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How to choose the right tattoo ink for every style


Are you a tattoo artist looking to enhance your skills and provide the best possible results for your clients? One of the most critical and often challenging aspects of tattooing is selecting the right ink colour for each style. Whether you specialise in intricate black and grey work, vibrant colour tattoos, or delicate watercolour designs, choosing the perfect tattoo ink can be a daunting task. Making the wrong choice can lead to client dissatisfaction, touch-ups, or even cover-ups.

In this guide, we'll delve into the pain points of selecting the right tattoo ink for every style, providing you with valuable insights and strategies to ensure that your tattoo ink choices always meet the mark, leaving your clients delighted with the results.

Important characteristics of the right tattoo ink

Choosing the right tattoo ink for every style involves understanding the characteristics that define high-quality, reliable inks, ensuring the best results for your artwork. As a tattoo artist, it's essential to consider these important characteristics:

Pigment quality

High-quality pigments are essential for creating vibrant, long-lasting tattoos. The purity and fineness of the pigment particles can affect the clarity of the tattoo. Premium inks with high-quality pigments ensure the colours remain bright and clear over time. This is particularly important for styles that require high precision and detail, such as realism or geometric tattoos.

Colour range and saturation

A wide colour range allows artists to achieve the desired shades and tones for different tattoo styles. From subtle watercolour tattoos to bold traditional pieces, the right selection of colours can bring a design to life. Saturation is also key; highly saturated inks will provide more intense and vivid colours, essential for styles like neo-traditional or Japanese tattoos that rely on bold hues to create contrast and depth.

Ink consistency

The viscosity of the ink affects its application. Some styles, such as fine lines or intricate dot work, require thinner inks that flow easily and allow precise lines. Other styles, like tribal or solid colour work, might benefit from thicker inks that provide better coverage. The right consistency ensures smooth application and helps achieve each style's desired effect. Choose inks that offer a good balance between consistency and flow for the style you're working on.

Safety and biocompatibility

Safety is paramount when choosing tattoo inks. Selecting inks that are sterile and free from harmful substances such as heavy metals, carcinogens, or allergens is essential. Biocompatible inks minimise the risk of allergic reactions and infections, ensuring the tattoo heals properly. This is crucial for all tattoo styles and skin types, especially with sensitive skin. Look for inks that comply with safety regulations and have transparent ingredient lists.

Longevity and fade resistance

The durability of tattoo ink plays a significant role in how the tattoo ages. Inks that resist fading due to sunlight and other environmental factors are preferable, especially for frequently exposed tattoos. Some styles, like black and grey or portraits, require inks that age gracefully, maintaining their definition and contrast over time.

Brand reputation and artist preference

The reputation of the ink brand can also guide the selection process. Professional artists often prefer brands known for their quality, consistency, and safety. Additionally, tattoo artists may have personal preferences based on their experience with different inks and how they perform in various styles.


Tattoo artist dips tattoo machine in red ink


Ink selection for different tattoo styles

  • Traditional and neo-traditional: These styles often feature bold lines and a limited colour palette. High-quality, vibrant coloured inks are essential to maintain the classic look, especially for reds, blues, and yellows.
  • Realism and portrait: For these styles, a wide range of pigments, including various shades of black and grey, is necessary to achieve depth and dimension. Inks that allow for smooth shading and blending are crucial.
  • Blackwork and tribal: These styles require a deep, rich black ink that maintains its intensity over time. Look for carbon-based black inks known for their longevity and resistance to fading.
  • Watercolour: Watercolor tattoos need inks that can be diluted to create a translucent effect. Choosing inks with a high pigment density ensures that the colours remain vibrant even when thinned out.
  • Fine line and minimalist: These delicate styles require inks that can create crisp, clean lines that won't spread or blur over time. A high-quality black ink with a thin consistency is often preferred.
  • Dotwork and geometric Tattoos: These involve creating images and patterns with dots and lines and demand inks that offer precision and consistency. Black inks with a fine pigment grind are preferred for their ability to create sharp, distinct dots and lines that don't blur over time.

Tips for choosing the right tattoo ink colour

Choosing the right tattoo ink colour is a decision that can affect the quality and appearance of a tattoo. Here are some of our tips for tattoo artists on selecting the right ink colours:

Understand skin tones

Recognise the wide range of skin tones and how they affect the appearance of tattoo inks. Lighter colours may not appear vibrantly on darker skin, while some vibrant colours can look outstanding on lighter skin. Test inks on a small, inconspicuous area if possible to see how the color heals on that particular skin tone.

For more guidance on achieving the best results when tattooing different skin tones, read our detailed guide on "How to tattoo different skin tones for best results." Additionally, learn about the importance of considering skin tones when choosing tattoo ink colours to ensure your clients' tattoos look their best."

Consider the tattoo's location and exposure

Areas exposed to more sunlight are prone to faster fading. For these areas, recommend colours known for their longevity and resistance to fading. Some inks are formulated to be more resilient against sun exposure.

Quality of ink

Opt for high-quality, professional-grade tattoo inks. These inks provide more consistent, vibrant colours and are less likely to cause reactions or fade quickly. Research brands that are reputable and comply with safety standards.

Ink ingredients

Be aware of the ingredients in tattoo inks. Some individuals may have allergies to certain components. Vegan inks that avoid animal by-products are less likely to cause allergic reactions.

Colour mixing and custom shades

Develop skills in mixing inks to create custom shades. This allows for more personalised and unique colour options for clients. Always use sterile practices when mixing inks to avoid contamination.

Future fading and touch-ups

Educate clients on how certain colours may fade over time and the potential need for touch-ups. Lighter colours like yellows, pinks, and pastels tend to fade faster and might require more frequent maintenance.

Cultural and symbolic meanings

Be mindful of the cultural and symbolic meanings of colours in tattoos. Certain colours may have specific significance for clients, and understanding these meanings can enhance the personal value of the tattoo.

Latest trends and techniques

Stay updated with the latest techniques and trends in tattooing, as this can influence colour choice. For instance, watercolour tattoos require a different colour selection approach than traditional tattoos.

Client consultation

Conduct thorough consultations to understand their vision and expectations. This dialogue can help select the best colours to meet their desired outcome.

Patch tests

For clients with sensitive skin or allergies, consider doing a patch test with the chosen inks to ensure no adverse reactions before proceeding with the tattoo.


Tattoo artist refilling gun with ink


Common tattoo ink issues

  • Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to certain tattoo ink pigments, leading to redness, itching, swelling, and even more severe reactions. Red and yellow pigments, particularly those containing cadmium or mercury, are known to cause more allergic reactions.
  • Fading: Over time, all tattoos fade to some extent due to exposure to UV radiation and skin regeneration. However, some colours and pigments may fade faster than others, leading to a less vibrant tattoo.
  • Ink migration: Ink migration occurs when the tattoo ink spreads or blurs over time, losing sharpness and detail. This can transpire if the ink is not properly deposited in the right skin layer or if the tattoo is subjected to excessive trauma or sun exposure.
  • Ink rejection: In some cases, the body may reject tattoo ink, pushing ink out of the skin or causing raised bumps (granulomas) around the tattoo.
  • Ink colour changes: Some tattoo ink colours can change over time due to long exposure to sunlight, UV radiation, or skin reactions. For example, red and yellow inks are more prone to colour shifts.
  • Fading of black ink: Black ink tattoos can also fade over time, but the extent of fading can vary depending on the quality of the ink used, the skill of the artist, and the individual's skin type.
  • Patchiness and blotching: Inexperienced tattoo artists may not achieve consistent ink saturation, resulting in patchy or blotchy areas in the tattoo design.

To minimise these tattoo ink issues, choose an experienced and reputable tattoo artist who uses high-quality ink and follows proper hygiene and aftercare instructions. Additionally, discussing any known allergies or skin sensitivities with your artist beforehand can help prevent allergic reactions. Always take proper care of your tattoo after getting it to ensure its longevity and vibrancy.


tattoo supplies and accessories


What tattoo ink brand is considered the top choice in the market?

Determining the top tattoo ink brand depends on individual preferences, the specific style of tattooing, and other factors. To find the current top choices in the market, you can look for our comprehensive guide titled "Best 5 tattoo inks for vibrant and lasting colour: A professional's guide." We have provided valuable insights into the best-performing brands based on factors like colour vibrancy, ink longevity, and safety.

By searching for and reading such a guide, you can better understand which tattoo ink brands are currently considered top choices by professionals in the field. So, you must stay up-to-date with the latest recommendations and industry trends, as the popularity of tattoo ink brands can evolve over time.

What should you do if you ink the wrong tattoo colour?

As a tattoo artist, if you find that you've used the wrong tattoo ink colour on a client, the most important step is immediate and transparent communication with the client. Honesty is key, and you should inform the client about the mistake and its cause and express your sincere apology.

Afterwards, assess the situation to determine the extent of the error and its impact on the tattoo. Discuss with the client to present potential solutions, whether it involves adjusting the colour, adding complementary elements, or offering a cover-up tattoo if the mistake is significant. It's essential to maintain professionalism throughout the process and, if necessary, offer compensation for any additional work required to rectify the error.

Learn from the experience to prevent future mistakes by reviewing your processes and implementing safeguards. Handling such situations with integrity and focusing on customer satisfaction is crucial for your reputation as a tattoo artist.


Selecting the right tattoo ink for your chosen style is a crucial decision in the tattooing process. Whether you're aiming for vibrant colors, intricate black and gray work, or watercolor designs, understanding the properties of different tattoo inks is essential. 

Ultimately, your choice of tattoo ink can significantly impact the longevity and overall quality of your tattoo. So, take your time to research and experiment, consult with experienced artists, and never compromise on quality when it comes to the inks you use. With the right knowledge and careful selection, you can ensure that your tattoo inks enhance your artistry, resulting in stunning and enduring tattoos that both you and your clients will be proud of.


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  • Mark Joshua Luz