How To Evaluate The Quality of a Tattoo
Evaluating the quality of a tattoo is no easy task, especially to the untrained eye. What determines a quality tattoo is quite subjective and can vary based on individual preferences. However, several common factors contribute to the overall quality of a tattoo:
Skill of the Artist:
The technical skill of the tattoo artist is paramount. A good artist demonstrates proficiency in line work, shading, color saturation (if applicable), scale, and placement. Clean, precise lines – which are harder than you think - and smooth shading contribute to the overall quality of the tattoo
An important factor in determining the quality of work is by zooming in; this is where you can see the cleanliness of the lines and other details. Often, tattoos may look okay from a distance, but at a closer look you may notice that the lines aren’t as great as you initially thought.
To expand, there are a few things to look for when you want to determine the quality of an artist’s linework. Look at the lines: do they appear consistent and smooth throughout the tattoo? Is the thickness of the lines consistent throughout various elements of the design? Another thing to be cautious of is blow-outs; these occur when the artist deposits the ink too deep into the skin. This will create a blurred effect beneath and around the lines.
Furthermore, look for how well the elements within a tattoo design are spaced out. Tattoos that have small distances between lines, will, over time, blur together. This is because ink spreads a little over time as our skin naturally breaks down the ink.
Here are some examples of differences in the precision and quality of line work:
In the first example, we’re looking at a zoomed in photo of one of Kansinee’s floral tattoos. As you can see, the lines are sharp and smooth. The linework and thickness of the lines are consistent throughout the design, which contributes to the clarity and shape of the design. The shading is done with the future in mind; the contrast between dark ink and use of negative space will result in a tattoo that will look good throughout the years.
In the second example, the tattoo appears decent at first glance. There is enough spacing throughout the design, which will contribute to the overall longevity of the tattoo. When zoomed in, you can see that the line thickness differs in various spots and that some of the lines are shaky and not fully saturated (as seen in the petals and leaves). While variations in line weight can be intentional (to emphasize certain elements), in this particular example it disrupts the overall cohesion and harmony of the design and makes the tattoo look messy. Shaky lines affect the clarity and definition of the design but can also lead to inconsistent ink distribution within the layers of the skin. Especially with fine line tattoos - you would want to have the cleanest lines possible. If you want to get wobbly thin lines corrected, it would often have to be traced with a thicker needle, which would compromise the delicacy of the final outcome.
Lastly, here is an example of a tattoo in which the linework is inconsistent throughout the entire tattoo. This makes the overall tattoo look out of balance. Especially in ornamental or symmetrical tattoos any inconsistencies become more noticeable. In this particular piece you can see that the weight and consistency of the lines are uneven, as well as the spacing between elements. Another thing to notice is the blurriness around the edges of the lines. These are blowouts and together with the small spacing between the lines; this tattoo will be illegible over time.
* Please note that the intention is not to criticize others' work, but rather to provide an educational perspective.
Design and Composition:
A well-designed tattoo takes into account factors such as balance, proportion, and flow. The composition should suit the unique natural contours of each individual's body and make consideration of the subtleness, tautness, and pigmentation of the skin.
Clarity and Detail:
Clear and well-defined details are essential for creating a visually striking tattoo. Whether it's intricate linework or realistic shading, attention to detail contributes to the overall quality of the design.
Consider the differences in the images below.
In the first image you will see one of Kansinee’s lions done in a black and grey realism style. You can tell that the shading contributes to the tattoo’s three-dimensional appearance, as the parts where the light would hit naturally, is kept light, whereas the dark parts maintain their depth. This creates a striking contrast, which enhances the tattoo’s realism and depth. When zooming in; the details of the lions become evident. The whiskers, the crisp and clean lines defining the teeth, and the textured fur all add to the overall quality of the tattoo and showcase the artist’s precision and attention to detail.
The second image shows another lion tattoo done in a realism style. The artist uses well balanced proportions which makes the tattoo look more realistic. However, the lack of texture and depth of the fur give the tattoo a less detailed appearance. The application of shading within the face seems overly subtle, potentially impacting the longevity as the ink's light application may lead to faster fading. Consequently, this light shading might contribute to a flattening effect over time, particularly in the facial features. While this can be touched up in the future, investing in a high-quality tattoo initially will save you both time and effort while guaranteeing a lasting piece of art on your skin.
Color Saturation and Palette:
If tattooing in colour, vibrant and well-saturated colours can bring a design to life. A thoughtfully chosen color palette and skillful application contribute to the overall visual impact of the tattoo.
Consistency in Style:
With time, great tattoo artists cultivate and nurture their own chosen style. Whether it's within the realm of traditional, realism, ornamental or a specific niche like floral, watercolour or geometric, the artist's style should be cohesive and recognizable. Like with most things in life, the more someone focuses in a specific area, the deeper their skill and style within that area become. When you are searching for a high-quality tattoo, this is why it is important to find a tattoo artist that aligns with your preferred style. This is also why there is not one artist that is better than others, but rather there are different artists with different fusions between a genre of tattooing and the artist's own interpretation.
Meaning and Personal Connection:
Tattoos often hold personal significance to the wearer. Whether it represents a meaningful life event, a personal philosophy, a tribute, or is more simply something that brings you joy without the need of deep contemplative thought, a good tattoo artist should strive to understand the person behind the tattoo so that the tattoo can be curated to fit the uniqueness of the individual.
Placement on the Body:
Consideration of the body's anatomy and the chosen placement of the tattoo is crucial. A well-placed tattoo enhances the body's natural contours and ensures the design flows seamlessly with the wearer's physique. It also takes into consideration previous and/or future tattoo ideas and placements. A good tattoo artist will help you understand the pros and cons of certain body placements with respect to how tattoos tend to heal in particular areas. For example, finger tattoos don’t tend to hold well with time.
Originality and Creativity:
Original and creative designs stand out. A good tattoo artist can take a client's ideas and bring a unique perspective to the design, resulting in a one-of-a-kind piece of art. This is why it is helpful to empower your tattoo artist with some creative agency in the design process. This is also why some artists, like us at Discovery Ink & Art, will never repeat a tattoo design.
Healing and Longevity:
The care taken during the tattooing process and adherence to proper aftercare instructions contribute to how well a tattoo heals. A good tattoo should age gracefully and maintain its integrity over time. In our experience, use of a second skin – a band-aid type product that creates a separation between the skin and the external environment – is particularly helpful in the early stages of healing. Furthermore, taking care of one’s skin also maintains the vibrancy of one’s tattoo. Accordingly, being mindful of sun exposure and dryness are beneficial. Correlative to the healing process is how gentle and precise the artist is with the tattoo machine. Some heavy-handed and beginner tattoo artists may press too deeply into the skin leading to ink blow-outs and sloppy designs.
Communication and Collaboration:
Effective communication between the client and the artist is crucial and is sadly something the tattoo industry struggles with. A good tattoo artist listens to the client's ideas, provides guidance, and works collaboratively to create a design that meets the client's hopes. As a client, tattoo artists appreciate you being mindful of the amount of work they do behind the scenes (e.g. design preparation, website development, marketing, administration and accounting, supplies maintenance, email response, client bookings, customer service etc…) in understanding why they may not respond to you immediately. That said, a good tattoo artist should have a clear system in place for how to contact and book-in with the artist and should stick to clear guidelines set-out about how to connect. This kind of clarity makes the process clear for everyone involved.
Hygiene and Safety:
A reputable tattoo artist ensures a clean and safe working environment. Adherence to strict hygiene practices and the use of sterilized equipment are essential for both the artist and the client's well-being. You should be able to check-in with the local health authority to review the tattoo shop’s adherence to the local health code. If you have any concern about contaminants or improper hygiene in the space, please take caution and consider booking elsewhere!
Ultimately, the perception of a quality tattoo is highly personal, and individual tastes may vary. It's important for individuals to choose a tattoo artist whose style aligns with their preferences and to communicate openly to ensure the final result meets their expectations.
P.S. If you are a fan of the work we do at Discovery Ink & Art, please consider signing up for the Discovery Ink & Art Community mailing list to gain access to our tattoo bookings. You can also follow us on Instagram