Pinterest and Instagram have made a huge impact on the tattoo industry. As certain designs or styles become trendy, we see an increase in requests for those particular pieces. When clients are open to our creative interpretation of a particular piece, we can have a lot of fun with these requests.
Sometimes, though, we are faced with trends that are intensely problematic.
Let's talk about one of these trends: Micro tattoos.
Micro Tattoos Online
The definition varies from artist to artist, but micro tattoos are typically highly detailed pieces that are three inches or smaller. Many of the micro tattoos that gain popularity online are under the size of a quarter.
Small tattoos are not a problem, in and of themselves. Even tiny tattoos are feasible--provided they are designed as simply as possible. The outline of a heart, a semi-colon tattoo, a smiley face--these are tattoos that can work at a micro scale.
But micro tattoos on social media are usually quite intricate. Realism portraits are one of the more popular examples you'll see online, along with floral pieces that look like miniature oil paintings.
Micro Tattoos + Skin Changes
Striking as they are when first tattooed, these detail-packed micro tattoos simply don't age well. As your skin changes--due to age, sun exposure, friction, etc.--those lovely little details can blur or fade. This is true of color, black-and-grey, and blackwork micro tattoos alike.
All tattoos change as your skin changes--so why are micro tattoos so much more at risk of looking awful?
As skin sheds (due to sunburns, natural aging, or friction), tattoo ink migrates little by little. Sometimes this results in lines thickening as the ink spreads to other parts of the skin. Other times, ink starts to look faded or dull. You can help fight these changes with proper skincare, but subtle changes over time are completely normal.
With a non-micro tattoo that has been designed well, there is enough spaces between details to account for the spread of ink. The tattoo will still "read" well years down the road. When it comes to fading, sunscreen is the best prevention for that, but proper tattoo application also plays a role in longevity.
With micro tattoos, blurring and fading are both concerns: As ink spreads, the tiny details bleed together, leaving you with little more than a stain. Fading is also more likely due the delicate lines and the use of a single needle, which doesn't pierce the dermis in the same way as multi-needle setups. The viscosity of colored ink in particular leads to blurred, fuzzy lines that don't do justice to the original art.
Micro Tattoos: Performance Art?
We often have clients who fully understand that micro tattoos are not built to last--yet even so, they express an interest in moving forward. Micro tattoos take on an aspect of performance art, becoming a temporary installation that will leave only remnants of their original glory.
At Paper Crane, we build tattoos to last. While we appreciate artistic endeavors that push the envelope and redefine genres, we are interested in creating authentic tattoos. We love experimenting with styles, composition, and more--but our central focus is on permanent art as opposed to art that only looks good for a brief moment in time.
How Small Is Too Small?
This is an excellent question to ask your artist. Size recommendations vary from piece to piece, depending on placement, detail, etc.
We will always advise you honestly when it comes to your tattoo. If a piece needs to be bigger to age well, we will tell you that. If we can do something at a small size but need to simplify the design, we'll tell you that, too.
Please keep in mind that "simple" and "small" do not mean easy. The smaller the tattoo, the steadier an artist's hand needs to be. This is especially true of fine-line pieces or outlines, as there is no room for error. These types of tattoos can take longer than you might think, especially depending on the placement--but our meticulous approach ensures your tattoo will look beautiful for a long, long time.
Script/Lettering: A Special Case
We'll be discussing script and lettering in detail on our next blog, but we often get requests for teeny-tiny quotes, signatures, or single words. We love lettering, but we often advise that you size up: Whether you're getting block letters or cursive, the abundance of curves and angles means an increased potential for blurring. This can also impact placement: A popular choice for script is the side of the finger, but these pieces tend to fall out very quickly.
Trust Your Artist
By and large, we recommend trusting your artist when it comes to sizing. While an estimate in inches can prove helpful, the truth is this: If you are not an experienced tattooist, you may not understand the exact importance of sizing when it comes to readability and longevity. In the end, the difference in size will matter less than the long-term aesthetic of your tattoo--trust us.
To consult with an artist directly, send us an email at email@example.com to see what we can do with your vision.