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!

A Tattoo Machine and a Vibrator Walk into a Bar…

…and they really don’t look all that different these days.
When you picture yourself in your favorite tattoo shop, one of the first things to come to mind is no doubt the telltale buzz of tattoo machines (unless you’re at a shop that practices traditional hand-poked tattooing—which can be awesome when done by a trained professional). But in the long history of tattoos, that sound is actually relatively new to the scene: Tattooing is an ancient art, one that has been practiced for thousands upon thousands of years, whereas modern tattoo machines only came into use in the late 1800s. Relatively unchanged since their inception, tattoo machines today conjure up both steampunk vibes and phallic comparisons.

But what were the tools of the trade like, you ask, before that familiar hum filled tattoo parlors the world over? Let’s go back to the Stone Age to find out.

Late Stone Age Tattooing

In Europe, archaeologists have discovered tools and artwork that date back to the Late Stone Age. Thought to be “tattoo kits,” the tools consist of sharp, needle-like fragments of bone and clay disks believed to be ink reservoirs. Although the tools could theoretically have served other purposes, the bone needles may have been dipped into the reservoirs and then used to puncture the skin to create tattoos. Stone and clay figures decorated with tattoo designs have been discovered from this era, along with the famous “Grottes du Mas d’Azil” (Cave of the Azil Farmhouse) in the French Pyrenees Mountains.

If these kits were in fact used in tattooing, we can trace its roots back to between 12,000 and 40,000 years ago. So the next time someone asks if you’ve thought about what your ink will look like when you’re old, take heart: People have probably been asking such stupid questions for millennia.

Tattooing Before (and After) Electricity

Mummified remains like that of Ötzi the Iceman show that tattooing was alive and well long before the advent of electricity. Ancient Egyptians used sharpened bronze tools to tattoo both prostitutes and priestesses. In Thailand, bamboo quills up to a foot long were traditionally used (and bamboo is still utilized in traditional Thai tattooing). The Maori used chisels made from albatross bones to carve designs into a person’s skin as well as to apply pigment. Cultures across the globe found ways to permanently mark their bodies for a variety of reasons, from designating slaves to invoking spiritual protection.
Such traditional hand-poked tattooing methods are still practiced today. For some, ancient methods have an appeal for spiritual or ritualistic reasons; for others, it is a way of reclaiming their cultural heritage, as is the case with the revival of the Maori tā moko; and for some, it is simply a one-of-a-kind experience.

If you decide that hand-poked tattooing is for you, we urge you to seek out a professional who has been mentored in this particular art! And—please—resist at all costs the urge to do a so-called “DIY stick-and-poke tattoo.” Not only will you end up with a hideous tattoo, you’ll very likely contract a potentially deadly disease.

Edison Leaves His Mark on the Tattoo Industry

When you think of tattoos, you probably don’t think of Thomas Edison—but you should!
Edison invented the electric pen, which he patented in 1876 as the Stencil-Pens. The electric pen was part of a duplicating system designed to make documentation easier for merchants, lawyers, and other professionals. Driven by a motor, the pen’s needle could create 3,000 punctures per minute.
The electric pen did not thrive for its originally intended purpose, with demand for the device disappearing in the 1880s. But in 1891, a New York City tattoo artist saw the electric pen’s true potential: By modifying Edison’s invention with a system of tubes and a reservoir, Samuel O’Reilly used the rotary motor to feed ink into the needle, which in turn he used to inject ink into a client’s skin.

As O’Reilly was patenting his rotary tattoo machine in the United States, Thomas Riley was developing an electromagnetic tattoo machine in London, England. Riley’s machine involved a single electromagnetic coil and was later altered into a two-coil machine by Alfred Charles South. Although O’Reilly is considered by many to be the inventor of the first tattoo machine, coil machines have primarily dominated modern tattoo parlors, with rotary-style machines making a comeback in recent decades.

Modern Tattoo Machine Developments

There have been a number of noteworthy developments since O’Reilly and Riley led the way in electric tattooing. Percy Waters’ sidewheeler, Manfred Kohrs’ rotary machine, and Carson Hill’s pneumatic tattoo machine have all shaped the modern tattooing landscape.
Tattoo machines today have settings that control speed, depth, and force, all of which give artists an unprecedented level of precision when tattooing a client. Artists can use these advanced tools to create stunning works of art, such as photorealistic tattoos or painterly pieces with rich color variations—and they can additionally perform cosmetic or post-surgical tattoos that look incredibly natural.
Artists at Paper Crane use a variety of machines, each with different advantages. Consider the following examples:
Cheyenne Pen Machine: These are great for multiple needle setups because they use a needle cartridge that snaps into the grip, which is both quick and easy to change out. Shop founder Mikey Vigilante likes this machine for small tattoos that are either very detailed or require subtle color shifts within a small area. The short stroke of the machine allows for smaller hand movements to pack color or apply grey values more precisely.
Swashdrive Machine: Artists love this machine because it is a perfect fusion of a rotary and a coil relay machine. “The swashdrive geometry gives a perfect and unwavering stroke, while the spring allows the needle to dance a little with the skin and not be too stiff,” Mikey says. The lack of vibration is ergonomic, with the added benefit of keeping arthritis at bay.
Iron Machine: On occasion, you’ll catch Mikey Vigilante using his Soba Rusto, Mickey Sharpe T-Dial, or Dan Dringenberg custom machine to lay down some shading. “I spent the bulk of my career tattooing with coil machines,” he explains. “The first pair I ever used—two Spauding Supremes—I assembled from a kit. The sound of using these machines for me is not purely nostalgic, as they still work really well for me.”
So why did he (and many other artists) move away from consistently implementing these particular iron machines?
For Mikey, the intense vibration caused too much fatigue in his hands. “I knew that if I didn’t change I would have a shorter career than what I would prefer,” he adds.

Additionally, the stainless steel grips used to balance out the weight of iron machines are not disposable: They need to be processed thoroughly to be reused. “The processing put me at more exposure to BBP and noxious chemicals than I liked,” Mikey says of steel grips. “Switching to disposable plastic tubes just made sense.”

Check Out What Our Tattoo Artists Are Working With

Within the industry, professionals use the term “machine” or (less frequently) “iron” when referring to their equipment. Although you’ve probably heard a machine called a “tattoo gun” before, it’s typically not a term favored by artists: Strictly speaking, a tattoo machine doesn’t “shoot” ink the way a gun shoots a bullet, and moreover the violent connotation is not in line with the artistic process of creation.
“Back in the ’90s and ’00s, tattooing was shifting,” Mikey says on this particular subject. “There was a new breed of tattooer emerging, one who wasn’t biker affiliated and maybe went to art school. This ‘new school’ breed was trying very hard to distinguish themselves, and they emphasized a ‘professional’ versus ‘amateur’ approach to tattooing. Describing a tattooing apparatus as a ‘machine’ as opposed to a ‘gun’ helped to set them apart.”
But don’t worry: If you’re a client who has used that particular phrase before, your artist isn’t rolling his or her eyes at you behind your back. “Yes, ‘machine’ is the term that tattooers use to distinguish themselves as pros versus amateurs,” Mikey emphasizes, “but I don’t mind if you call it a gun, a machine, or whatever else. Tattoo machines look more like dildos and vibrators these days anyhow.”
If you don’t believe us about that, just do a Google search for “vintage handheld vibrators”— and while you’re at it, check out the Cheyenne Hawk Pen, which is made from machined aluminum and anodized in a rainbow array of colors.
(Told you so.)
If you’re interested in getting a firsthand look at the tattoo machines we use at Paper Crane Studio, we would love to see you at the shop! Whether it’s for a consultation with an artist or a general conversation, our door is open. We hope to see you soon!

Think Before You Ink: Volume I

As one of the more permanent forms of creative self-expression, tattoos are built to last: Just consider Ötzi the Ice Man in all of his tattooed glory, beautifully preserved after over five thousand years. If mummification isn’t in your future, there are companies today that will preserve your inked skin postmortem as an heirloom for your loved ones. Professionally preserved or not, your tattoo is here to stay—so we want to be sure it’s something you enjoy for a lifetime (and something your grandchildren can enjoy, too, if you go that route).
We are excited to launch our “Think Before You Ink” series, which will consider a variety of issues that may or may not occur to you before you head to the tattoo shop. Our industry insight and professional experience can help you create a tattoo you’re proud of—and potentially save you from one you regret. From placement and style to tools and trends, we’ll give you the inside story on a range of topics in each installment. (Drop us a line if there’s something you’d like to know more about!)

Let’s Talk Commitment (Tattoos ARE Permanent!)

Everyone (tattooed or not) has an opinion on how long a person should consider a tattoo before committing to it. Should you live with the idea for a few weeks? A full year? Longer?
“I respect spontaneous decisions just as much as intensely thought-out ones,” says Mikey Vigilante, our founder and senior artist at Paper Crane. In his experience, it isn’t the length of time spent considering a tattoo that counts: Rather, it’s the depth of the inspiration. Whether you’ve thought a design over for a day or a decade, if it has layered meaning or significance to you, it’s a tattoo you’re going to love for a lifetime—long after the initial thrill or fear of commitment. (Assuming, of course, that you get your tattoo done by a professional artist who knows the craft—but more on that later.)
“I had been designing and thinking about a sacred heart tattoo for over a year,” one of our clients told us during a recent visit. “The day I walked into the shop for my appointment, I realized I wanted a totally different heart motif, something I had never considered before. It came to me and I just knew it was right.” Not every design can be so quickly adjusted, but in this case her artist was able to accommodate this new vision. Years down the road, she loves the winged heart she walked out with, despite the suddenness of the decision.
At Paper Crane Studio, we love creatively collaborating with you on an authentic design that reflects the real you. That might mean working on a vision you’ve had since you were a kid, or it could be bringing to life something that came to you over coffee that morning—we don’t judge. If you’re passionate about the piece, then we’re passionate about it, too.

Do Your Homework on Your Artist

Once you’ve committed to a tattoo, you might feel compelled to rush out to the nearest shop and jump in the chair of the first available artist. That can work out: We happily accept walk-ins at Paper Crane when we have time, whether for a small tattoo or for an on-the-spot consultation.
Most artists in our industry are true professionals, and as such they have the integrity to tell a client when a piece is outside of their particular skill set. If you ask our blackwork specialist for a watercolor tattoo, for example, she’ll tell you that it’s not her area of expertise and recommend you to one of our other artists.
But as tempting as it is to pull into the first shop you pass, we recommend doing your research. Check out portfolios at local shops, follow artists on Instagram and Facebook, look into whom an artist has mentored with or where they’ve studied. Don’t assume an artist can do everything just because they’ve been in the industry for two decades—and similarly, don’t assume an artist with only a few years of experience is too green. Talent matures at a different rate in each artist, and some professionals choose to stick to one stylistic specialty for the length of their career.
Even with something that you might think of as simple, you should be picky. For example, script seems straightforward, right? But a script tattoo is in fact easily botched by someone unable to do precise lines. That quote on your friend’s forearm is actually a challenging piece because of this: Any flaws in the line quality are totally apparent and impossible to hide with shading. We have artists at the shop who are very proficient in script and others who hate it! (And we’ll be honest if you ask us about that.)
If you’re looking at something more complicated, be sure to find exactly the right artist, even if it means traveling to their area. Just think about all the “ugly tattoo” websites you’ve ever browsed late at night: How many portrait-tattoos-gone-wrong have you seen? Something meant to be a beautiful memorial to a loved one can easily turn into the butt of a joke if you’re not careful. For something like a portrait tattoo, an intricate watercolor piece, or anything highly detailed, we urge you to find an artist that meets your highest standard—and be prepared to pay top dollar for top quality.
Once you’ve found an artist you can put your faith in, trust him or her to do right by you. From size and placement to design elements, a professional artist knows what makes an outstanding tattoo.

When We Say Professional Tattoo Artists, We Mean Professional Tattoo Artists…

…not your neighbor’s cousin’s boyfriend who tattoos in his garage.
Seriously: Would you let someone give you surgery in their basement?
Tattooing requires a sterile environment, sanitized and/or disposable tools, and strict observance of guidelines intended to prevent the spread of bloodborne pathogens. Professional shops have the proper licenses, accreditations, and protocols to ensure a safe environment for what is a somewhat invasive procedure: To make your tattoo permanent, an artist injects a needle into the second layer of your skin, essentially creating a wound. White blood cells react by trying to dump the ink into your bloodstream.
If you’re stopping by someone’s garage for a tattoo, you literally risk death by exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Non-sterile equipment can transmit Hepatitis C, antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus (MRSA), and other bacterial or viral infections. Again: These diseases can actually KILL you.
When you skip the “professional” part of “professional tattoo artist,” you also run the risk of getting a seriously terrible tattoo (which will go great with your new life-threatening disease). Respectable shops hire talented artists with industry experience, academic and/or practical training, professional mentorships, etc. A professional artist may be new to tattooing—but if a shop has hired that artist, you can trust that he or she has the chops to be gainfully employed in this industry.
If cost is a factor, our professional advice would be to save up until you have enough for your dream tattoo with the perfect artist. You can always opt for a smaller piece for the time being to satisfy your ink addiction. Or you might let your artist know you are on a budget: At Paper Crane, we can work with you to do your tattoo in multiple sessions or to make design adjustments that cut down on cost without sacrificing quality. (And if your budget isn’t realistic for a particular piece, we’ll let you know.)

Questions? Ask Us!

Now that we’ve got some of the basics out of the way, we want to know what you’d like to explore in the wide world of tattooing. Do you want the skinny on glow-in-the-dark ink? The real story about 3D tattoos? Have you been wondering if your forearm tattoo is technically upside down? We’ll be looking at these trending topics in our next “Think Before You Ink” installment, but we would love to know what questions you have for our professional team at Paper Crane Studio.
Send us your questions on Instagram @papercranestudio!
And stay tuned for Volume II of “Think Before You Ink.” Remember: In five millenia, someone could be scrutinizing your tattoos… Won’t you be glad you thought yours through?

Welcome to Paper Crane Studio

There is nothing quite like the feeling of walking into a tattoo studio, whether for the first or five hundredth time: An electric excitement dances across your soon-to-be-inked skin as you breeze through the door, giddiness and a touch of nervous anticipation fill your stomach, design possibilities flit through your mind. A sense of monumental importance hangs in the air as you prepare to permanently mark your body, akin to ritual. The hum of the tattoo needles is almost like the murmur of prayer.

Embrace the Thrill and the Ritual of Tattooing

At Paper Crane Studio, your excitement is our excitement. We embrace both the thrill and the ritual of the tattoo experience. As an integrated part of the Long Beach community, we strive to welcome all clients into our relaxed atmosphere that is 100% free of pretension, judgment, or intimidation.
Whatever you reason for getting a tattoo, we are here to bring your vision to reality. To us, your tattoo is not simply another job: It is a personal, memorable, meaningful experience. Whether you are memorializing a loved one, commemorating an achievement, covering up a surgical scar, or getting a piece that you can’t wait to show off, we look forward to working with you to create a tattoo you’ll love for a lifetime.

Our Tattoo Artists Honor the Past—and Innovate the Future

We respect tattooing as an ancient art, which is why our artists have studied art history and graphic design, worked and taught in multidisciplinary artistic fields, and mentored with industry giants. We are well-versed in traditional styles and methods, which gives us a foundation on which to experiment and innovate. From quiet-running electric rotary machines to advanced numbing sprays to digital drafting programs that help our artists model your design on a picture of your body, we carefully implement the latest industry tools to better serve your needs. Because we are grounded in tattooing’s past while looking forward to the future, we’re able to create art that stands the test of time.


Authentic Art for an Authentic You

“An authentic tattoo is one that is inspired,” says Mikey Vigilante, Paper Crane Studio’s founder, owner, and senior artist. “It is something that is unique to you but is also created in a way that allows your artist to be unique in their creative process.”
Guided by that vision, our artists are deeply committed to the art of tattooing in order to provide tattoos and experiences that are outstanding, memorable, comfortable, and—most of all—authentic. Through clear communication and total acceptance, we strive to help you express who you genuinely are through your tattoos. If we can help you feel more like the person you’re meant to be, we are accomplishing our mission to be authentic artists.

Experience Our Passion for Artistic Excellence in the Tattoo Industry

“Founding a studio had been a goal of mine for many years,” Mikey wants our customers to know. His extensive industry experience had led him to the feeling that something was missing at each shop in which he worked. After amassing a significant body of artistic knowledge and tattooing experience, traveling extensively around the world, and discovering a home in Long Beach, Mikey took the leap and founded Paper Crane Studio in 2012.
As the owner of his own shop, Mikey wanted to create an environment where customers and artists alike could freely express their passions, both for tattooing and for living. And that is exactly what he has done over the last four years: Our hand-selected team of individuals spends each day turning your passion into art through unmatched talent and expertise.
At Paper Crane, we want you to feel completely at home. From collaborative design consultations and extensive aftercare information to our temperature controlled environment and numbing creams, we go to great lengths to ensure that you have an experience that is as much of a joy as your finished tattoo.