Welcome to the Future

Advances in putting ink into your skin also mean advances in getting it out. The latest: tattoo ink that can be removed with a single laser treatment. Before complaining about the decline of tattoo culture, remember that all inks are technically removable; InfinitInk (freedom2inc.com) can simply be removed more easily, more thoroughly, and with less injury to the skin. It also doesn’t hurt that top scientists from Harvard, Duke, and Brown contributed to the research that led to the development of the ink.

“We are not about temporary tattoos,” stresses Martin Schmieg, president and CEO of Freedom2 Inc. “And we’re not about changing the dynamic of the tattoo market.” In fact, the company’s InfinitInk is finding increasing, if moderate, success with tattooers—even though, as Schmieg laughs, “Without question, every tattoo artist, upon first hearing about us, hates us.”
Schmieg, a self-proclaimed “square businessman,” describes tattoos as “things that come to you from within your soul.” Yet one study showed that about a quarter of people who get tattooed later regret it, which makes the idea of an easy removal that much more appealing.
Freedom2 isn’t stopping with InfinitInk, either. The company also engineered Virgin Ink, a conventional ink that is free of all toxins; Hawk tattoo equipment, which uses click-in and click-out needles; and a new surface cleaner that eliminates the hepatitis virus.
Just don’t doubt the crew’s commitment to real-deal quality control. Schmieg’s been tattooed eight times with different versions of the ink, and Christine Solari, director of development and manufacturing, has also undergone the needle in what she calls their “applications lab.” Ah, job perks.

Las Vegas is known for seizure-inducing lights, but Club Tattoo’s Sean Dowdell claims that wasn’t what inspired him to create the first-ever touch-screen tattoo design displays. It was simply ease of use.
“It’s just so much easier than rifling through books or looking through all that flash,” he says. “And the image library is endless.” Although it took roughly a year and $80,000 to develop, Dowdell says the payoff was worth it. The slick displays use an effortless interface that combines “the model of iTunes with the searchability of Google.” And the result is no less efficient. The database currently includes more than 80,000 images and averages about 2,500 new ones per week. Dowdell predicts his system will change the face of tattoo shops within five years and stands by his statement that it’s the best innovation in the tattoo business in the last 20.

Customers can check out designs online at clubtattoo.com and choose a design before getting to the shop. And artists can subscribe to Dowdell’s new site, interactivetattoo.com, where they can upload designs and are paid a monthly licensing royalty each time a shop pays to use one. Even better than access to what’s bound to be millions of designs is the representation that each artist gets. Dowdell has at least a few touch-screens in each of his five shops in Vegas and Arizona, meaning that each tattooer gets equal billing no matter where the client happens to be. Dowdell has also developed a virtual keyboard that allows the client to choose a font style without having to sift through endless reference books.

One feature the displays don’t include is a print button. Dowdell laughs, “We’d probably end up with pages of stuff like ‘cock,’ ‘asshole,’ and ‘jerk.’ So we let the artist print out the designs themselves.”

In the not-so-distant future, diabetics could have a seriously significant excuse to get tattooed. Massachusetts-based Draper Laboratory is developing what they’re calling Nano Ink, tattooable ink that changes color based on the body’s glucose level, eliminating the need for blood tests. Instead of pricking their fingers to test glucose levels, diabetics would simply hold an infrared light over the ink; its color would tell the wearer if he or she is in need of a quick shot of insulin.

The idea started as sodium-sensitive ink designed to monitor heart health or to ensure proper hydration of athletes. Now Nano Ink includes three parts: a glucose-detecting molecule, a glucose-mimicking molecule, and a color-changing dye. In an interview with Discovery Channel’s Discovery News, Heather Clark, a Draper scientist, claimed that a healthy glucose level would cause the ink to take on an orange hue. The ink is still in development, but Clark said that tests in lab mice have had spectacular results.

The good news, if you’re not tattoo-inclined, is that the spot of ink doesn’t need to be much bigger than a dot, and Clark claims the tattoo “would only have to be a few millimeters in size and wouldn’t have to go as deep as a normal tattoo.”

There are plenty of situations that might require concealing a tattoo: a job interview, a weekend with the in-laws, undercover espionage work. Enter Sephora’s Kat Von D Tattoo Concealer (sephora.com).

It may seem like an odd marriage, but before Kat Von D ever picked up a tattoo machine, she was sneaking into her mother’s room at the age of 7 to experiment with makeup. And if you’ve ever caught a split second of Kat on TLC’s LA Ink, you know that it’s impossible to miss her balls-out rock ‘n’ roll style that always includes some striking makeup.
In 2008, Von D teamed with Sephora to create a makeup line, and what started as a few products from the Los Angeles–based tattooer has grown into a full line of signature beauty products, including eight shades of heavy-duty concealer. The water-resistant and smudge-proof cream is applied in four steps (prep, conceal, perfect, and set) and works on bruises, dark circles, and other blemishes.

Von D has never had to cover up her own tattoos, though she admits there were times she probably should have. “Having tattoos made certain things very difficult for me. People treated you differently,” she says. “Fortunately, the times are a changin’.”

Tattoo art has evolved over the decades, but little has changed about the machines buzzing away in shops around the world. Since Thomas Edison patented his Stencil-Pen in 1877 and Charles Wagner patented the first tattoo machine in 1904, the standard tattoo machine has hummed away relatively unchanged—that is until 2000, when California tattooer Carson Hill created the first pneumatic tattoo machine. His Neuma machines (neumatattoomachines.com) ditch the industry-standard electric coil machine for a design that runs off of an air compressor. Neumas are smaller and lighter and give the tattooer more control, especially in tighter areas. They have no vibration, diminish stress on the hands, and run smooth at any angle.
For a trade notoriously resistant to change, it’s surprising that the older artists have been most likely to pick up a Neuma. “The old-schoolers are more into it because they’re the ones that have carpal tunnel or tendonitis,” Hill explains. “Those guys come around and they’ve got real issues, like doctors giving them a life span on their tattooing.” Using the new machine, Hill often tattoos for 10 hours straight and says that his stretching hand gives out long before his tattooing hand does.

The smallest Neuma machine, the N2, weighs in at 1.5 ounces; the largest, the Neuma Hybrid, tops out at 2.5 ounces (with a little more weight behind the needle, it is Hill’s preferred machine). There’s also an Electric Module that houses a Swiss-made motor that combines pneumatics with electricity. And you thought your Prius was something special.

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