The Evolution of Tattoo Inks

1 week ago 26

By Chinelo Eze

14 January 2022   |   4:53 pm

As the tattoo trend continues to spike, we know that this cultural art form has existed centuries ago. Ethnographic and archeological findings imply that tattooing has been practiced by most of the human culture in historic times with a peculiarity to some parts. The ancient Greeks used tattoos from the 5th century to communicate among…

A tattoo. Photo Grazia Daily

As the tattoo trend continues to spike, we know that this cultural art form has existed centuries ago.

Ethnographic and archeological findings imply that tattooing has been practiced by most of the human culture in historic times with a peculiarity to some parts. The ancient Greeks used tattoos from the 5th century to communicate among spies; later, the Romans marked criminals and slaves with tattoos. Tattoos used a communicative means in some cultures, operating as tribal, ritualistic, and religious in others.

That said, with the past comes the present, so changes in perception and style are bound to ensue. Therefore, tattoo styles and symbols have grown but what about the inks that marry the skin to create art forms and representations? How has the ink changed in production and the way it is used?

Today, tattoo inks are refined. Tattoo inks like tattoos too have gone through a series of changes in centuries. The humble years of tattoo artistry have tattoo inks made based on the gifts of nature. Man at that time relied on his immediate surroundings to make the ink to be used in tattooing.

The earliest inks used were made of charcoal, ash, and varying materials that could be found in nature. As time passed the complexities intensified the recipes and methodology used in the invention of tattoo inks. 

A Roman physician, Aetius, had a recipe for tattoo ink that consisted of pine bark, corroded bronze mixed with vinegar, insect eggs, and vitriol. And before the invention of machines to be used in the application process, ancient cultures used tools like rose thorns, shark teeth,  and pelican bones to draw on skins.

In modern times, most regular tattoo ink colors are derived from heavy metals, including antimony, beryllium, lead, cobalt-nickel, chromium, mercury, cadmium, iron oxide, and arsenic. Other additives include surfactants, binding agents, fillers, and preservatives.  The components found in this type of inks have been linked to causing allergic reactions also leading to diseases. Scientists are unsure of the precise effect of this ink and so people with inks aren’t viable for blood transfusion for anyone in need or might not be able to have an MRI scan.

These days, tattoos inks have been revolutionised to have inks that glow in the dark with the basic black inks still in use. Some of these glowing inks work on phosphorescent which absorbs light that makes it glow in the dark while other types glow in the presence of UV light. To assist the black inks also are white inks; this type of ink unlike black is more subtle in appearance and depends on the natural colour of one’s skin tone.

How are the inks applied to the skin? Well, in 1876, Thoams Edison laid the foundation for the first electrical tattoo machine which became the point for reinvention by other inventors. In the application of tattoo inks, the modern tools consist of a small handheld machine with components of a needle and a tube. The needles are of different shapes and sizes held together on a bar in varying patterns depending on what is needed to achieve a particular goal.

Back in time, archeology findings date needles found in Egypt to 1450 B.C though the oldest record dates back to 3000 B.C.The Maori people of New Zealand used bone chisels to carve designs directly to the skin. When that is done they would deep the bone chisel in pigment which is then applied into the lines initially carved on the skin.

In the ancient Polynesian culture, two people were needed for this. The artist used a tool in the form of a rake to hold the ink, then used a hammer to puncture the skin. The second individual would hold the skin to limit the vibration from the hitting alter the desired design. 

This is in contrast to the contemporary way that is less manual and tasking is in the past but one thing that is certain and remains the same is that all periods use the piercing technique to achieve tattoo drawings. Tattoo inks have also made their mark in defining the modern cultural usage of tattoos in the past and present.

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