For Chris Bryant, the buzz of a tattoo needle is more than just music to his ears. The constant hum of an artist applying ink on skin also means dollar signs.
Bryant, electronic engineer with Critical Tattoo of Carson City, loves the drone of tattoo needles because it means artists most likely are using Critical Tattoo's equipment. The company, founded in 2005 by Ken and Sarah Brown, manufactures power supplies and wireless foot pedals for tattooing equipment (the power supply drives the motor that makes a tattoo artist's needle move back and forth. The foot pedal turns to the power on or off).
Critical Tattoo was one of more than 50 tattoo shops and suppliers displaying their products Friday at the 10th annual Lady Luck Tattoo Arts Expo at Circus Circus in Reno. The three-day event, which boasts more 100 of the top artists from across the U.S., wraps up Sunday. It features educational seminars, such as safety and blood-borne pathogens, tattoo competitions, and of course, tattoos. Last year, artists inked between 500 and 600 tattoos.
Many of the artists at the annual Lady Luck Tattoo expo prefer Critical Tattoos' power supply and other equipment - including event promoter Tim Azinger, owner of Pinnacle Tattoo of Pittsburgh, Penn.
"They were one of the first companies to come out with such a product, and they sell them all over the world," says Azinger. "The functionality of the power supply is very clean."
Bryant, who has been with Critical Tattoo for the past four years, says the company manufactures and assembles every piece of equipment at the company's small facility in Carson City. Power supplies are the company's main product line - Bryant estimates there are more than 10,000 of them in use throughout the world - as well as wireless foot pedals to control the power.
Critical Tattoo distributes its products through vendor representatives in Australia, Russia, South Korea, Chile, South Africa, Japan and Europe. The company has grown primarily by its reputation for quality, precision-made equipment, Bryant says.
"There aren't many other companies out there that primarily make power supplies for the industry," he says.
Shows such as the Lady Luck Tattoo Expo serve as important marketing vehicles for Critical Tattoo. Company staffers distribute products for use during the expo, which feature some of the top tattoo artists from California, Arizona, Utah, Oregon and Northern Nevada.
"These shows are great for meeting with the artists and talking with people first hand," Bryant said.
Adds Azinger: "All of the artists that are working here are going to be taking a look at the vendors who specifically carry products for tattooing, and a lot of artists from the area are going to come here and check these things out."
They also serve as an important break from the minute details of assembling electronic components. Bryant installs and solders every single circuit board and tests and cleans each piece of equipment as it's being assembled. Critical Tattoo also sells custom-machined grips for the hand-held component of tattoo devices. The company has its eye on modest expansion plans and introducing additional products to the industry, Bryant says.
Creating the wireless foot switch was one of the most difficult products to make, Bryant notes. Integrating wireless technology into the foot pedal allows artists more flexibility with their work stations by eliminating the cord to the power supply.
"The wireless was ridiculously difficult, with all the radio waves in the air and different frequencies. We had to get a nice clean channel with no interruption, and we had to make sure it was very robust and worked beautifully all the time."
The product hit the market about two years ago, and Critical Tattoo has sold more than 1,000 of them, Bryant says.
Pinnacle Tattoo's Azinger says the event likely will return to Circus Circus for another year. Attendance has remained steady at the expo over the past few years, he says, despite the well-documented cutbacks in consumer spending that have slowed the health of the economy throughout Northern Nevada.
Tattoo aficionados, says Azinger, always find funds for ink.
"I have tattooed plenty of people who have put off paying the light bill to get tattooed, or spent their last paycheck on a tattoo. But when you think about it, it's a pretty great investment - you aren't going to lose it, and you are going to have it for the rest of your life. I can't think of too many things you spend money on that you can say the same thing about."