THE EVOLUTION OF TATTOO EQUIPMENT
Part 1. – The Tattoo Needle
I would like to clear up a common misconception in the tattoo industry, regarding tattoo needle and tattoo cartridge. Let’s start by walking through the evolution of tattooing, starting with the history of tattoo needles.
We have proof that tattooing was performed as early as many other forms of ancient artwork. When our early ancestors were painting on cave walls, they were also marking themselves by planting pigments under their skin. Globally, all around the earth, (India, Russia, China, Japan, Africa, Americas), archaeological records prove this through their discoveries of tattooed, mummified bodies from up to 5,000 years ago.
Primitive civilizations used primitive tools for this procedure, which probably consisted of sharp bones, wood, or possibly stones – and later, metal tools.
When any sharp tool goes too deep into the skin and reaches certain depths in the flesh, the marks heal into scars. The professional art form of this process today is called scarification.
The difference between tattooing and scarification is that with tattooing, we inject pigment under the skin. With scarification, the art is created by the raised skin pattern and design, rather than the built-in pigment shades and colors that tattooing creates.
As we evolved and moved forward, tattooing equipment followed in trend. First, we had sharp bones, then primitive metal tools, which were followed by sharp metal tools, such as needles. As the equipment gets finer, the tattooing artwork does so as well. Although needles were designed originally for the purpose of sewing clothing, their physical properties made them an ideal tool for tattooing. However, these needles were not hollow – they couldn’t hold the ink, therefore they needed to be dipped into some sort of color, which ended up being mostly black liquid pigments. Today, we call this tattoo ink. After dipping the needle in the tattoo ink, it was manually applied to the skin, poke by poke. One dip, one poke – because at the time, the first needles used in tattooing weren’t able to be refilled. In time, different civilizations further developed the art of tattooing and tattoo equipment in different ways, through their different intentions and traditions.
The next step likely was wrapping some fine threads around the sewing needle, a little bit further up from the very tip – this way they were able to “store and supply” ink to last for multiple punctures. Still, it was all hand made artwork.
In 1800, Italian physicist Alessandro Volta discovered electricity by constructing an early electric battery and creating a steady electric flow.
From this point on, all different types of electric devices were invented, including the first tattoo machine by Samuel F. Oreilly in 1891.
These new devices required new parts in order for the machines to operate properly. Thus, the tattoo needle needed to evolve to be able to attach to these new electric machines. The way it was done was soldering the short needle onto a metal bar. Now, we arrive at the tattoo needle as we know it today: needles on a bar.