mm, which allows more ink to penetrate the skin and results in faster surface coverage.
Round and magnum configurations can both be used for fully customisable shading and blending. The individual needles in round shaders are packed less tightly than round liners, and have a slightly longer needle taper. Curved magnum configurations are also used for shading. The individual needles on the outside of the stack are slightly shorter than the inside needles. This gives a softer, more feathered edge to the ink.
Licensed tattoo shops make health and safety a priority. Federal and state laws require that needles are kept in sterile packaging and used for one client only. All other equipment is fully sanitised between clients. Before you are tattooed, ensure that your chosen shop is fully licensed. Ask your artist if she belongs to the National Tattoo Association or the Alliance Of Professional Tattooists. Both of these reputable organisations have existed for many years and set the industry standard for quality, sterilisation and safety.
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