San Antonio is one of the top tattoo cities in the nation and now, local tattoo artists are using new machines and ink to create convincing and even photo-realistic illusions on their clients’ skin.
What first looks like a wood carving is actually a tattoo on a woman's leg. An eye that appears to be a photograph is a photo-realistic optical illusion on a man's bicep.
These hyper-realistic tattoos are almost creepy, giving the appearance of skin peeled away to reveal a map.
At Inception tattoo parlor, Army vet Ricky Tuggle is getting a tattoo that looks like the number 22 carved into his skin.
"It looks like someone went in and carved the 22 inside. I like it. It looks great,” Tuggle said.
He wants a tattoo that draws attention. He believes this illusion of skin peeled away and tattooed blood drops will start conversations to help veterans.
"The 22 represents the number of veterans we lose every day to suicide. If I can strike up a conversation, even with a total stranger, because of a piece of art about suicide awareness amongst veterans, so be it. I'll grab another tattoo," Tuggle said.
"[Getting tattoos] was a little more rebellious back then. Now, it's everybody and their grandmother gets a tattoo," said Rooster, who’s been a tattoo artist for 22 years.
Rooster's first clients were bikers and gang members. Now, with one out of three Americans sporting a tattoo, ink is no longer a sign of rebellion.
"The art itself has evolved. I've seen creative change in the realistic style. There are a few artists whose work I've seen that I didn't think it would get this far," Rooster said.
New machines are helping with the realistic look as well.
"When you know how to use those machines, it's a lot smoother. You can get those wet looks," Rooster noted.
The wet look makes the image of blood and muscles much more realistic.
Tattoos are creating the illusion of surprises beneath the skin, like armor and bio-mechanical parts.
"The way mine looks, it's like my skin is cut away revealing what's beneath the skin, these gears are a part of my body," Leigh Guinn said.
Guinn's latest body art is a three dimensional biomechanical tattoo of gears moving on her shoulder.
"Maybe that's why it's gaining momentum versus something being on your skin and something that looks like it's part of you. It's definitely appealing," Guinn said.
Three dimensional tattoos take longer to create and cost more.
"There's so much layering involved. It takes about 50 percent more time and costs about 50 percent more. It can be as low as $2,000 on up to $4,000 maybe $6,000 depending on the style," Rooster explained.
Whether it's a lady bug that appears ready to take flight or a cockroach crawling across your skin, the high prices aren't slowing demand for hyper-realism tattoos.