Think Before You Ink: Volume II

You’ve done the research and picked the perfect artist for your next tattoo. It’s a piece you’re passionate about, something deeply meaningful that you know you’ll love for a lifetime. You’ve called to book a consultation, and now you’re eagerly waiting for the day to arrive when you can start collaborating with your artist.

Whether you’ll be coming to Paper Crane Studio for your tattoo or another shop, we want to help you make the most of your experience. So while you’re checking off the days on your calendar, join us for another installment of Think Before You Ink. Our professional insight can give you an inside edge when you go under the needle.

Trendy Tattoos

Whether you like to keep up with the trends or set them yourself, clothes aren’t the only thing that can be in vogue—but whereas you can always donate those neon yoga pants and matching crop top, your tattoo isn’t so easily discarded. (Don’t we all have the Facebook friend with “YOLO” or a tiny mustache inked on the inside of their middle finger?)
As with fashion, tattoo trends come and go. Right now it’s finger tattoos, but some years back it was all the rage to get tattooed on the inside of your lower lip. With both finger and lip tattoos, they are more likely to fade than others, so if you get something you truly regret you’re more or less in luck.
One trend in particular that has taken social media by storm is “3D” tattooing. Intricate patterns “carved” into a person’s arm, objects pushing up out of the skin, even sinkholes disappearing into nowhere—these are just some of the tattoos you’ll find through a quick Google search, along with butterflies and flowers that cast their own tattooed shadow.
Mikey Vigilante warns you to take a second look at the 3D tattoo trend before you set your heart on such a piece: “Many of these tattoos are designed and photographed to appear three-dimensional only from very specific angles,” he explains. “Often they’re even digitally edited for the express purpose of creating hype on the internet. Seeing these tattoos in real life is an entirely different experience, when a person isn’t posed and lit a certain way.”

That said, if you’ve got a talented artist who is experienced with this particular trend, a 3D tattoo doesn’t have to be a disappointment. Just make sure that you either like the way it looks from multiple angles or that you can live with it if it looks wonky when you’re not specifically showing it off. We advise you to get it for more than just the special effect, though, so that you’ll still enjoy it once the novelty wears off. Photorealistic tattoos are a good alternative to straight-up 3D tattoos, as they provide a similar eye-poppingly realistic look from multiple angles. Although subtler than some of the trendy tattoos you’ll find online, photorealistic tattoos can ultimately be a lot more wearable.

Tattoo Ink Matters

Another trend we’re seeing involves glow-in-the-dark ink, used to create blacklight tattoos. Glow-in-the-dark ink can be used to add details that only show up under UV light, or this special ink can be used exclusively for a tattoo that is relatively invisible until seen under blacklight (whether that’s at a rave or on the Winnie the Pooh ride at Disneyland).
But while this might sound like a really unique body mod, we strongly suggest you hold off—for now, at least. The fact is that the dye used in glow-in-the-dark ink has been approved by the FDA for use in fish, not humans. You can see this dye at work in patented GloFish, which hold the dubious distinction of being the only genetically modified animals available for purchase by the public. Because this ink is not approved for human use, toxicity is a very real concern, and most major and/or trusted ink manufacturers don’t supply it for tattooing.
So what does it mean if you do find an artist willing to do a glow-in-the-dark piece? Toxic risks aside, you’re getting injected with ink made by a not-necessarily-reputable company, which means there is a greater risk of substandard quality control.
This brings us to another important point: Ink quality matters! If you needed another reason not to get tattooed by someone working out of their mom’s garage, consider the fact that a “budget” tattoo artist might not spring for higher quality (and therefore more expensive) inks. This means that you’re likely to get tattooed with ink that isn’t produced according to the highest safety standards, so you can experience everything from an allergic reaction to an infection if the ink has been contaminated. At the very least, your tattoo might fade more easily if cheap ink is used, even if you’re diligent about protecting it from the sun.
Whether you’re a tattoo enthusiast or totally new to this art, you might have heard the red ink—even of the highest quality—has a tendency to cause skin reactions in a way other hues don’t. You may also have heard that red ink has a difficult healing process, with a propensity to scab over more crustily than other colors. This is one rumor that Mikey feels there’s some weight to: “Red is a little tricky. I have noticed more skin reactions to red than any other color.” But don’t fret! Even with red ink’s trickiness, our artists agree that it is usually only one client in several hundred that experiences any side effects.
What’s the deal with red? “Red dyes are inherently more translucent,” Mikey explains, “and as a result, reds are more difficult to saturate the skin with. An inexperienced artist might work the skin too hard while trying to saturate and thereby create a trauma that is hard for the skin to recover from.”

Our experienced team is never heavy handed when it comes to tattooing—but if you’re prone to skin sensitivity, we recommend two sessions (with healing time in between each one) in order to minimize any potential irritation on a red-heavy piece.

Tattoo Placement–Where Do You Want It?

When you go in for your consultation or first session, your artist will help you with placement. A good artist will honestly advise on the best way to position your piece, with size adjustments as necessary. At Paper Crane, we carefully consider your individual anatomy before we get started, to be sure your tattoo fits the unique flow of your body.
One question we often come up against is whether a tattoo should face you or the rest of the world. Can a tattoo be upside down versus right-side up? You might have heard that it’s a bit of a faux-pas to get a forearm tattoo that faces you when you look down at it, for example—and it’s in fact considered to be upside down.
“If you are getting a single tiny tattoo and it’s facing you, it isn’t a big deal to go against the flow of the skin,” Mikey says on the placement of forearm tattoos in particular. “It’s when you are starting to get larger tattoos and build a collection that it starts looking strange if your forearm tattoo is facing you. It doesn’t flow well and appears amateurishly designed.”
Consider this: If you get a fox tattooed on your forearm and it is oriented to face you, what happens when you want to add a stag on your upper arm as part of a sleeve? If you want the stag to flow with the fox, it would technically be placed upside down on your upper arm. But if you have the stag done right-side up, the fox is then clearly going against the flow of the overall sleeve.
When it comes to placement, do what feels right to you, but we recommend thinking about whether or not you’ll eventually want to expand your tattoo. That opens up new considerations as well: Do you want thematic/stylistic unity on your sleeve? Or do you want to choose individual tattoos to fill in an area until it organically becomes a sleeve?
“I personally love tattoos that are designed as a whole,” says Mikey. “That’s the aesthetic that initially drew me to the study of Japanese tattoo design. But either approach is valid, and both have entirely different resulting looks.”

Remember that an experienced artist has done a lot of tattoos, both that go with the flow of the body and that don’t (since, after all, we’re not going to force you to orient your tattoo our way!). We’ve seen people who regret not listening to professional input. So please, talk with your artist to see their perspective, then make a decision from there.

If you’d like further insight on tattoo trends, inks, placement, or any other subject, drop us a line! We’d love to know what topics you’d like to investigate in our next installment of Think Before You Ink. Until then, check out our Instagram to see some of the great pieces our artists are creating every day in our studio!