Around five years ago, micro tattoos started making the rounds across international media and the net as a trend to look out for. Ever since then, countless articles have been dedicated to tracing the relationship between the style and the likes of the rich and famous. This, in spite of acknowledgment to the artistry of the technique itself.
Regardless of the method, it is apparent that micro tattooing has entered the mainstream consciousness. To this day, its popularity has yet to show signs of fading. Whole tattoo shops have made names for themselves out of tattooing such small designs.
However popular they might be, though, there doesn’t seem to be much concise information about micro tattoos out there. That’s why we’ve decided to shed some light on the question: are micro tattoos worth the hype that surrounds them or just another absurd trend that’s destined to eventually die out?
What’s so special about micro tattoos?
This form of tattooing consists of designs that can go from the minimalistic to the intricate. Said designs are achieved with finer than usual single-needles and always confined to small areas of skin. This allows for greater attention to detail. The work of tattoo artists such as Jefree Naderali, with his realistic style, are prime examples of just how precise micro tattoos can get.
You can also appreciate them for their practicality. Micro tattoos are perfect to be kept hidden in plain sight, and perhaps also perceived as less of a monumental step than a full sleeve for most beginners. A middle ground of sorts wherein the hands of an expert, you can get complex designs without committing to a lot of space.
Nevertheless, do not be fooled by their size. Micro tattoos can take just as much time to finish as their bigger counterparts.
A not so recent phenomenon
Interestingly, and far from what renewed media attention may lead you to believe, single-needle tattoos (a popular micro tattooing technique) have been around for at least four decades. The rise of the style mirrors that of the trajectory of Mark Mahoney’s career.
Adept to the black and gray style with the single-needle since the 80’s, Mahoney is considered a pioneer. A living testament to the unexpected length of the technique’s history.
After briefly attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Mahoney started his tattooing career in the mid-seventies. At first, trained by his friend Mark Herlihy, Mahoney was introduced to the craft at a time when tattooing was still illegal in some American states.
His first stint with tattooing came in the form of a rudimentary tattooing machine acquired by Herlihy. The latter who would also serve as a practice canvas. His would be a hands-on learning experience from the start.
Years down the line, Mahoney perfected his style while working for Jack Rudy of Tattooland. He steadily gained recognition with his specialty: black and gray designs which resembled the appearance of a drawing made by hand.
Mahoney’s work is a solid example of what’s made single-needle tattooing a fixture in the industry. With the turn of the century, he opened Shamrock Social Club. Now a Hollywood staple, the tattoo shop has helped bridge the gap between tattooing and the mainstream. His work, along with that of his contemporaries such as Jack Rudy and Freddy Negrete has brought recognition to tattoos as an accepted art form.
Single needle tattoos: the preferred method
As a byproduct of technological advancement in the tattoo industry, special equipment intended for micro tattooing is more available than ever. When creating micro tattoos, a needle with a single tip, known as a one-round lighter (1RL) is usually the instrument of choice.
Because it is traditionally used for shading, it allows the artist to achieve greater detail. Moreover, single-needle tattoos don’t penetrate the skin as much as your average needle does. This means they are more prone to change and become distorted over time, although this is also what gives them their delightful subtle appearance. Consider this a reason to look for micro tattoo artists who also apply bold accent lines to their designs.
Aging: micro tattoos worst enemy
Tattoos are deposits of ink below the epidermis, the primary layer of the skin. When tattooing takes place, a needle (or several, depending on the style) pierces through the dermis.
Through this process, ink is deposited deeply enough so that it won’t be disposed of by your body’s natural process of shedding skin. Believe it or not, at any given hour, the average human sheds between 0.03 and 0.09g of skin.
You may say your immune system is constantly trying to fight off the ink as if it were an infection. Inevitably, ink will get absorbed and dispersed. This is what makes tattoo lines look thicker and faded over time. Outside elements such as exposition to the sun doesn’t help much when trying to preserve tattoos either.
Where does this leave micro tattoos? Admittedly, at a disadvantage when compared to larger designs with bold lines. There has to be enough space between strokes. Otherwise, as explained before, after a couple of decades the dark lines of a small tattoo will seemingly merge. Creating that dreaded stain-like appearance people fear so much when thinking about getting tattoos in the first place.
To put it bluntly, at best, micro tattoos will always require more touch-ups than your average traditional tattoo.
What’s the worst-case scenario?
Generally, those opposed to micro tattooing tend to have a special qualms about the technique: its contested longevity. After all and understandably so, considering the elevated rates of professional tattoo artists (a necessity when it comes to micro tattooing), people expect not only beautiful but long-lasting pieces.
While avoiding tattoo placement in body parts exposed to the sun or high friction will help preserve a piece, if color is in the mix, a tattoo will change more dramatically in the long run.
Some argue micro tattoos fade beyond recognition after some years. There’s no shortage of testimony online by people who swear their small tattoos promptly disappeared after a couple of months. Most reported cases involve tattoos placed on feet or hands, where high friction happens. However, according to science, after going into the dermis, further than the uppermost layer of skin, a tattoo might fade but never truly disappear.
So, is it any wonder why this is such a popular style? Admittedly so, the ability to trace complex designs in a reduced area seems like a great artistic feat on its own. Perhaps there’s also beauty in having a piece that you know is more delicate and prone to change over time.
Right now you might be wondering whether micro tattoos are worth it in the long run. As it stands today, micro tattooing is a style that can undoubtedly provide beautiful results. However, just as the delicate appearance it projects, we can’t stress enough how this technique requires special care.
Either way, if you are willing to put extra work into maintaining your tattoo in optimal condition and seek the help of an experienced artist to create a design that better suits you; there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go for it.