Slow-Motion Macro Video Shows How Tattoos Pierce Through the Skin

Tattoo Machine on a Table

Photo: Dragonfly666/Depositphotos

Have you ever wondered what's really happening when you get a tattoo? Recently, Gav and Dan of The Slo Mo Guys decided to see for themselves using a macro lens and high-speed camera. And when the footage was slowed down, the visuals were shocking. The duo was inspired by a video posted eight years ago by Smarter Every Day, when Destin Sandlin walked into a tattoo shop and got to record a slow-motion video of a tattoo in progress.

Of course, we all know that tattoo machines have needles that are dipped in ink, and we all know that ink gets pushed into the skin by the needles, but seeing it so close up and in slow motion is a whole other experience. First, Gav and Dan recorded the needles that artists use to create lines. They imaged the needles with and without ink, which was already interesting. Seen so close up, the needles seem more like a torture device than something you'd want near your body.

Then, the team took a piece of ballistic gel and began to tattoo into it. Since the substance is transparent, it provides a great visual of what it might look like when skin is tattooed. The choice for Gav and Dan to record tattooing into ballistic gel might have been practical—as neither knows how to tattoo properly—but its usage also adds another dimension to the recording. The initial tests with the outlining needles show how the ink appears to sink into the tiny wounds caused by the needle.

A second go with a shading needle looks even more frightening, as the needles easily pierce through the gel. As the footage rolled, the duo kept things light and funny by cracking jokes about the needles looking like the mouth of the creature in Aliens. Dan also muses, “I wonder if every time you go for a tattoo, how many people you would discourage from getting a tattoo if you showed them this first?”

Take a look for yourself and be the judge. Does this footage make you more or less apt to get a tattoo yourself?

The Slo Mo Guys used a macro lens to get a terrifying view of what it looks like when you get a tattoo.

The Slo Mo Guys: YouTube | Instagram | Facebook

My Modern Met granted permission to feature the video by The Slo Mo Guys.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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