How to Get a Tebori Tattoo

A tebori tattoo is usually done in the same order as conventional tattoos.  The outline is done first followed by shading. These days for tebori tattoos most artists use machine for the outline followed by hand tattooing for the shading. This is because of the inordinate amount of time it can take to outline by hand, especially for larger pieces of work.

Many people consider the greater time and effort necessary to complete tebori Japanese tattoos part of the experience. For some people it creates a greater emotional attachment. Artists and clients that prefer hand carved tattoos have said that some of the more tangible benefits include outstanding colour shading. Not brighter colours, but deeper and more vibrant relative to coil machines.

It’s worth pointing out that a number of Japanese tattoo artists have indicated that this same richness in shading is what has pushed them towards the rotary tattoo machine as opposed to the electric coil machine. They have come to the conclusion that the rotary machine action is similar to tebori.  And with an experienced touch they can achieve similar results. You can read more about the rotary machine and tebori here. In fact Horiken in Yokohama has stopped doing tebori in favour of the rotary machine.

A closeup black and white photo of Horimitsu applying tebori tattooing to a customer.

Horimitsu applies tebori tattooing to a customer.

How Much Does A Tebori Tattoo Hurt?

Pain is a question we often get. Some people say it hurts more, some people say it hurts less. It largely seems to depend on both the location and the artist’s touch. Essentially it varies from person to person and can be determined by somebody’s previous experience (or lack thereof) with tattoo machines. We would definitely say that tebori tattoos are less ‘insistent’.  Because it is a slower process and there isn’t as much pounding relative to the rotary or coil tattoo machines. You can read more about how much a tattoo hurts here.

Outside of the shading benefits listed above, there may be another reason for putting up with the pain and longer method. Many clients have reported faster healing times with less irritation during the healing process. Every artist we have spoken to has steadfastly said that it’s because tebori isn’t as hard on the skin and that this allows the ink pigment to set up better. This in turn helps produce the incredible colours and shading plus allows the tattoo to better resist fading.

A close up photo of Horimitsu applying white ink for a tebori tattoo

Horimitsu Applies White Ink by Tebori. White is a notoriously difficult ink when it comes to healing and application. Some people have claimed that tebori allows the white ink to heal faster and with less inflammation.

A Tebori Tattoo is a Unique Experience

Whether it hurts more or less, is more or less vibrant, heals faster or not, you are guaranteed to spend more time lying on the bed being inked. It is usually around twice as long as machine to complete a tebori tattoo.  And you will never, not ever, forget the truly unique sound of tebori applied to skin.

For more information about tebori or other Japanese tattoo-related techniques, motifs, and otherwise, check out these articles.