In the four years that I’ve been in China, I’ve spent more than 80 hours under the tattoo needle. I’ve been inked by more than a dozen artists in 10 tattoo shops in three different cities and spent about 10000 RMB. And this isn’t counting my earlier tattoo experiences back in the US. So with all this time and money and pain spent on skin decorations, one would expect my epidermis to be a veritable gallery of intricate masterworks.
Hardly the case.
My ink designs are already simple by choice, but my skin is a testament to the varying levels of quality and skill among tattoo artists, their techniques, and the ink that they use. None of my tattoos look terrible but some look great while others definitely need some retouching and even repairs. Even a simple tattoo can turn out crappy because of poor placement, low-grade ink, slight trembles in the artist’s hands, etc. Now I’ve always wanted my own personal ink array to lean more towards the prison yard aesthetic school (i.e., a lot of relatively simple and uncolored tattoos) rather than sport a few pristine masterpieces. I dunno, I just like the gritty, slap-dash, sailor-esque tattoos that display competence and skill but looked like they were actually gauged into the skin with a needle rather than painted on with delicate brushes. And since I sought out this tattoo style, I figured it wouldn’t make too much of a difference if I chose a less pricey (hence less skilled) tattoo artist.
Well, yes and no.
Besides one red drop of blood, all of my tattoos are black ink, and sometimes within a few months, several tattoos of mine have faded in certain areas, creating an uneven palette of light and dark patches on the same tattoo. I am very meticulous about tattoo aftercare so the primary blame rests with the ink used. Simple fact is that better ink costs more. If you pay a cheap price for a tattoo, you’ll get cheap ink. The good news is that retouching the tattoo isn’t too time-consuming since most of the color is already applied- the artists just needs to go over your skin once more and it will probably stay sufficiently dark, even if the cheap ink is used a second time.
Of course it’s always best to do things right the first time, so ask your tattoo artist if he has different grades of ink and use the higher grade, especially if your tattoo is composed of a lot of dark colors. Splotchiness on solid masses of color just doesn’t look good. And if you find that your tattoo retains its color long after it’s healed, give your repeat business to that artist, unless his technique sucks of course. The truth is that all tattoos fade eventually and usually have to get retouched at some point, but it’s nice having a tattoo that will hold together for years instead of months before the obligatory tune-up.