SACRAMENTO, CA – For the past three months, Kit Harkins, owner and lead artist at Ink Me Up, has seen an alarming increase in operating expenses. “It’s like watching the prices at the gas station. Ink costs have risen almost 200% in less than six months, even henna products are becoming costly.”
Kit also says she’s concerned by the growing number of temporary tattoo artists that have been opening shops around town. “These guys are taking my business because you could get enough temp tats to last a year for the cost of a real one.”
This increase in product cost is taking a toll on Sacramento area design houses. Artists from all over the city have seen their profits evaporate as costs for a standardized vial of Focus Black have jumped from $6.95 on average to over $58.00.
But what is causing this price increase? Michael Bane of Ink, Inc., a national wholesale ink supply company, says the main cause is the expanding waistline of America.
“People are getting heavier, which means arms are larger around, back skin is stretched tighter, and even ankles are bulkier than only 5 years ago. If you’re buying product for a basic tribal arm band, you’re likely using 1.5 to 2x the normal amount of ink. That’s hitting our buyers hard at the cash register, because increasing customer fees will drive them to alternative options.“
Michael says the henna market, which typically has no supply constraints, is also feeling the pain. As customers move to temporary tattoo options, the demand for henna has sent prices to over $40 per standardized vial.
But the real concern, says Michael, are the disturbing reports about watered down inks. “The FDA contacted us about a month ago on a case involving a Chicago-based shop that was using a 75% ink to 25% mineral oil blend. Essentially they were reducing costs by watering down the ink. The problem is that those designs will only remain visible for about a month before the mineral oil breaks down the ink.“
A spokesman for the FDA, who regulates and licenses tattoo artists, told us they had seen eight cases from the Chicago area of tattoos that went from crisp and clear designs to a puddle of black. Customers were understandably irate.
“It started out as a tribute to one of the greatest artists of our time, but as you can see, now it just looks like a hot black mess.” Illinois resident Carl D. showed us what used to be a life-sized tattoo of Elvis’ face, on his back. Now it looks like Carl has a bruise the size of a dinner plate. “There’s nothing I can do now except get it lasered off, but they’re tellin’ me it will take more than two years to clean it up. It’s gonna be agony!“
Obesity in the country is at an all time high, and as bodies expand, tattoo shops around the country are doing what they can to stay in business. One store owner we talked to in Cleveland, where one in three hundred residents have at least one tattoo, said he’s exploring another option for conserving ink. “We get about ten to twelve customers a day at the main shop. I’ve done a couple experiments with increasing the distance between stipples.“
Stipples refers to the art style typically used in tattoo work, wherein the needle is dotted across the skin as it injects ink. The owner continues, “By increasing the distance we’re actually able to use about 1/3rd less ink to cover the same surface area. Depending on the nature of the tattoo, the additional gap isn’t even noticeable, and the customer won’t require as much touch up work years down the road.“
Whatever method is used, artists from around the country have expressed their concerns about ink costs. One group in Florida has even joined forces with Fat Fighters, LLC. on a consumer marketing campaign at getting people to avoid the fast food bulge. Signs and billboards throughout Florida read…