Photoshop in Tattooing: Benefits, Risks, and Grey Areas

It’s fair to say that the tattoo community has a love/hate relationship with Photoshop. On one hand, the pics of your finished tattoos might not look accurate without balancing the color a little to account for lighting, glare, etc. On the other hand, if you polish it up a little too much and end up on Tattooed Truth Fairy’s Instagram.

Is there a place for Photoshop in tattooing? What are the pros and cons? Should it only be used for reference before the tattoo, or is it ok to use on the photos of the finished product? While the world around us is modernizing at rapid speeds and all tools are accessible with the click of a button, are the days of putting pencil to paper coming to an end?

Just as every profession goes through changes, inevitably there are some that try to keep up while others are more resistant to them. As a graphic designer, I have been so captivated by the ways that tattoo artists have adopted a different medium in graphic design and digital illustration to "draw" up their work and create their own custom reference. The key is making sure that reference is obtainable in your work. There is always an undo button in photoshop whereas it is different from tattooing of course. Though Photoshop is a new tool for artists and I'm seeing tons more of it being used, I still and will always appreciate drawing from reference over everything. That is a craft just as is tattooing and it should never go unnoticed nor should the steps in becoming a tattoo artist not be lost.

There was one cardinal rule when I first began doing graphic design work for a tattoo product company: don't alter the artist's work - no saturating the image, sharpening it, or “correcting” it in any way. Five years later, I have noticed that a lot of people are breaking that rule. Something you should keep in mind is that Photoshop was originally created to fix any irregularities in photography. I think the topic of touching up work is completely subjective and there is a fine line between correcting an image so that it’s truly accurate versus creating an unrealistic representation of one's work. There have been plenty of tattoo artists accused of crushing those blacks, peaking their whites, and saturating all colors digitally, which has led to plenty of wars on social media with artists calling each other out. Personally, I'm not a fan of any of that, as I prefer the direct approach of contacting someone privately, especially when one’s integrity is at stake, but I digress.

With all that said, it’s best to avoid unpleasant situations that can stem from. I'm going to cover the four most common uses of Photoshop in tattooing, how it can and should be used to help push your own brand and create consistency in your work, and areas to steer clear of entirely so that your work won’t be called into question. 

About the Author: Christian Moore is a Professional Graphic Designer, Videographer, Content Creator, and Tattoo Enthusiast from Charlotte, NC