It seems no website about tattoos is complete without a “Glossary” of “Tattoo Speak”, this website about tattoos won’t be complete even with one but as it’s the done thing, I’m gonna do the thing. Personally, I’ve never used the vast majority of these words and I’ve got by quite nicely but if you really, really wanna speaka da lingo….here you go.
Aftercare – This is your responsibility to yourself, the highly important process of looking after your tattoo.
Apprentice – This is the dedicated soul that you may find working in a tattoo shop. An individual who is not only learning the right way to master the art of tattooing, but who has shown the artist teaching them that they have sufficient talent, fortitude and application to become a fully fledged tattooist.
Armband – Not to be confused with an inflatable swimming aid for small children, this is a tattoo which forms a band around your arm (usually the upper arm). Remember Pamela Anderson’s “barbed wire” tattoo? That’s an armband.
Autoclave -As mentioned on another page, this is the machine that sterilises all of your tattooists equipment. If he or she hasn’t got one…FLEE!
Barrier Film -Sterile plastic wrap used to prevent cross-contamination. Work surface and some equipment may well be wrapped in this film and you may find you have some of it wrapped around your finished tattoo at the end of proceedings.
Black & Grey Work – Tattoos which are done with black ink watered down to produce various shades of grey. Kinda like a pencil drawing…but different.
Body Suit – A full suit of tattoo, covering the body stopping only at the cuff line on your wrists, the neck line on your torso and just above the ankle on the legs.
Carving – Another word used to describe the act of tattooing.
Cheap Skate – An individual who refuses to part with good money for good tattoo work. These people are prone to haggling, going to scratchers, getting cover ups and being on the hot end of a laser.
Convention – Organised event where tattoo devotees gather to do what they like doing; getting tattooed, watching bands, buying merchandise, being entertained by circus acts and burlesque dancers. There will usually be equipment on sale (some check your credentials others don’t) and if you’re competitive you can enter your tattoos in competitions.
Cover Up -Tattoos which literally cover up old tattoos which are no longer wanted for one reason or another. Getting your boyfriend's name tattooed on your arm, will probably end up with this….or a laser.
Custom – A tattoo that is designed for you to your specification and is unique to you.
Dermis – They layer of skin into which your tattoo will be inserted.
DIY Tattoos – Also called “Stick and Poke”, you can now buy kits to enable you to tattoo yourself. I won’t go into detail because I think they are a singularly terrible idea. Stick with a trained professional, don’t poke yourself with a sewing needle.
Epidermis – The outer layer of skin through which the tattoo needles pass to get to the dermis. Tattoos placed in the epidermis will slowly disappear.
Flash – These are the sheets of pre-designed tattoos that adorn many a tattooist’s walls.
Free Hand – If a tattoo is such that a stencil is not the ideal means of getting the design you want onto your skin they will draw it directly onto you and use their drawing as the guidelines for your tattoo.
Full Sleeve – A tattoo that starts at the cuffline/wrist and covers the entire arm to the shoulder.
Getting Inked – A way of saying, “Getting tattooed”.
Gloves - What your tattooist should be wearing when they tattoo you. Bear in mind these are surgical type gloves, not woolly gloves. If your tattooist is not wearing surgical gloves walk out and never darken their door again.
Gun – A widely used (and equally widely disliked) but incorrect name for a tattoo machine.
Half Sleeve – Like a full sleeve but either running from elbow to shoulder or wrist to elbow.
Henna Tattoos – Temporary “tattoos” applied directly to the skin using pigments extracted from the Henna plant. Henna tattoos are most popular in the Middle East and sub-continental Asia where they are used for festive and ceremonial purposes. As they are applied directly onto the skin they eventually disappear as your body sheds it’s outer layer of skin.
Holidays – No, not two weeks in the sun and they’re nothing to do with Christmas. Holidays are gaps in your tattoo’s colour where the “artist” has missed when filling in the main body of your tattoo or where you’ve been picking when you shouldn’t have.
Ink – The broadly used term for tattoo pigment, the colourful (or maybe not so colourful) liquid that will be used to create wonders in your skin.
Irezumi – Also known as Traditional Japanese. Irezumi is the style of tattooing most associated with the Yakuza (think Japanese mafia) and is made up of strong, bold outlines and features images such as dragons, koi carp, lotus flowers, chrysanthemums and other traditional Japanese imagery. Traditionally, Irezumi tattoos were done using the Tebori method of tattooing.
Irons – Slang for a tattoo machines.
Jail House – The style of tattooing that began in prison using makeshift equipment and less than ideal “inks”.
Laser – The theoretical brain child of Albert Einstein is now the actual method used to get your ex-girlfriend's name removed from your right buttock.
Leg Sleeve – Like a sleeve for your arm…but on your leg.
New School – Similar in style to Old School using bold outlines and simple colours but rather than the more traditional Old School images of ships, eagles, pin-up girls etc, New School very often features anthropomorphic (what a great word that is!) animals, caricatures and “cartoony” looking images.
Old School – Also known as Traditional American, Old School is a style of tattooing that uses bold outlines, bright but limited colours and features the kind of imagery that has long been associated with tattoos (ie ships, anchors, eagles, pin-up girls and so on).
Portfolio – What any would-be apprentice tattooist should have. A collection of drawings, sketched paintings etc. the demonstrates their artistic ability. A picture of Popeye drawn on a paper napkin is not a portfolio. It is also what every tattooist should have and should be available in their shop for you to look at, if they don’t have one or won’t show you…you know which door you went in through, right?
Scabbing – As you heal your tattoo will scab, just as any other open wound would. DON’T PICK ‘EM!
Scratcher -The universally used term for someone who does half-arsed, poor quality tattoos. They could do them from their kitchen, your kitchen, their garage, basement or any other place not ideally suited for performing the art of tattooing. Some of them even have the audacity to open shops. They are, generally, untrained by a professional, more prone to taking short cuts, are a far higher risk to your health and produce terrible results. These parasites are the reason you have to take so much care finding the right tattooist. Avoid at all costs.
Sharps Container – The plastic bin used to dispose of used, sterilised tattoo needles.
Slinging Ink – An alternative term for the act of tattooing somebody.
Stencil – The means by which a tattooists transfers your design from paper to your skin, so that they can commence work on your masterpiece.
Stick and Poke -See DIY Tattoos.
Tat – Abbreviated version of “tattoo”.
Tattoo – It’s why you’re here.
Tattoo Artist – A person with skill, talent and training to perform works of art in your skin.
Tattooer – What Americans call a “tattooist”.
Tattooist – Another name for a tattoo artist, unless you have a tattoo artist who insists on being called a tattoo artist.
Tattoo Machine – The equipment your tattooist will use to put ink into your skin. Easily recognised by it’s buzzing, the needles flicking in and out of one end and the mild to extreme discomfort it causes when brought into contact with your skin.
Tattoo Parlour/Shop/Studio – The business premises in which tattoo artists ply their trade.
Tattoo Pigment – The technically correct name for the “ink” used by tattooists.
Tattoo Removal – What happens if you get it woefully wrong. If you do get it so badly wrong a (hopefully) trained individual will, with the aid of a laser, gradually remove your tattoo. It’s worth noting that this will cost you more than the tattoo did and, so I’m informed, hurt a lot more too.
Tebori – The traditional Japanese method of tattooing by hand, rather than by the more modern machine method.
Temporary – What “lick ’em and stick ’em” and henna tattoos are. Exactly what real tattoos aren’t.
Tramp Stamp – The “delightful” moniker applied to the once popular trend for ladies to have tattoos at the base of their spine, apparently they draw attention to their rear ends and “stamp” them as being of low moral standing. Seems a bit of a wild generalisation to me.
Tribal – A broad term used to describe any tattoo with a tribal origin. These origins can be Maori, Polynesian, Aboriginal etc and can vary significantly in style from sold black swirls and jagged shapes to more intricate, symbolic tattoos (see Dwayne Johnson).
Yo-Man – I’ve never heard this used but, apparently a Yo Man will walk into a tattoo shop and say, “Yo Man! What can I get for the £25 in my pocket?”