When Good Tattoos Go Bad: A Guide to Poorly-Aging Ink

Getting a new tattoo is a major investment: Even if it’s just a small piece, we know how much time, effort, and emotion go into choosing an artist, creating a design, and–of course–actually getting inked. Whether your new tattoo is deeply meaningful or something you got just for fun, you want it to age beautifully.

Mikey Vigilante tattooing a client's back in Long Beach, CA.

We’re all familiar with “tattoo fails” like misspelled words and hideous portrait pieces. There’s not much we can say for these ugly tattoos if a person didn’t do their research beforehand.

But what about when you walk out of the tattoo studio with something gorgeous only to have it look not so hot after it’s healed? What about when good tattoos go bad?

If your tattoo has turned on you, keep reading to find out what might have gone wrong.

Not All Inks Are Created Equal

Because there is no quality control for tattoo ink, it’s possible to get tattooed with inferior pigments. Even in a professional shop that is 100% hygienic, you might cross paths with an artist using cheap ink to save a few bucks. (If you’re getting tatted by someone out of their garage, you can read all about why that’s a bad idea here.)

Poor quality ink can cause severe allergic reactions. Excessive itching, scabbing, and swelling can cause a tattoo that looked great in the studio to heal poorly.

If you don’t experience a reaction, it’s still possible for inferior ink to mess up your final product when it comes to how your tattoo will age. Cheap ink is more likely to fall out or to fade. This is particularly true of especially vibrant colors, which can quickly lose their luster–but even black can fade to a watery grey if the ink itself is not good quality.

At Paper Crane, we use only the highest quality tattoo ink, so you can breathe easy.

Skin Type Impacts How Your Ink Will Age

Because your skin is our canvas, it’s an important factor to consider when thinking about your long-term tattoo needs. Everything from the skin tone to the size of your pores can impact the tattooing process, which in turn impacts the final product.

At Paper Crane, our artists have tattooed a variety of skin types. We can advise you with confidence on what shades and styles will look good for years to come by taking into account the unique nuances of your skin.

We’d like to note that although reactions to ink are rare, it’s important to be upfront with your artist if you have any skin conditions, allergies, or immune disorders that might impact your body’s reaction to the introduction of tattoo ink. The more we know about your skin, the better we can do our job.

Style and Composition

You’ve probably heard the expression “bold will hold” in the tattoo industry. This refers to the time-honored belief that a design with bold outlines will typically age well. Consider the Traditional American pieces you see on the hands of weathered sailors: If done right in the first place, the bold lines and colors of these tattoos can hold up for decades with minimal retouching, even in the face of the elements.

But if you’re not fan of Traditional American style, is your tattoo doomed to age poorly in a short span of time? There is a lot of back-and-forth on this topic within the industry, especially in light of the wild popularity of watercolor tattoos. Some artists implement illustrative techniques that allow for some bold lines to help hold the tattoo in place over time; others add black shading and fine lines to color tattoos for the same reason. You’ll find some artists who refuse to do watercolor at all, just as you’ll find many who will take an outline-free approach.

At Paper Crane, we as a studio support the unique visions of our clients and artists. If you want a color tattoo that’s totally devoid of black outlines, we’ll be honest with you about the possibility that it might not age well–and if you’re concerned about that, we’ll work with you to find a creative solution that still captures your vision.

Composition is another major factor when it comes to a tattoo’s longevity, which is why we take our design process so seriously. A microtattoo with a ton of detail might look incredible when you first get it done–but ultimately, any tattoo that is too detailed for its size or that lacks clean lines will begin to look muddy as it ages. You might be better served with a larger piece if detail is important–or if it’s your goal to stay small, a simpler design will be your best bet. We use both hand-drawn approaches and iPads to ensure that your custom piece is composed in such a way that it will look great long after you leave our studio.

Aftercare and Beyond

A tattoo can only be as good as your aftercare routine. Even the most beautiful work of art can be destroyed if you don’t treat it like an open wound that requires special care.

It’s not a bad idea to get your aftercare products in order before your session to ensure that you have everything on hand. An antibacterial soap that is perfume-free is a must. We suggest Ora’s Amazing Herbal Tattoo Salve as our go-to aftercare lotion–and we carry it in our studio for your convenience!

Jars of Ora's Amazing Herbal Tattoo Salve on the wooden counter of Paper Crane Studio in Long Beach, CA, part of our aftercare routine to help your tattoo age beautifully.

Before you leave the shop, be sure that you are 100% clear on your artist’s recommended instructions–and be sure to actually follow them! (You can find our general guidelines here if your memory is fuzzy.)

Proper aftercare during the two weeks following your session is critical–but if you want your tattoo to continue to look great, it’s equally important to care for it on a daily basis. Use SPF lotion if you’re going to expose it to the sun–or better yet, keep it covered if possible. On a regular basis, you should moisturize your tattoo to keep the ink looking fresh.

Give Your Tattoo Time

Did you get your tattoo within the last couple of months? Is it looking dull or just not as crisp as you’d like? Do you find yourself staring longingly at photos from the day you got it done, wishing it could be so vibrant and clean?

Don’t panic! It’s entirely possible that your skin is still recovering. The tattoo process is traumatic, and not everyone heals at the same rate. Even different areas of your body can heal differently, especially depending on your typical attire, daily routine, etc.

It’s amazing what a little love and care can do for a tattoo that is technically past the two-week healing window. Try applying a quality lotion like Ora’s Tattoo Salve throughout the day to see a major difference in a short amount of time. You might consider upping your water intake as well, as proper hydration can do wonders for your skin!

If time has gone by and you’re still concerned, we suggest reaching out to your artist about the possibility of a touch-up. Remember that a professional will be able to tell if you’ve picked at your tattoo or neglected to care for it, so be honest about your experience for best results.

Full sleeve in Irezumi style, full color, chrysanthemum, waves, and koi, by Owen Juarez of Paper Crane Studio in Long Beach, CA.

At Paper Crane, we take the long view with our tattoos. From the selection of our inks and aftercare products to the composition and tattooing of your piece, we want you to leave our studio with a tattoo you’ll love for a lifetime. So if you’re worried about how your tattoo is going to turn out, know that you are in good hands with us–and know that we’re here to walk you through every step of the process.

How Much Will My New Tattoo Hurt?

For many tattoo enthusiasts, the pain of new ink is part of the ritual. While some find it to be almost as addicting as the finished product itself, at Paper Crane we know that for some clients there is a lot of apprehension about just how much that tattoo needle might hurt. There are numerous factors to consider when it comes to pain, so we’re sharing our industry insight to help you decide how much you can handle for your next session.

Foo dog half sleeve with cherry blossoms by Mikey Vigilante, on the upper outer arm, which is one of the best places for a tattoo if you're worried about pain.

Pain Factor 1: The Tattoo Needle

If you’ve checked out our blog on tattoo needles, you know that your tattoo artist is actually using multiple needles (called “pins”) grouped together to achieve a certain stylistic goal.

Typically, the smaller the pin grouping, the more painful the tattooing experience. Most clients agree that the outlining of a tattoo is the most painful aspect. This is because a liner features as few as three pins–and even when it has more, the pins are grouped very tightly together.

With larger or more spread-out groupings, the pressure is distributed over a larger section of skin, which can result in less pain; this is true in the case of a magnum needle, as it features as many as forty-nine pins widely spaced out. Conversely, with a liner needle, the pressure is being applied intently to a smaller area, which equals sharper, more intense pain.

Interested in a fine-line or single-needle tattoo? Be prepared for some next-level ouchiness, depending on where you’re placing your new piece.

Pain Factor 2: The Intensity of Shading

We sometimes hear clients describe the pain from outlining as “cutting” and the pain from shading as “burning.” In the case of a tattoo that features some simple black-and-grey shading, it may very well be your experience that the outline is the most painful part of the session.

But consider the depth of shading that goes into a photorealistic rose or an illustrative owl: To capture the nuanced complexities that make these tattoos pop, an artist must go over the same patch of skin numerous times. This is equally true of black-and-grey and full color, as both approaches require careful blending during multiple passes.

A tattoo is an open wound, as the needle deposits ink by piercing the skin. Over the course of a two-hour session that involves heavy shading, an artist will apply layer upon layer of ink to the same patch of skin. That means the tattoo needle will be continuously poking your open wound. So although shading might not initially hurt as much as lining, the continued work on tender skin can prove to be pretty painful!

Pain Factor 3: The Heaviness of Your Artist’s Hand

At Paper Crane, we’re very proud of that fact that our artists are among the best in the industry. Our seasoned professionals know exactly the right amount of pressure to apply when tattooing to ensure that your tattoo looks as beautiful as you’re imagining.

Many tattoo artists struggle with this crucial aspect of tattooing. A heavy-handed artist is one who applies too much pressure. This results in the needle going too deep, which is considerably more painful than when the proper layer of your dermis is pierced. Moreover, it can result in displaced ink and shadows.

It’s important to note that there are a lot of reasons that a tattoo can scar or otherwise not heal well, including improper aftercare. You can read our tips on proper aftercare here. When you work with an artist at Paper Crane, you can rest assured that heavy-handedness won’t be an issue.

Pain Factor 4: Tattoo Placement

Truth time: Some tattoo placements just hurt more than others. You may really want to get some sacred geometry tattooed on your throat–but if you’re nervous about the pain, you should know it’s among the most sensitive areas on your body, whereas your outer arm is much less sensitive.

Although everyone’s body is different, this is a general breakdown of what to expect with tattoo placement:

  • Worst Pain Ever: Head, face, throat, spine, inner upper arm, wrist, hand, groin, inner thigh, knee cap, behind the knee, ankle, foot
  • Still Pretty Awful: Neck, collarbone, chest, rib cage, stomach, torso, lower back, inner elbow, inner forearm
  • Not Too Bad: Hip, outer thigh, mid back
  • Least Pain Possible: Shoulder, upper back, outer upper arm, outer forearm, butt

Pain Factor 5: Topical Anesthetics

So you really want sacred geometry on your throat, huh? Well, even if you’re terrified of the pain, there’s hope! We proudly carry HUSH topical anesthetic sprays and gels to help you manage pain. Sprays can be applied by your artist during your session to instantly numb your skin. HUSH’s long-lasting gel must be applied an hour before your session–and it can only be used after your first session is completed, as it can potentially interfere with the ink from our transfer paper.

“I always encourage my clients to feel the tattoo in its full experience at least once,” shop founder and senior artist Mikey Vigilante says. “But after a two hours of tattooing–especially on a sensitive area–your body can get overwhelmed. HUSH is a great alternative to splitting a tattoo into multiple sessions.”

Pain relieving gels and sprays for a relaxing tattoo session, courtesy of HUSH topical anesthetic.

Everyone has different sensitive spots, so your experience might be totally at odds with these insights. In any case, we hope that we’ve relieved some of your apprehension–and if not, we’d be happy to talk more with you about HUSH or to suggest alternative placements for your new ink.

We’ll leave you with this final thought from Mikey: “It’s important to ultimately choose your tattoo location without making pain your top consideration. While a tattoo can be intense, we will help you get through it. Choose a place that you will be happy with for a lifetime, as the pain is only temporary, while the tattoo is forever.”

How to Choose Your Tattoo Placement

For tattoo enthusiasts, the body is the ultimate canvas. At Paper Crane, we consider it an honor to permanently paint our clients with custom works of art. But the human skin differs in a very critical way from traditional canvases: Whereas you can hide a painting behind closed doors or tuck it away in a closet, your skin goes with you wherever you go. It’s important of course to love your new tattoo design—but it’s equally important to get it somewhere that you’ll thoroughly enjoy! That’s why we’re breaking tattoo placement down into a few easy steps on today’s blog.

Step 1: Decide how visible you want your new tattoo to be.

We live in an era where tattoos are more and more common, both in the US and across the world. Hand tattoos are still referred to as “job killers” by many tattoo professionals—but a cute little bow on your ring finger is less likely to be a hindrance to employment than it was once. Brides with full sleeves, lawyers with neck tattoos, models with chest pieces—although not everyone likes them, visible tattoos just aren’t particularly uncommon or unusual.

That said, there are many reasons to think about how visible you want your ink to be when deciding on tattoo placement:

  • Personal Importance
    • A tattoo is a lifetime commitment. (Yes, tattoo removal has come a long way, but you can’t always completely remove a piece—and it’s a big expense on top of the cost of the original tattoo.) It’s our hope that you’ll always love your ink, wherever you get it placed!
    • But we suggest considering the subject matter when thinking about visibility. A tattoo of something personal like your grandfather’s pocketwatch or your favorite dog will always carry sentimental value, so it’s probably a safe bet that you won’t mind showing it off or seeing it on a regular basis. Similarly, a tattoo that’s symbolic of a major life event or a fandom you’ve loved for years will likely always be important to you.
    • Certain tattoo subjects don’t necessarily hold their value as well, though, or they’re simply not all that meaningful to begin with. We’re not saying every tattoo has to be serious! We love tattooing things that are fun, weird, hilarious, etc. But if you’re getting a tattoo of a llama just because you think llamas are cute (which they totally are), you might consider a tattoo placement somewhere less front-and-center than a piece that has a more personal meaning.
    • The same goes for tattoos connected to passing interests. If you’re a die-hard Game of Thrones fan, go for the dragon sleeve! But if you’re not sure you’ll always be devoted to House Targaryen, you might want to go for a tattoo placement that isn’t as readily visible or as large.
  • Appropriateness
    • Real talk: People get tattoos that are explicit in nature, whether that means a curse word, a zombie orgy, or a flying tampon.
    • We have zero judgment and love getting creative with your ideas, so feel free to bring us your designs without feeling they’re too “out there.”
    • That said, it’s important to think about your day-to-day life if you’re getting something that might be considered inappropriate. Are you an adjunct professor at a conservative university? Are you heavily involved in charity work in your local community? Are you around other people’s kids in a professional capacity?
    • Ultimately, it’s your body and your call: We trust you to know what works for you in the real world and what doesn’t. (And if you’re cool with wearing long sleeves to your day job, we’re cool with tattooing that naked clown doing hot yoga on your forearm.)
  • Employment and Career Goals
    • While we agree that tattoos should not limit your career options, the fact is, they do. While some jobs might just want you to keep your art appropriate (sorry, naked yoga clown!), other employers have strict rules when it comes to tattoo placement.
    • Despite the popularity of finger tattoos, full hand tattoos can still result in discrimination in the workplace. The same goes double for face and neck tattoos: As misinformed, out of line, and ignorant as they might be, people will judge you.
    • If you’re involved in an industry like tattooing or if you’re a successful entrepreneur, then you don’t have to worry as much about mundane things like whether or not an employer cares about that rose on your neck. But if not, we would encourage you to consider if the placement of your tattoo is going to interfere both with your basic needs (like food and shelter) and your ultimate career goals.

Step 2: Consider where on your body your design will look the best.

Our artists are among the best in the industry. When we work on your tattoo design, we take into account the unique flow of your body so that your custom piece will fit exactly right.

  • Some tattoos look great no matter where you place them. Take flowers, for example: A few classic roses can flatter a shoulder blade, an elegant spray of orchids can look gorgeous on your calf, and a cherry blossom branch can perfectly fit the curve of your waist.
  • Other tattoos work better in specific areas. A string of rosary beads wrapped around your wrist or ankle may look better than when tattooed flat across your bicep. Tribal designs likewise often look best when wrapped around a body part.
  • Often, size and complexity play a key role in tattoo placement: A detailed portrait tattoo will read well on a flat expanse of skin like your back, whereas it might look warped or smushed on your ankle. A dainty moon, on the other hand, can be perfectly at home on even the most delicate of wrists.
  • Composition is also important to consider. Take a look at this Hanafuda card Mikey recently did, which is perfectly suited to this clients arm thanks to the shape and the angle of the piece:
  • Your personal build is also a factor, and it’s something our artists carefully account for during design. If you have thick thighs or curvy hips, a tattoo that takes full advantage of your proportions can look significantly better than a tattoo that that leaves a lot of blank skin. If you have extremely narrow arms but want an expansive sleeve, you might be better served to have the design placed on your side.

Step 3: Balance your tattoo placement with your existing (or planned!) art.

  • Is this your first tattoo? Your fifteenth?
  • Is this the start of a sleeve or a stand-alone piece?
  • Is the design for a statement tattoo or more of a filler?

You might not have answers to all of these questions—and that’s okay! We love approaching tattoos organically or with a master vision. Whether we’re adding on to a leg sleeve according to a thematic plan or expanding your tattoo collection as your ideas come, we’re here to make your art look amazing.

One question we get a lot is how to balance tattoo placement. Sometimes a client wants to achieve a balanced overall look with their current tattoos: This might mean putting a design on the left forearm to provide balance to a tattoo on the client’s right hip. Other times, a client wants a single piece to have a sense of balance: With a sleeve tattoo of a wildlife scene done in an illustrative style, this might mean having two or three central focal elements, whereas an American Traditional sleeve might incorporate numerous small designs with fillers in between to give a “finished” feel.

As always, personal preference is the key to balance. Is symmetry important to you, or do you want your tattoos all on one side? Do you like the cohesive look of a large-scale piece that’s been thoroughly planned, or do you prefer different pieces coming together one at a time? Do you like having a number of tattoos all over, or would you prefer them grouped together in one or two places?

We encourage you to check out our artist portfolios and social media to see what looks appeal to you, but remember that “balance” is a very subjective term—and we want to help you find your balance. That said, we’ll definitely use our industry experience and artistic perspective to advise you on placement so that your tattoo(s) look intentional.

Once upon a time, we might have included a Step 4 suggesting you take your pain tolerance into account—but at Paper Crane, we’re pleased to offer HUSH anesthetics, which make any tattoo placement a possibility. These high-end gels and sprays can numb you to the pain of your tattooing session—so even if you have a low tolerance for pain, you can still get that wrist or rib tattoo you’ve been half-dreading, half-dreaming about.

If you’ve got more questions about tattoo placement, we’re always here to help! And again, we’d love for you to check out our portfolios and follow us on Instagram/Facebook to get ideas about where you might like your next tattoo. When you’re ready to take the next step, schedule a consultation with one of our talented artists. We can’t wait to help you decide where to place your new tattoo!

Tattoo Etiquette: A Paper Crane Primer

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is whether or not it’s appropriate to tip an artist. (The answer is yes, if you’re wondering–and it’s also very appreciated!) Tipping is part of proper etiquette when you get a tattoo that you are pleased with, much in the same way you might tip your hairstylist for a job well done.

But did you know that tipping your artist is just one aspect of tattoo etiquette? Especially for first timers, it can be easy to get so wrapped up in anticipation and excitement that you completely overlook how you should (and shouldn’t!) approach the tattooing experience.
Whether it’s your first tattoo or your second full sleeve, we’ve put together a primer on basic etiquette to help you have as smooth of a session as possible. So pencils out: Class is in session!

Talk, Talk, Talk to Your Tattoo Artist

When you give us a call at Paper Crane or message us, it’s our goal to connect you directly with an artist who is a good match for your tattoo. After that, you’re welcome to reach out to us with any general questions or concerns! But when it comes to your tattoo consultation, session, design, etc., we would appreciate if you would contact your artist directly. Need to make a change to your appointment? Message your artist. Want to incorporate some wildflowers into that coyote skull tattoo? Message your artist. Curious about what kind of tattoo machine your artist prefers? You got it: Message your artist.
If you want to know about where you should park or learn more about tattoo needles, you can check out our FAQ here or explore our blog–or you can send us an email! But as a general rule, if your question directly impacts your tattoo, it’s best to communicate with your artist so that there is less chance of miscommunication.

Be On Time to Your Tattoo Appointment (All the Cool Kids Are Doing It)

We want the day you get tattooed to be as stress-free as possible for you, which is why we have a semi-private tattooing space and offer things like numbing creams and extensive aftercare guidelines. But one of the quickest ways to turn a memorable day into a disaster is to cut it too close when it comes to your appointment time: If you run into traffic or can’t find a parking spot (which is a very real issue in Long Beach), you’ll end up sweating the minutes as they tick by rather than savoring them.

We don’t want you to rush, because no tattoo is worth getting into an accident. But we do encourage you to take into account local traffic as well as parking conditions, whether that’s at our studio or anywhere else. It’s much better for your peace of mind to get to your appointment a few minutes early–and not being late is a great way to show respect for your artist’s time.

If you are going to be a few minutes late, we suggest letting your artist know (ONLY if you can do so safely–don’t text and drive, please!). If you’re going to be significantly late to your appointment, please remember that your artist may have other appointments after yours, so it may impact how much of your tattoo you end up getting done or result in a cancellation.

Similarly, if you need to move your appointment or cancel for any reason, please let your artist know as soon as possible! We absolutely understand that life happens, and we will do our best to accommodate your schedule. We ask you to respect your artist’s individual policies regarding cancellations and deposits, though–and please keep in mind that depending on your piece, it might be anywhere from a few days to a few months before we can book a new appointment for you.

Stay the Course for Your Tattoo Design

Your tattoo should be something you enjoy for a lifetime, so we invite creative collaboration at every step of the process. During your initial consultation, you’ll have a chance to go over ideas with your artist and get started on a design.

We absolutely understand if you have changes to your original vision during the days leading up to your tattoo. Just keep in contact with your artist to ensure that when the big day comes, the design is what you ultimately want.

Still have changes when you see the final design on the day of your tattoo? Let us know! But please be reasonable and realistic. Some examples: If you want to change the eye color on your pin-up girl tattoo, we can do that. If you want to add your grandfather’s birthday to a tribute tattoo, we may need to work that in during a separate session (depending on how elaborate or complex the piece is). If you want to change the placement of your piece, we should be fine, as long as it doesn’t mean making your tattoo significantly larger than we’ve originally planned for.

But if you’ve put down a deposit for a custom-designed Irezumi-style tattoo and now want a photorealistic portrait of your dog, that’s going to be problematic.

Why? Firstly, your artist might not specialize in the new style you’re requesting. Secondly, the time blocked off for your original design might not be sufficient to cover the time required to both design and tattoo your new idea. Thirdly, it’s not exactly respectful of your artist’s time to ask them to trash a piece they’ve created for you and then to design a brand new tattoo on the fly.

We would never expect you to get a tattoo that you have decided you no longer want, for whatever reason. If you show up at the shop and don’t want to go through with a design, we won’t chase you out to your car with a tattoo machine (we promise). But we do reserve the right to keep your deposit for the original design and to request an additional deposit for your new idea, especially if you change your mind the day of your appointment. The best way to avoid this disappointment is to think over your ideas thoroughly and to fully explore them with your artist during a consultation. That way you’ll be ready to get inked on the big day.

Don’t Haggle Over Tattoo Cost

We pride ourselves as Long Beach’s premier tattoo studio, with boutique-style service and the industry’s most talented professionals. We are not a bargain shop, nor do we haggle over our rates.

You can check out our previous blog on pricing, but if you’ve had a consultation you’ll have a good idea of what your tattoo is going to cost. When you come in for your appointment (whether it’s with us or at another studio), we strongly discourage you from trying to bring the price down. Remember: Tattoos are a luxury, not a necessity, and you get what you pay for.
If you run into financial difficulty, let your artist know as soon as possible that your tattoo might be out of your current price range. Depending on when you let us know (and at your artist’s discretion), we might be able to reschedule you for a later date, do a shorter session, or redesign your piece to be within your revised budget.

Say Yes to the (Right) Dress

What you wear to your appointment is of the utmost importance. We want you to be comfortable, especially if you’re in for a long session, so we advise against anything particularly restrictive. Moreover, we don’t want your new tattoo to get irritated on your way home: Depending on where you’re getting inked, we suggest wearing clothing that won’t rub your new tattoo or be particularly tight against it. If you’re getting a thigh tattoo, for example, loose sweats are a better choice than skinny jeans.

Your comfort on every level is extremely important to us, so we ask that you keep in mind your tattoo placement when you get dressed for your appointment. If you choose to wear a long-sleeved shirt to get a tattoo on your upper arm, you may end up having to take the shirt off entirely–and although we do have a semi-private tattooing space, there will potentially be other clients and artists in the shop.

If your tattoo requires you to be uncovered in any way that makes you uncomfortable, please let your artist know in advance about your concerns. We can suggest strategies to keep you as covered as possible, or we can discuss alternative placements.


We’ve all seen someone lose it at a defenseless cashier when things aren’t going exactly their way, and we all know it isn’t pretty. We highly suggest NOT being that person when you’re getting a permanent procedure done!

We pride ourselves on our customer service at Paper Crane (just check out our Yelp reviews). At any stage of your journey with us, we welcome your input and encourage you to voice any concerns or questions that you might have. Our founder Mikey Vigilante is additionally available to address any issues. But just as we respect you as an individual and a client, we ask you to respect any tattooist as an individual and a professional. Our studio is a safe space: We have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of any kind, including demeaning/disrespectful language, inappropriate behavior, and anything else that makes anyone in our shop feel uncomfortable. This extends to any communication you have with our artists via email, text, social media, etc.

Show Your Appreciation for Your Tattoo Artist!

Ah, back to that age-old question: How much should I tip for my tattoo? In general, 10-20% of your total cost is a good guideline. You might consider bumping that up to 25% or more if your tattoo costs less than a few hundred (for example, consider a $50 tip on a $150 tattoo versus a $15 tip). If you’re getting a tattoo done over multiple sessions, we suggest tipping after each session as opposed to a single tip at the end.

The other way you can show your appreciation for our artists is to spread the word: Share your new ink on social media, tell your friends and family about our studio, recommend your artist to people at the grocery store when they tell you how cool your tattoo is. We would love if you’d email us about your experience, or you can leave us a review on Yelp or Facebook. We’d also be thrilled to feature your piece on our social media or monthly newsletter if you send us a picture!

If you follow these basic rules, you’ll go into your tattoo appointment with the seasoned grace of an old pro. But if you’ve got more questions, please feel free to message us or your artist. It’s our priority to give you a memorable experience and an authentic work of permanent art, so we are always happy to walk you through whatever is on your mind. We’ll see you soon for your next tattoo!

New You, New Tattoo: How Much Will Your Ink Cost?

With January at an end, we hope that you’re making progress on achieving (or revising!) your list of resolutions. Perhaps one of those resolutions was to get a new tattoo—or perhaps with the holiday season over, you’re ready to treat yourself to some new ink, now that you’ve treated everyone else on your list. (Whoops—forgot someone? Stop by the shop and pick up a gift certificate for them!)
If you’re indeed in the market for a new tattoo, our friendly and professional tattoo artists would love to see you in our welcoming studio. You’re welcome to come chat with our artists, check out portfolios, and set up a consultation. You can also email us at to get started.

One of the questions we’re most frequently asked is how much a new tattoo is going to cost. While we’re very happy to provide you with an individual quote for your specific piece, we wanted to offer some general insight to get you started.

It Depends…

…on your artist: At Paper Crane Studio, our artists set their own hourly rates based on experience, ability, and speed. Generally, our rates range from $160-$200 per hour. That means that until we match you with an artist, we’ll wait on giving you a quote.

We pride ourselves on being home to only the best artists, which means you’ll always get a quality tattoo at our studio. With that in mind, we strongly suggest you choose an artist based on their tattooing style, not their hourly rate! You can browse portfolios in person or visit our Instagram @papercranestudio to get familiar with our individual artists’ specialties, strengths, and nuances. (In fact, we’d love if you screenshot a few of your favorite pieces from our Instagram and send them our way when you email us about your next tattoo.) That way, whether you’re interested in something colorful and intricate or extremely minimalist, you’ll pick an artist whose work truly resonates with you.

Tattoo Size Matters 

We love getting your emails, especially when you include pictures or descriptions of the tattoo you’re interested in getting from us. But we can’t always tell from a picture or description just how big you want your new ink to be—and a tattoo that’s two inches across is going to have a very different price tag than a piece you want to span your shoulder blade. Since our artists work hourly, letting us know approximately what you’re thinking will help us give you an idea of your cost.
Our artists are committed to working with the unique flow of each client’s body during the design process, so we’ll advise you honestly on how big or small we feel your tattoo should be in order to properly fit you. And because we want your tattoo to “read” clearly and beautifully, we’ll let you know if any adjustments need to be made in either the size of your piece or the amount of detail.

We have a session minimum of $100, even for the tiniest of tattoos. You might think that sounds like a lot to get a single word tattooed on your wrist, for example—but please remember that “simple” pieces like script are actually some of the most difficult to tattoo, as there is little to no margin for error. The minimum cost covers our materials as well as the time spent designing your piece, prepping for your session, and cleaning up afterwards.

Tattoo Cost = Details, Details, Details

In the same way that size determines the hours spent on your new tattoo, the level of detail that goes into a piece can have a major impact on the cost. If you’re interested in a full-color sleeve in a photorealistic style, such a piece may involve many hours of outlining, layering, shading, and detailing to get it just right. That’s not to say that complicated color pieces are by default going to cost you more than other tattoos: Dotwork, blackwork, linework, and black-and-grey tattoos can all require a significant time investment, depending on the design. Consider some of the finer examples of the popular mandala “underboob” tattoo: Such intricate linework requires a steady hand and a lot of patience.

Whatever the level of detail you’re interested in, a quality tattoo is absolutely worth the cost. Why? Because it’s a permanent piece of wearable art—and when done right, it will reflect the truest version of yourself and provide you with joy for many years to come.

On a Budget? Talk to Your Tattoo Artist!

As one of Southern California’s premier tattoo studios, we do not offer bargain tattoos or haggle over our rates. Tattoos are both a luxury and a legitimate art, and we’re committed to quality over quantity. But we get it if you’re on a budget, and we’re willing to work with you.

During your consultation, you can let your artist know your price threshold. We can break your tattoo into multiple sessions if that’s ultimately more doable for your budget. Typically, we spend two to four hours per session on larger pieces to get plenty of work done without putting you in too much pain. But even on a smaller piece, we can knock out the linework in one session, for example, and handle the color during a later session. Alternatively, we can approach the design in such a way that means less time tattooing in total (whether that means going a little smaller or implementing a different technique).

Available Tattoo Designs

If you want to get a new tattoo but don’t have a set idea, we encourage you to check out our tattooists on Instagram and Facebook! As passionate artists, we are constantly creating new designs that either typify our preferred styles or push our creative boundaries. That means you’ll often find designs online that we’re really interested in tattooing—and you can sometimes (not always) get such a design at a special price.

If you end up picking an available design and getting a special rate, we ask that you respect your artist’s discretion when it comes to customization. You might have a couple of minor adjustments that we’re cool with—but if you end up totally re-designing the offered piece, please keep in mind that the artist’s standard rate will apply. For example: If you claim an available rose design from an artist and try to subtly turn it into a portrait of your favorite aunt, we’re going to notice.

Tattoo Quotes and Consultations

We will ALWAYS discuss the hourly estimate and cost of your tattoo prior to your first session. Sometimes we can provide a quote via email—but for more complex pieces (like a sleeve or a cover-up), we prefer to schedule an in-person consultation to go over the details of your new tattoo and to give you the most accurate quote possible.

Once we get your session scheduled and receive your deposit, we start designing your new tattoo. We absolutely understand if you have adjustments to make or if you change your mind on certain elements: We want you to leave our studio with a piece you’ll love for a lifetime, so we encourage creative collaboration at every step! But remember that the quote you receive applies to the tattoo you originally requested, so major changes can impact the amount of time your artist ultimately spends tattooing you. Additionally, our hourly estimate can change based on any number of factors beyond our control.

If you’re ready to get started on your new tattoo, send us an email! We would love to see what you’re interested in and get you set up with the perfect artist, who can help you take the next step in setting up a consultation, getting a quote, and scheduling your tattoo session.
Stay tuned for our next blog on tattoo etiquette, where we’ll consider such questions as how much to tip your artist and who really owns a tattoo once it’s been inked. See you soon!

A Year to Remember

As 2017 draws to a close, we want to say thank you to our amazing clients, friends, and family for giving us the opportunity to create authentic art each and every day in beautiful Long Beach. We are truly living the dream, all thanks to you!

Flash Tattoo Madness

It’s been a memorable year for the shop, for so many more reasons than we can explain. But let’s start with a universal favorite: FLASH FRIDAY! Flash tattoo events are a time-honored tradition in the industry, during which our artists design original work that we offer at a set price. At our Friday-the-13th Flash, palm-sized tattoos cost just $40 (that’s $31 in honor of 13 plus a $9 tip, in case you’re wondering)—whereas usually one of these designs at bare minimum would run $100. During our October event, we tattooed over 100 people! We’re grateful for such patient clients and artists alike, and we’re proud to say the day was a roaring success.
We did a Black Friday Flash this year as well, to give people an alternative to the insanity of shopping for discount blenders and bamboo socks. The designs were larger than at previous events, which gave us a little more room to stretch our creative muscles.

We’ll be doing more flash events in the year ahead, so stay tuned!

Giving Back

As tattoo artists, we’re extremely fortunate to do what we love for a living, all in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We care about our clients and our community, and we were so excited to be able to give back in meaningful ways this year. At our “Caring Cranes” event in June, we tattooed for a cause by offering special tattoo designs and origami cranes; the event benefited local charities like the Peter Mayhew Foundation, Long Beach Ronald McDonald House, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
We were amazed by the generosity of our local community at this event—and then just a few months later, we were overwhelmed by the selflessness of our social media followers. We asked you to help rebuild lives in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma by donating to charitable organizations, with the intent of matching your donations dollar for dollar—and we were humbled at how many people gave so generously to those in need.

Let’s keep that kindness rolling forward into the new year: If you have any local, national, or global causes you’re passionate about, let us know. We are always open to fundraisers, big or small.

Growing Our Tattooing Family

We’ve been fortunate to host some amazing guest artists this year, like Keik Balcazar, Buddy Love, Erna Von Pentz, and Annabelle Luyken (who does some seriously artful vagina tattoos). In 2018 we’ll be hosting another round of internationally-renowned artists, so be sure you’re following our social media for big announcements! (And if you’re interested in visiting us as a guest artist, be sure to send an email our way.)
We also are so thrilled to have welcomed a new member to our team in September. The extremely versatile Jade Quail excels at both traditional and neotraditional designs, but she’s also a master of woodcut-style tattoos and intense dotwork pieces.

All of our artists have experienced major growth and achievements this year. We’re working constantly to better ourselves as professionals so that we can offer you the best tattoos in the industry, all in Southern California’s friendliest tattoo studio.

Looking Ahead 

As New Year’s Day approaches,  we encourage you to jot down one last resolution: Come see us at Paper Crane. We mean it: We’d love to finish that tattoo you started last year or to fix that piece you’ve been hiding since freshman year of college. (It’s okay. We’ve been there.)
Remember that tattoos are a way of expressing on the outside how you feel on the inside. Whatever that means to you, we embrace and accept it. Whether you want to cover a surgical scar, memorialize a loved one, finish off a sleeve, or simply celebrate a new chapter of life, we’re here for you. size.

We’ve got big things in store for the new year, from special events at the shop to exciting videos with our artists and more. What would you like to see from us in 2018? Drop us a line at to let us know! size.

We wish you safe celebrations on New Year’s Eve and a joyous New Year’s Day. We’ll see you in 2018!

Tattoo Style Check: From Traditional to Trash Polka

Have you ever wondered what separates neo-traditional from new school? Illustrative from watercolor? Do you love koi tattoos but aren’t quite sure what Irezumi means, or did you perhaps think that Trash Polka was a hipster dance craze?
The good news is you don’t need to know what a tattoo style is called to know what you like: A skilled artist can work off of your verbal descriptions and reference photos to figure out what aesthetic best suits your vision. But having a working familiarity with some of the more prominent or popular styles of tattooing can help you to refine your idea before you go to the shop—and most importantly, it can help you choose an artist who is experienced in the aesthetic you’re interested in.

American Traditional Tattoos: Also known as traditional or old school, American traditional tattoos feature bold outlines and a limited color palette. Some of the most common subjects done in this style include roses, sharks, pin-up girls, swallows, stars, anchors, and hula girls. When you think of Sailor Jerry or classic tattoo flash, you’re thinking in a traditional vein. American traditional owes its enduring legacy in large part to Norman Keith Collins (aka Sailor Jerry himself), who popularized the style in the 1900s at his shop in Honolulu.

(Tattoo by Tan Vo)

Neo-Traditional Tattoos: As the name implies, neo-traditional tattoos evolved from the traditional style. Like their predecessors, these tattoos typically feature vibrant colors and bold lines. But neo-traditional uses a wider range of both colors and line weights, which gives tattoos more depth, detail, and realism. Popular subjects include traditional imagery with a unique spin as well as animals and scenes from nature.

(Tattoo by Chelsea Jane)

Illustrative Tattoos: Illustrative tattoos are also rooted in the traditional aesthetic, and they have a lot of similarities to neo-traditional tattoos in that they feature an expanded color palette, variety of line weights, and more realistic shading. But whereas neo-traditional tattoos typically still have the look and feel of American traditional tattoos, illustrative pieces resemble an actual illustration. For some artists this includes linework that looks like pencil or brush strokes, whereas others let the depth of shading and range of color gradations lend a tattoo that particular quality. The sky is the limit as far as subject matter goes. (Don’t worry if you can’t tell if a tattoo is neo-traditional or illustrative: It can often be a subtle difference, and sometimes the answer would depend on who you asked.)

(Tattoo by Justin Tauch)

Watercolor Tattoos: Becoming increasingly more popular with every social media post you see, watercolor or painterly tattoos often look more like something you’d see on your wall than on a human canvas. These tattoos imitate brushstrokes to varying degrees: Some may have bold strokes or paint “splatters,” whereas others have a softer, more blended look. They tend to feature a softer color palette, often incorporating pastels or subtle color variations. Watercolor tattoos can have zero black lines for an almost ethereal look, but there is some concern that a lack of darker linework might cause such tattoos to lose shape over the years, so some artists prefer to incorporate a base or framework to hold the colors in place. As with illustrative tattoos, the watercolor style is used for a variety of images, with some of the more popular choices including fish and flowers.

(Tattoo by Mikey Vigilante)

Blackwork Tattoos: On the opposite end of the spectrum from watercolor is blackwork. Whereas black-and-grey tattoos feature shades of both black and grey (using either watered-down black ink or prefabricated grey ink), blackwork tattoos have zero shading. Sacred geometry, bold patterns, and large swaths of solid black typically characterize blackwork pieces, but this style can also include extremely detailed subjects that have an illustrative quality to them.

(Tattoo by Joy Shannon)

Dotwork Tattoos: As you might have guessed, dotwork tattoos consist solely of dots—lots and lots of dots, depending on the piece! Dotwork tattoos require the artist to precisely place tens, hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of dots into a pattern to achieve the desired image, whether that’s a sacred symbol or a portrait of an animal. These tattoos typically are done in shades of black or red, and the end product can be a simple design or have an almost three-dimensional look to it. Dotwork can be incorporated into other tattoo styles such as blackwork to give a piece depth without resorting to color variation.

(Tattoo by Mikey Vigilante)

Realistic Tattoos: Like watercolor tattoos, realism is extremely popular in the current era, whether you’re interested in black-and-grey or full color. Realistic tattoos implement expert linework and shading to create a style that is extremely true to life—almost like looking at a photograph, which is why you might hear it called photorealism. Meticulous planning and attention to detail can make a photorealistic rose look like you could actually pick it off of someone’s arm or a butterfly look like it might fly away at any second. Unfortunately, a lack of expertise can make realistic tattoos some of the biggest disasters in the industry, as evidenced by the many examples of horrific portrait tattoos. We always encourage you to scrutinize any artist’s portfolio, but that goes double for realistic pieces!

(Tattoo by Adrian Franco)

Irezumi Tattoos: Irezumi is the proper term for traditional Japanese tattoos. Originating in Japan in the 1600s, this style still focuses on classic themes from folklore, legend, and history: Dragons, samurai, phoenixes, geishas, cherry blossoms, koi fish, kitsunes, kappas, and other subjects both mythical and mundane serve as common subject matter. Although you can get an Irezumi-style tattoo anywhere you choose to, the traditional bodysuit covers the arms, back, upper legs, and chest (leaving an untouched channel down the center of the body).

(Tattoo by Mikey Vigilante)

New School: Originating in the 1970s, new school tattooing evolved from the traditional (or old school) style. You can see new school’s old school roots in the bold lines and heavily saturated colors. But new school incorporates exaggerated or cartoonish elements not typically found in traditional tattoos. Bobble-headed characters from your favorite Disney movie or outlandishly dressed animals in unlikely situations are some of the common images associated with this style.

Trash Polka: Created at Buena Vista Tattoo Club by Simone Plaff and Volko Merschky in Würaburg, Germany, Trash Polka has a collage-like quality that incorporates both realistic and abstract imagery in a fine-art style. Random bits of lettering, detailed silhouettes, geometric patterns, and smudges of ink characterize Trash Polka tattoos, which are done exclusively in back and/or red ink. Trash Polka is full of chaos and movement, with an extremely unique aesthetic that is not for everyone. It’s interesting to note that “true” Trash Polka tattoos must be done at Buena Vista Tattoo Club—but if you’re interested in this style and can’t make it to Germany, you can find artists in the US who are proficient at this emerging style.

At Paper Crane Studio, our artists excel in a number of styles, and we each have our own unique specialties. We pride ourselves on our professional integrity, so we are always up front about what we feel most comfortable tattooing—and an artist will happily refer you to another artist if a project isn’t a perfect fit.
And remember: We love to think outside of the box and tackle new challenges! We’d be thrilled to bring your wildest vision to vivid life, whether that means working within an established aesthetic or creating something totally unique.
Please feel free to email us at with any questions on style. If you’re still unsure of how to choose the most suitable artist at our shop, we’re happy to guide you to the right match!

Know Your Tattoo Needles: A Basic Guide

We’ve found that clients fall into two main groups when getting tattooed: the ones who stare down the tattoo machine, watching the needle pierce their skin hundreds (if not thousands) of times—and the ones who keep their eyes firmly fixed on the wall, floor, or ceiling, stealing maybe a peek or two (and clearly regretting it by how quickly they turn away).
If you’re in that first group, then you’ll love today’s blog: We’re breaking down some of the different types of needles your artist might use to tattoo you, so next time you get inked you’ll have a better understanding of the tools of the trade. And if you’re squeamish about the process, it’s our hope that a little knowledge will take some of the fear out of your next session!

Tattoo Needle = Needles

Unless you’re getting a single-needle tattoo specifically, the tattoo “needle” your artist is wielding is actually multiple needles soldered together. Just how many needles are we talking about, you ask? It depends on what your artist is up to: For blending color, your tattooist might choose a stacked magnum with eleven needles grouped tightly together, then for outlining s/he might switch to a round liner with just three needles. (Don’t worry—we’ll explain what stacked magnums and round liners are below!)
As for those single-needle tattoos, you can get hand-poked or machine-tattooed with these by an artist with a steady hand. The end results can be super fine and elegant, with ethereal strokes that look almost hand-drawn. Some artists use them for tiny tattoos, whereas others appreciate the single-needle aesthetic and incorporate it into their work regardless of size.

Liners, Shaders, and Magnums—Oh My!

There’s an endless variety when it comes to tattoo needles, especially considering that a number of artists make some or all of their needles by hand. (We use pre-manufactured disposable needles when we tattoo, but Mikey Vigilante knows how to make tattooing needles and likes to share that craft with our artists.)  For now, we’re going to look at some of the main varieties you might find your artist using:
Round Needles: Soldered together around a central shaft, round needles look exactly like their name implies. They can be used as liners, in which case they are called round liners, or as shaders, in which case they’re called—you guessed it!—round shaders. You can commonly find round needles with anywhere from three to eighteen needles. Depending on how loosely or tightly the needles are grouped and the desired result, your artist can use round needles for basic shading, small details, or bold outlines.
Flat Needles: As you might have figured, flat needles are soldered together in a straight line. This configuration is often used for textural effects, like doing fine strands of hair or giving a tattoo a “brushed” look. Similar to round needles, the actual number of needles varies greatly, but between six and ten is standard.
Magnum Needles: When it comes to shading or filling in large areas of color, magnum needles get the job done. Why is that? Magnums are by design flat configurations with every other needle woven and slightly separated from the adjacent needle. This extra space between the individual needles means magnum needles deliver a lot of ink in one go, which in turn means your artist doesn’t have to pass over your already-tender skin as many times as with other needles. Magnums come in an ever-growing variety, including single stack (one row of needles), weaved (two loosely-grouped rows of needles), and soft edged (which are slightly rounded on the end and used for smooth gradients or black-and-grey). If you’re wondering what separates a single stack magnum from a flat needle or a round magnum from a regular round liner, it’s largely the way the needles are grouped and configured. Some artists feel magnum varieties are more flexible, cause less damage, and/or deliver smoother ink flow. You can easily find magnums with anywhere from five to forty-nine needles. And if that second number sounds intimidating, here’s an interesting observation: The more needles you’re being tattooed with, the less pain you tend to feel! That’s why a little round liner can feel like you’re getting nicked with a razor, whereas a larger magnum grouping creates more of a dull burn.

A Sterile Setup for Professional Tattooing

A reputable artist will have the right tools for the job, which includes the proper gear for his/her individual needs. For example, if your artist uses a machine that requires needle cartridges as opposed to a standard setup, s/he’ll have that all ready to go. Or if your artist is using bugpins (a type of magnum made with extremely thin needles), s/he’ll have the smaller tubes needed for this setup.
Most importantly, though, regardless of what needles or devices your artist implements, a professional artist will have a totally sterile setup. That means disposable, single-use needles so as to avoid the transmission of blood-borne pathogens between clients; autoclaves to sterilize any non-disposable equipment; ink cups that artists fill with ink from larger bottles and throw away after each session; and a number of behind-the-scenes protocols that ensure your comfort and safety.
Remember, if you’re ever in doubt or just want to put your mind at ease, you can always ask your artist to explain their setup. Whether you want to know more about the kinds of needles being used or the safety precautions in place, a reliable artist will have no problem giving you detailed information.

If you want to delve deeper into the world of tattoo needles, stay tuned! We’ll be sitting down with one of our artists soon to get into more detail about what a weaved magnum is used for, why some tattooists prefer a Cheyene Hawk Pen or a Mickey Sharpe T-Dial, and why it’s called a bugpin when we’re not entomologists.

If you’ve got questions in the meantime, drop us a line at!

Ritual Tattoos

Whether you’re going on a whim or for deeply meaningful reasons, getting a tattoo is a kind of modern-day ritual: A tattoo can be a rite of passage, a revelatory experience, an affirmation of personal truths, a sign of commitment. In tattoo studios around the world, people get inked in order to express their innermost selves or to connect to something bigger than themselves.
Tattooing has a rich history that spans the globe—and it is a history firmly rooted in the concept of ritual. From tribal peoples like the Maori and Celts to highly advanced ancient civilizations like the Egyptians, tattoos were (and in some instances still are) performed with meaning and intention. Rites of passage, invocations to the gods, magical symbols of protection—all of these and more were potential reasons for getting tattooed.
The ritual element of tattooing has largely fallen away in most modern societies, especially as tattoos become more and more mainstream. But some artists are helping ritual tattoos make a comeback by offering services that focus on the intention behind the piece and the process as a whole.

Joy Shannon of Paper Crane Studio is one of those artists. She gives us her unique perspective on the renewal of this ancient practice.

Traditional Intentions

“Sometimes I wonder to myself about the classifications of tattoo styles,” Joy said when we asked what separates a ritual tattoo from a traditional one. “It’s true that ‘traditional’ can refer to the Sailor Jerry style of old-school tattooing, but what I would say is even more traditional is the immense tribal history of tattoos. Generally speaking, traditional tattoos in tribal cultures often seemed to be created with some sort of meaningful ritual. Doing ritual tattoos is basically bringing that meaning back to the process.”
Any tattoo can be meaningful, regardless of whether or not it was done as part of a ritual. We hope at our studio that you always experience an authentic connection with your artist—but we’re aware that you can sometimes get an awesome piece done by someone who don’t quite vibe with. Does that take away from your tattoo’s meaning? Of course not! What, then, makes a ritual tattoo particularly different?
“It’s more than just a meaningful tattoo,” Joy explains. “The whole process of the tattoo is done with intention and meaningful-ness in mind.”

Each ritual tattooer has their own unique process, informed by their personal beliefs, cultural ties, and life experiences. Joy begins with a consultation in which she discusses the meaning of the tattoo. It’s here that she goes over both the tattoo design and the actual tattoo session, in order to create a truly personalized experience for each client. “The session itself often consists of Reiki, or energy healing work, combined with an intention set for the tattoo. Then we do the actual tattoo, and sometimes energy work after the piece is done.”

Highly Personalized…

Just as with any other form of tattooing, the reason behind a ritual tattoo varies immensely from person to person. “Generally the pieces can be for big life transitions, new beginnings, honoring the end of an era, or a memorial tattoo for a loved one,” Joy tells us. “Some of my clients want to get a ritual tattoo experience every time they come to me, or they are working on a large multi-session piece with intention that we keep focused on every time. But I do find that clients tend to use this process for very special occasions more often than not.”
Joy is very aware of just how personal these tattoos are (which is why she never shares the details of a ritual session)—and for this reason, she maintains a very neutral approach in regard to cultural influences, despite being intimately familiar with the history of ritual tattooing. “I design the process with each client in mind and what they ask for. I never want to put anything I believe onto someone else, and I deeply respect their own personal beliefs. I feel that all cultural traditions of spirituality are describing the same life force of energy and love, so I try my best to work from that basic, neutral place.”

Whatever your beliefs or personal reasons for a ritual tattoo, you can rest assured that Joy will create an experience that is an authentic reflection of yourself and your intentions.

…and Deeply Personal

Ritual tattooing is meaningful on a personal level to Joy as the artist as well. She herself has been tattooed by by ritual Nordic tattooer Kai Uwe Faust at Kunsten På Kroppen in Copenhagen. “I am very influenced by Kai in my own work, and that tattoo is very special for me: It helps me in my own ritual tattoo work every day.”
With all of her tattoos (including non-ritual ones), Joy feels a sense of personal ritual at work: “I find that I focus myself with my own sense of intention for all of my tattoos, whether or not my client asks for me to verbally create a focus or intention for the piece I am doing. And I always set my tattooing space up like it is for a ritual tattoo, because I focus on making the space clean, comfortable, and quiet for each client. I prepare my space for what I would love to have when I get tattooed: a safe space, without judgment, with kindness and acceptance and peace. Since all tattoos are painful to some varying degree, I want to always be sensitive to each client’s needs.”

Tattoos in general are demanding on a physical and mental level. Ritual tattoos can have an added intensity, vulnerability, or emotional intimacy that Joy finds can be particularly draining. “I do have to limit how many I do per day and take care of myself,” she explains, “but honestly, I feel so lucky to have the clients I do, because even when I do a light-hearted or fun tattoo without a ritual, we have the loveliest time! My ritual tattoos are especially meaningful, though, and I am so grateful for those clients’ trust and openness with me. I learn so much every day from doing this professionally.”

Come As You Are

There is no special preparation that Joy asks of her clients before a ritual tattoo: Life in general has usually prepared a person for the experience, she has found. But she does stress that emotional aftercare is particularly important, in addition to proper physical aftercare. “I always tell clients, especially those who are getting memorial tattoos, to bring a loved one with them during the appointment if they need support.”

As for the physical aspect, Joy shares an interesting insight: “I have heard from some clients that the ritual tattoos heal faster or heal the best out of all their tattoos. I cannot prove this, but I love to think the energy healing work helps the body heal itself after the session.”

If you’re intrigued by the concept of a ritual tattoo, please send us an email to get started. You’re welcome to come in for a consultation to see if this unique offering is right for you. Whatever your background, beliefs, or intention, Joy can create a tattoo you’ll love for a lifetime and an experience you’ll never forget.

Too Taboo to Tattoo? Hand, Neck, and Face Tattoos in the Modern World

At Paper Crane, we’re all about self-expression—and we’re here to help you feel like your most authentic self through tattoos that reflect your unique personality. When it comes to extreme body modifications (whether for other industry professionals or our clients), we fully support your vision.
The fact is that you’ll find few places as accepting of extreme body modification as a tattoo shop. Although the outside world has come a long way—your local barista can proudly show their ink now!—we still live in a society where certain types of tattoos are given a sideways stare.

Today we’re taking a look at hand, neck, and face tattoos to get an idea of why they carry certain negative connotations, how they’ve evolved over the years, and whether one of these taboo tattoos is right for you.

Cultural Perspectives on Tattooing

Across the world and throughout history, tattoos have held many meanings—symbols sacred or profane, markers of privilege or of servitude, an ancestral tradition or a way to stand out from the crowd.
Ancient Rome serves as an excellent example of the rich, often contradictory meanings tattoos can embody. Slaves and convicts were often branded or tattooed on the forehead to mark their status. Roman soldiers also received tattoos—but the ink on their hands was a badge of honor, one that signified the completion of their training. In later years, certain Christian groups came to adopt the forehead tattoos that had previously been considered a stigma.
But despite (or perhaps because of) the efforts of the extremist Christians of late antiquity, most of the modern world has yet to embrace facial tattoos. The same goes for neck and hand tattoos: In the US and many other countries, ink on the hands, face, or neck is considered a sign of gang affiliation or prison time. For example, ask anyone—tattooed or not—what they think a teardrop tattoo means: Chances are they’ll say it’s a sign the person has killed someone, done hard time, or lost a fellow gang member.
In Japan, it’s not uncommon to see “no tattoos allowed” signs at pools, gyms, and other public places, due to their association with the yakuza. “I was discriminated against most in Japan,” our founder Mikey Vigilante recollects. “As rich a the history and art of tattooing is in Japan, the Japanese do not like to see tattoos. You will be politely discriminated against.”
Although the US is decidedly more tolerant of tattoos, ink on your hands, face, and neck can still make you a target of discrimination. Take the military: Although it has relaxed its tattoo policy to some extent (sleeve tattoos are now allowed in the Army, for example), hand, neck, and face tattoos are still prohibited (with the exception of one ring tattoo per hand).
And it’s not just government jobs that don’t go for these placements: Starbucks finally realized that no one cares if their baristas have tattoos, but they still don’t allow employees to have tattoos on the face or throat. Many organizations have a similar policy, often adding hand tattoos to the list.
But in both ancient and modern times, there are some cultures that fully embrace tattoos on every inch of the body—and facial tattoos are among those particularly revered by certain peoples. In Africa, the women of the Peul and Fulani tribes of Mali get facial tattoos to celebrate adulthood, beauty, and marriage. The Ayatal tribe in Taiwan similarly still practices facial tattoos (for both men and women) as a sign of maturity.

“Pacific Islanders are very enthusiastic about tattoos,” Mikey observes, and it’s an enthusiasm that continues to thrive: The Maori moko is arguably the most famous example of facial tattoos, both traditionally and today. Maori men and women alike to this day receive “Ta moko” as a rite of passage into adulthood. Carved rather than inked with a needle, the moko can be found on both the body and face—but the fearsome warrior with a heavily inked face is typically what we think of when we hear the word “moko.” Far from being a stigma, the moko was traditionally a marker of a high social status, and it is now a way of proudly expressing cultural heritage.

Changing Times for Tattoo Enthusiasts

While the Pacific Islanders have always been cool about tattoos, the rest of the world is just starting to adopt a more tolerant (and at times accepting) attitude when it comes to hand, face, and neck placement. As mentioned already, once upon a time you would not have seen a bit of ink on your Starbucks barista. Today, though, it’s not a shock to see a hand tattoo on the nurse taking your blood sample. “Lawyers and professors also tend to be able to get away with more visible tattoos,” Mikey has noticed. “It’s often the more successful independents that can get blasted and still pursue their careers. The employed tend to have a harder time because of antiquated company policies.”
But as companies begin to shift their policies, our artists are getting a lot more requests for hand tattoos in particular. Neck and face tattoos continue to be more of a rarity, but we still get the opportunity to do these pieces on occasion. Typically with all of these placements, our clients tend to have an existing tattoo collection. “Sometimes we’ll get a brazen eighteen year old asking for a tattoo in a highly visible spot,” Mikey notes. “But I’ve found that typically it’s either the young-and-rebellious or the middle-aged-and-over-it crowd.”
Interestingly—but perhaps not surprisingly—the majority of people getting these tattoos are in the tattoo industry themselves. “I don’t have my face or neck tattooed, so it’s hard for me to talk about that kind of discrimination,” Mikey tells us. “But I do have my hands and fingers blasted. I tend not to give a enough fucks to notice any intolerance, though. I think people find it interesting, actually, when a tattooed, successful, articulate, and sociable person is communicating with them. The tattoos become mystic because the stigma of tattoos and the derelict expectation are both crushed.”

As artists and individuals, we’re all about crushing stigmas and negative expectations—and we’re proud to say that we’ve got tattooed clients, family, and friends who do exactly that every day.

Your Body, Your Call

It’s true that some artists will refuse to do certain tattoos. Finger tattoos in particular have become so mainstream that you most likely won’t have a problem there, but the career-ruining potential of neck and face tattoos may make the occasional artist understandably uncomfortable.
As for Mikey, he doesn’t typically refuse, unless a tattoo isn’t a good fit for him aesthetically. “I will advise, though,” he adds. “It’s not my place to make decisions for clients, but my dad-self still needs to say some words based on my experience and wisdom.”

So what words would Mikey give to those thinking of a face, neck, or hand tattoo? “These tattoos are not for the faint of heart,” he wants you to know. “They will make getting a job more difficult. You are about to enter a world of self-reliance. People will hate and will judge. You will have to be better than them—or you will get crushed.”

With those words of wisdom in mind, we invite you to reach out to us if you want to talk more with Mikey or any of our artists about the pros and cons of these particular tattoo placements. If you decide a hand, neck, or face tattoo is for you, we’d be happy to work with you to design a custom piece.
Already have one of these taboo tattoos? We’d love to know your story! Tell us about any triumphs, difficulties, or surprising moments that you’ve had sporting your highly visible ink by dropping us a note at We look forward to hearing from you!