Most medical examiners and pathologists who routinely perform autopsies identify tattoos on a daily basis. However, these dermagraphics generally are given only cursory inspection and description, if at all, although many pathologists photograph particularly unique, unusual, or bizarre examples. From a medicolegal perspective, these permanent skin designs are most often used as identification markers, especially in cases of unknown or questionable identity. The majority of pathologists and other physicians, are not familiar with the way in which tattoos are applied, much less the history of this unusual art or the various aspects of tattoos that may provide even more complete information as to how, where, why, and when the tattoos were done. This article, the first of three parts, provides a brief but comprehensive history of tattooing from both the worldwide and Western perspectives, describes how professional tattooing is done, and illustrates the machines involved and the various constituents of the inks that are currently used. The second and third articles will explore the gross and histopathology of tattoos, methods of tattoo removal, medical applications and complications associated with tattoos, psychology and psychopathology of tattoos, and the importance of tattoos in forensic medicine.
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