Recently, a video has gone viral instructing people how to do their own tattoos at home, so of course the staff at Guardian Art Tattoos saw this as an opportunity to educate our followers about safe tattooing. The tattoo industry has a very special name for people who are self-proclaimed tattoo artists with little to no formal training: Scratchers. With our knowledge and years of experience working in professional tattoo studios, we frown upon the practice of scratching, especially since we’re the ones who get stuck with the task of covering up their terrible messes.
Although there are a ton of tattooers working in studios that I would personally consider to be scratchers, the type of scratchers I’ll be addressing can usually be found tattooing out of a house, possibly on a couch or at a dining room table. The internet has unfortunately made it so that anyone can buy a cheap tattoo kit from Ebay or even Walmart. This means that literally anybody can call themselves a “tattooer”. These at-home scratchers are not knowledgable about blood borne pathogens to prevent cross-contamination and best tattooing practices to create quality tattoos.
In most cases, tattooers apprentice under a mentor tattoo artist for at least one year. Tattoo apprenticeships work just like any other skilled trade. The aspiring tattooer watches, learns and practices a lot until they are deemed good enough to get paid for their work. Of course, these apprenticeships occur within a professional tattoo studio with controls for cleanliness and adequate knowledge to safely apply tattoos. Scratchers decide to skip this step altogether and jump right in to tattooing people for money in an unsafe environment. After all, you don’t see doctors or dentists practicing in their own homes during their internships. This same principle applies to tattooing as well.
An unknowing person would assume that as long as you see the needle come out of the package, there’s no way you can get a disease or infection. Wrong. There’s still plenty of variables that could cause you to get a blood borne pathogen or infection if your artist fails to maintain a clean work space and use quality materials. This includes wrapping the machine, tubes, clip cord, power supply and furniture in a disposable protective barrier such as plastic or saran wrap. Each of the aforementioned tattoo tools are then unwrapped and properly disinfected after each client, whether it be using a hospital-grade disinfectant or placing it in an autoclave for sterilization.
Regardless of how clean the house may appear, there’s several environmental factors that can cause grounds for cross-contamination or infection. For example, studies have shown that carpet contains 4000 times as much bacteria per square inch as your average toilet seat. Ew. Now if you’re lucky, your scratcher may tattoo you in an area that’s tiled, but if not, you’re ultimately exposing your open wound to fecal bacteria, dust mites, mold, animal dander and saliva, as well as an unbelievable amount of human skin and hair cells. This also goes for any upholstered furniture you may be sitting on while you’re getting tattooed.
I’d be willing to bet your average scratcher does not disinfect and steam clean their carpet or furniture in between each tattoo, so that means you’re also exposed to other people’s blood who’ve gotten tattooed in that same spot as you. This increases your risk of contracting Hepatitis, which is just about as permanent as your tattoo will be. Professional tattoo studios always have tiled floors in the booths, which are sprayed with a hospital-grade disinfectant & mopped after every single tattoo is finished. Similarly, their tattoo furniture is upholstered with non-permeable leather/plastic so they are easily disinfected with the same care as the floor.
Not only can an unsterile environment negatively affect your tattoo, the quality of the materials used is of the utmost importance. Most tattoo supply companies require that you show proof of employment in a professional studio before they will even consider selling you any of their products. There are endless reasons for this, but they definitely don’t support the scratchers out there who are ultimately saturating the industry with terrible tattoos and the spread of pathogens, thus further adding to the negative connotation that has surrounded tattooing for decades.
Reputable tattoo supply companies carry the best, most reliable supplies, which leaves scratchers to buy sketchy needles, ink, etc. from unknown sources, mostly cheaply made in China. There have been many cases where cheap tattoo ink has been contaminated with water containing MRSA, which is definitely not an infection you want to have in your new tattoo. It is very painful, difficult to heal, and may cause death in severe cases.
Most people justify going to a scratcher by saying that it’s way cheaper. Professional tattooers charge at least $125 an hour, whereas a scratcher might flat rate an entire sleeve for $300, which takes about 15+ hours of work. I get it, our society wants things fast and as cheap as possible. Please understand that if you apply these principles to getting a tattoo, you’re risking getting stuck with some shoddy artwork on your body or the Hep, and that shit is forever.
Shopping for a tattoo is nowhere similar to trying to find a bargain on a new vacuum cleaner. Good tattoos are not cheap – like many things in life, you get what you pay for. Scratchers prices are low because they likely aren’t buying quality materials and are not paying overhead to work in a professional environment. Most scratchers are not true artists, hence the subpar quality of most tattoos you see done by them. There are many cases where you’ll spend at least two times as much, if not more, to have your scratcher’s tattoo removed or covered up by someone who knows what the hell they’re doing.
It’s way past time for the public to be educated about the dangers related to at-home tattoos and the scratchers who do them. Finding a good tattoo artist is all about doing research. Review several artists’ portfolios – both in person and on all social media platforms, ask your friends for reputable artists in your area, and don’t get tattooed by someone who gives you a weird vibe or is unwilling to listen to your input. Most importantly, please take our professional advice for shits sake and DO NOT get tattooed anywhere other than a tattoo studio!
And for your viewing pleasure, here’s some hilariously terrible Scratcher tattoos!