The history of technological advances when it comes to tattooing could fill volumes. From the original hand poke designs and wooden stencils of the ancients to the modern thermographic printing and advanced machines of today, there is a lot of ground to cover.
This article will feature one aspect of technology that has revolutionized the way tattoos are created.
Years ago, tattoo artists would need to create everything from the design and stencil of a piece or achieve the desired result with freehand work. Now though, with the advent of digital art, artists can create amazingly complex designs that would have been all but impossible years ago. Images and designs could be preplanned, edited, distorted and scaled to accommodate a clients wishes on the spot. Layers can be used in order to visualize fades between elements and even remove whole sections to create an interesting visual dynamic. An image of a clients body part to be tattooed can be used with the design placed over it to show roughly how the piece will look. In the end, this benefits the artist in the time needed to create a custom design as well as the client in how long they must wait for the piece.
Some might believe this to be less genuine. The thought of the creation process being cheated by the aid of a digital tool makes some believe the art form has had the bar lowered. It can also be argued that each advance and tool at the disposal of a tattoo artist is cheating in one form or another. This thought process can go back to the first tattoo machines being considered less genuine than hand poking or that modern inks are less genuine than older formulas. With the advent of 3D printing and modified machines capable of creating "perfect" tattoos we can expect to see future advancements that will be looked down upon by the older generations of tattoo artists.
To deny a tools use though is to deny progress and in the art of tattooing, it might mean denying a higher quality piece.
Each style of tattooing benefits from different methods. Old school, watercolor, realism, trash polka, each requires a different method. While realism and trash polka styles benefit from a digital tool, pieces in watercolor styles typically feel more realistic when done by hand. Traditional style Japanese pieces or pieces that cover larger areas of the body benefit from planned free hand drawing with the client. Detailed patterns and geometry can be replicated in a perfect pattern using digital tools.
As technology progresses the art of tattooing will undoubtedly evolve to accommodate new tools and processes to further techniques and output. One avenue that has not been approached (yet) is virtual reality.
How long will it be before both artist and client can view a potential tattoo in a three dimensional space to see exactly how an image will fold across the plane of the body? The great sculptors of the past knew their pieces would be viewed at an angle and purposefully distorted features in marble to account for this. Soon, tattoo artists might be able to edit images directly on a clients virtual skin and print the stencil directly from that edit. What comes out of the printer may look strange and skewed but once placed on the skin, it would seamlessly merge with the exact contours of the human figure.
All this having been said, there is no doubt that despite advances and tools at the end of the day it still comes down to needle on skin, an eye for proper composition and the skill of the tattoo artist to translate a vision to fresh ink.