There’s been an incredible amount of debate about tattoo healing after my post two days ago — with a disturbing amount of denialism, and an especially deranged argument on Facebook — but the fact is, when you get a tattoo, you have to live with the healed version, not the fresh version. The tattoo artist on the other hand, thanks to their handy camera, may forever live with the fresh version. Photos don’t need to heal.
A fresh tattoo looks different because it’s not covered by an ink-free layer of surface skin — it is, in fact, covered by a layer of tattooed dead skin that may or may not have the same ink in it as the deeper skin — plus the ink particles haven’t had time to settle into their permanent locations. For starters this means that a healed tattoo will almost always have less intense colors and less deep blacks, and there will be some flattening and blending of tones. The degree of these changes depends on factors including the types and colors of ink and, the nature of the wearer’s skin, and the tattooist’s technique — and of course a client can destroy a tattoo with bad aftercare but that’s not what this entry is about. Also, the order the ink was put in won’t matter as much in a healed tattoo — in a fresh tattoo, the visually dominant color will be the last one put in, temporarily hiding what’s beneath it, but in a healed tattoo it will be more of an “average”. In a flat oldschool tattoo this doesn’t make much difference, but in a tattoo with a lot of shading and color nuance it can make a huge difference. And of course all this is assuming a best case scenario — if the tattoo artist has a light hand or otherwise didn’t put in the ink properly, there can also be fading, sometimes dramatic.
A reputable tattoo artist will always aim for the healed tattoo to look as good as possible, not for the fresh tattoo to look as good as possible. In many cases they may even need to create a fresh tattoo that doesn’t look as good as the healed one, and as a result, some unethical artists who are looking to win a convention tattoo award (and often do) that’s being judged that day, make decisions that don’t do the client any favors as discussed to death previously.
I’m very happy to say that the best thing to come about from this discussion is a number of artists vowing to make sure that their portfolios contain as many healed photos as possible. Healed photos are the only way a client can truly know what they are paying for, and are essential. Any tattoo artist that doesn’t have plenty of healed tattoos in their portfolio is one I’d be very nervous about.
On that note — and sorry for taking so long to get here — I’d like to share with you two tattoos, fresh and healed, from Mike Shultz at Altered Image Tattoo & Piercing in Indianapolis (alteredimagetattooindy.com). Compare the tattoos fresh and healed ones. Look at them closely — see how the colors and levels change — and you’ll get some insight into healing, and the decisions that Mike made to give his clients a tattoo that they should be happy with forever, not just something that will win him a Best of Show. Thank you to all the tattoo artists out there who have pledged to give the world an honest impression of what they’re capable of and including plenty of healed and unedited photos (or better yet, both, spreading an understanding to the public of how tattoos heal) in their portfolio.
Be sure you zoom in to really appreciate both my comments and Mike’s artistry.