Twenty-five-year-old tattoo artist Sydney Smith says that most of her clients find her, not through Google or word of mouth, but yes, via TikTok. The self-proclaimed "micro" tattoo artist dropped out of cosmetology school to pursue tattooing and when she started posting her teeny-tiny tattoos on the social media platform, using raw cut iPhone videos, she quickly accumulated a following.
Smith's technique combines the precision single-needle tattoo technique with an ASMR social strategy. Here, she walks us through both. Whether you're an aspiring artist or you, like many other people, desperately want a micro tattoo right now, you'll definitely pick up some good tips.
What is a micro tattoo?
Technically, a micro tattoo is the most precise type of fine-line tattoo. "I use a single needle, which is the smallest needle you can use," Smith explains. Most fine-line tattoo artists pack their machines with more needles for better control. According to Smith, three, five, seven, even nine thin needles packed tightly in the machine cartridge will still create in a fine-line tattoo.
Using a single needle will achieve the finest, and faintest, line possible. "A lot of what I'm seeing now from my clients is that a lot people don't know what single-needle looks like," Smith adds. "They think it's just a small tattoo. But a tattoo artist could use a five-liner and just do it really small, but that's still pretty thick, for me. My work looks really thin compared to what's out there."
How long does a micro tattoo last? Will it fade?
While a micro tattoo should be permanent, there's a chance it could fade over time. "Every time a client leaves I tell them that a single-needle tattoo is more likely to fade," Smith explains. Why? "It's a bit more surface level," Smith says, "and there's not as much pigment." This also means, a micro tattoo is resistant to bleeding or blotching.
"Let's say you do a lettering with a thicker needle, an 'e' might close up if the ink under your skin bleeds," Smith explains. "Some people criticise micro tattoos, saying, Why would you want a tattoo that fades? My perspective: I'd rather have a tattoo that fades than a tattoo that has blotched into a blob over the years." Smith's policy: "If the tattoo fades, touchups are free."
How much does a micro tattoo cost?
The answer to this will depend on the city and artist, but don't expect to get a good deal just because you want something really, really small. Most tattoo artists who specialise in single-needle artwork will price by piece. Plus, because micro tattoos require so much precision, there's a premium.
"My minimum is $250," Smith tells me. "I just posted this teeny-tiny heart outline tattoo that's right by a girl's cuticle — which is super popular right now — and people were going crazy in the comments, like, 'I can't believe you paid hundreds of dollars for that!' I mean, it is a lot of money for a little, tiny tattoo."
How do I find a micro tattoo artist?
Depending on where you live, you may have to do a bit of research to find an artist who specialises in micro tattoos. According to Smith, many traditionally-trained artists won't use a single needle.
"Single needles are very hard to use because they're so fine," Smith explains. If you don't use the machine correctly, on a slower speed, you can scar the skin. "It's harder to control it," Smith adds. "Before I started doing [micro tattoos] and I was just practicing, it was extremely difficult."
Why are micro tattoos trendy on TikTok?
Though Smith never planned to promote on TikTok, she says that TikTok plays a huge role in her business. Her signature "peel and reveal" videos, frequently go viral, reaching millions of views.
"I'm lucky because I have a lot of clients, so I have a lot of content," Smith explains, "and I always ask for consent — and most everyone is okay with it because they want to see their tattoo on TikTok." The videos don't show the tattoo-ing, just the reveal. "I peel the stencil off the skin, take a video of that," Smith explains. "Then, after I've done the tattoo, I use this gel from a company called Mad Rabbit, it's an aloe-based soothing gel [that's] totally see-through. I wipe it over the finished tattoo and it almost magnifies the ink. I post the two videos together and it takes me like 10 minutes total."
Where are people getting micro tattoos?
The most popular placement for a micro tattoo is also the most controversial. "Right now, most of my requests are for hand tattoos," says Smith, "and I do a lot of finger tattoos." If you want a finger or hand tattoo, the biggest caveat to note is that your design will probably fade, given the wear and tear on our hands with frequent washing. Still, Smith has a personal affinity to hand art. "I think they're beautiful. I do them super thin. I have them on myself — they look like jewellery."