Back in the day, Thomas Edison invented the “electric pen”, an engraving machine that would become a precursor to the modern tattoo machine. Then a man named Samuel O’Reilly discovered that Edison’s invention could be used to inject ink into the skin. He added a tube system that delivered ink from a reservoir to the needle for injection. Today, a foot peddle controls the speed of the needle. From its invention in the late 1800’s, the modern tattoo machine has remained fundamentally unchanged. Advancements in technology, however, allow the artist to adjust the speed and depth of the needle for better detailing.
Tattoo ink is comprised of two components: a pigment and a carrier solution. You see, tattoo ink isn’t really ink at all! The pigments can be many different things. Metal salts, plastics and vegetable dyes are all potential forms of pigments. Here is a list of some common pigment ingredients:
Black – Iron Oxide, carbon, or logwood
Brown – Ochre
Red – Cinnabar, Cadmium Red, Iron Oxide
Orange -Disazodiarylide, cadmium seleno-sulfide
Yellow – Cadmium Yellow, Ochres, Chrome Yellow, disazodiarylide
Green – Chromium Oxide, Ferrocyanides, lead chromate, monoazo pigment
Blue – Azure Blue, Cobalt Blue
The carrier solution is used to ensure even distribution of the pigment, to prevent clumping, and to prevent the spread of pathogens. Some common carrier solutions are:
Interestingly, tattoo ink manufacturers are not required to disclose their exact ingredients. The mixes are proprietary. Some tattoo artists mix their own ink. It might sound risky if you are concerned about toxic ingredients, but there are many tattoo inks with long histories of good safety. Talk to your artist or tattoo shop about what ink they use.
So there you have it! Some of the ingredients and science of tattoo ink. What do you think? Ever make your own ink or know an artist who does? Share with us in Comments!