I have experimented with having my tongue tattooed on a number of occasions. Through a process of trial and error my tattoo artist, Mad Pup of Plattsburgh, NY, and I have managed to achieve reasonable results.
History & Motivation
Not long after having my inner lip tattooed, I had an idea for tattooing my tongue. I wasn't aware of any precedent for doing so, but by fortunate coincidence I came upon a reference to an ancient Hawaiian practice of tongue tattooing during mourning. This reference was enough to send me to Mad Pup tattooing to once again test Mad Pup's taste for the unusual.
Prelude to the Procedure
Mad Pup was very skeptical that the tattoo would hold but he was willing to give it a try - an appointment was made. Most everyone else simply agreed that it would likely not hold and probably be quite painful.
Contrary to the popular predictions, it was not painful at all but more of a non-localized vibrating sensation. All of the designs were small and simple and thus it never took more than a few minutes to do the work. One complicating element was the excess ink. The surface of the tongue does not allow the artist to simply wipe away excess ink and thus great care must be taken in applying the design since it becomes very hard to discern line in the blot of ink held on the tongue.
Aftermath & Aftercare
There is little to no aftercare for a tongue tattoo - though going easy on the tongue may help. The sensation post procedure is like that of a cut or light burn as if from a hot drink. The excess ink, which blots the tongue during the procedure usually, works itself away within a couple hours and healing seems to be nearly as fast. Since there were numerous attempts before relative success was achieved, I have listed notes on some of the different attempts below:
First Attempt: The design was one similar to an asterisk about the size of a dime. It looked and felt great within two hours but was nearly completely faded within eight hours.
Second Attempt: First, I changed the design to a question mark using my tongue piercing for the dot. Second, Mad Pup used a larger needle group (16 round) with a slightly longer than normal stroke. The results were much the same as the first but it did hold somewhat better, fading to a thin grey and staying that way after about 2 weeks.
Third, Fourth, & Fifth Attempts: With each of these sessions we simply went back over the question mark design in hopes of making it bolder - stroke was slightly extended further and in the fourth session I believe we also went up to a larger needle group again. Each time the results were better and with the fifth session, there wasn't any noticeable fading for about 4-5 weeks. In the end it stayed as a light grey and was noticeable from a distance of about a foot or so under good viewing conditions.
Sixth Attempt: My tongue bifurcation mostly obliterated my tongue tattoo. All that was left was the upper portion of the curve of the question mark. So, on my birthday in 2000 I had this worked into a new design and added dots on the forks of my tongue. The dots have faded almost completely but the rest has held about as well as the question mark ever did.
I find tongue tattooing very interesting and I think there is still a lot of unexplored potential in it. I may have my own design touched up a few more times and I hope that others considering this find the information here helpful and experiment with it themselves. To that end I offer a few more notes:
-simple designs seem to work best and from the artist's point of view it is easier to deal with a piece that can be done in one motion due to the problem of excess ink in the tongue surface
-broad lines will remain better and those that go against the grain (i.e. horizontally) seem to take better as well
-repeated application does seem to be key in getting a more dramatic result
-being gentle with the tongue may help post procedure; my third attempt began to fade noticeably after an accidental scalding
-plaque affects viewing, brushing the tongue once healed helps the tattoo show