All You Need to Know about Tattoo Colors

Tattoos have gone from being something associated with soldier and sailors to becoming modern pieces of art. Tattoos now come in countless different styles, with limitless designs and a wide variety of tattoo colors.

The type of color, shading and tones will vary depending on the tattoo design, tattoo artist and tattoo style. Whether you want to use black and gray, a pop of color, or have a bold multi-colored design depends on you. In this article we cover the best colors for tattoos, how to keep your color looking fresher for longer and which tattoo color will suit your skin tone best.

Color Tattoos

colorful tattoo of quill on the forearm with different tattoo colors

The first color tattoos were thought to take place in ancient Egypt. Any tattoo previous to that was produced in black. Ancient Inuit and ancient Roman people were also believed to tattoo in color. This is based on artefact and trinkets found from that time period. The Inuit people were especially fond of dark yellow tones.

Color tattoos became more notable in the 17th century as tattooing in Japan became more comfortable. In this period, tattooing stopped being thought of as a punishment and started to become seen as an art form. To this day, Japanese tattoos are filled with bright and bold colors.

The USA and the UK became fond of color tattoos at the end of the 19th century. They only used very basic forms of tattoo color, but artwork shows that red, blue, yellow and greens were popular. The popularity of tattoo colors is connected to the advances to tattoo ink.

In the last few decades, time and money has gone into developing high quality tattoo ink colors. They are safe and easier to work with, with many cruelty-free and vegan options as well. Now, there will be at least ten inks for every color available to customers. New tattoo ink technology has also minimized allergic reactions and will last for longer.

What is the Best Color for Tattoos

Choosing the color for your tattoo is an important part of the tattoo design process. Colors can change the whole effect of the inking, can help it come to life or to replicate the original image.

Several tattoo styles gravitate towards bright color work. New school watercolor, old school, traditional, Japanese, and illustrative all heavily rely on colors to complete the work.

When considering what colors you want, if any, in your tattoo please consider a few things. If you want a small tattoo, colors may visually blend and muddy into each other. Big pieces look better with bold colors, as the shades will stand out and be clear to read.

When choosing the best color for your tattoo, remember that your skin tone will impact how it looks on the skin and how long it will last. Colored tattoos will always look different once healed, make sure you keep that in mind during the inking process.

rose tattoo on the forearm with red and black tattoo colors

If you want a tattoo with intricate patterns and a stark contrast, black and gray is a better color story for you. Realism, portrait, tribal and blackwork tattoo styles prove that monochrome tattoos don’t have to be boring.

Black and gray tattoos are created by using black ink mixed with water to create lighter and dark ink tones. This technique is used to create light and shade, giving your tattoo dimension and movement. Small and detailed work like scripts, finger tattoos or minimalist pieces look better in black and gray.

What Colors Last Longer in Tattoos

Black and gray are the longest lasting color tattoos. These dark shades are dense and bold, making them less prone to fading. Vibrant and pastel colors like pink, yellow, light blue and green tend to fade faster.

The shades commonly used in watercolors are very short-lived. Despite being incredibly popular, this style of tattooing requires frequent touch-ups.

Geometric forearm tattoo

What is the Best Area For Color Tattoos

How good your color tattoo looks and for how long it will stay looking good may depend on the area you get tattooed. This is because some body parts are more susceptible to age and weight relayed changes.

Shoulders and ankles have tight skin that doesn’t become loose over time, this means your tattoos should keep its shape and color better for longer. Arms, thighs, and abdomen go through lots of changes as we age, affecting the way the tattoo looks.

The thickness of the skin where the tattoo is plays a big part in how good the color will look over time. Color tattoos on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet tend not to age well as the ink doesn’t go as deep into the skin. The outermost layer of skin is denser in the area, meaning as your skin renews over time, the color will fade away. If you want a tattoo on these areas, we recommend black, as it will last longer.

Here are some of the best areas to get a long-lasting color tattoo:

  • Upper Chest or Collar Bone. This area is usually covered up by clothing, so it isn’t harmed by direct sunlight. It is also an area that is less likely to stretch as you get older, especially the collarbone, making a long-lasting tattoo design.
devil and human hands tattoo on the chest
  • Inner Arm. The inner arm is a better area for color tattoos compared to the outer arm. It gets much less sun exposure, and the softer skin will generally hurt less than the more muscular outer section.
flower tattoo on the inner arm
  • Back. It’s a relatively covered area, so it’s not generally exposed to UV rays. The larger, flat space allows you to play with bigger and bolder tattoo designs. The back also doesn’t stretch as much as the abdomen as your weight fluctuates, ensuring your tattoo colors don’t warp over time.
colored tattoo of owl on the back with blue, red and purple colors
  • Shoulders and Calves. These areas of the body aren’t affected by aging, which means the color will stay bright and fresher for longer. These areas can be more painful to tattoo as the skin in sensitive, but the flat area will allow your artist to create big and detail designs.
flower tattoo on the woman's shoulder

Tip:

Hands and feet, ear and the abdomen are the worst places to get tattooed if you are concerned about how your color tattoo will age. Also, avoid anywhere with a crease line (armpits, wrists, knees) as it will struggle to heal as well.

Pros and Cons of Each Color When It Comes to Tattoo

  • Black and gray are the most commonly found in tattooing for a reason. They suit all skin tones from very light to deep skin. Because black is such a long-lasting shade, it is used for line work. Things like small, detailed tattoos and scripts are better when executed in black and gray. Choosing black or gray for these tattoos will make sure they are readable and are less likely to bleed into a messy blob of ink.
black tattoo of angel on the arm
  • Red tattoos tend to fade over time, although less than black but more than other vibrant shades. Be careful as many people are allergic to red ink, although advances in ink has minimized this. We advise having the tattoo artist do a red ink dot on your foot before starting the piece, if you are concerned.
black rose tattoo on the neck
  • Yellow and orange fade fast on pale skin and are very hard to see on darker skin. Yellow ink is generally the shade to fade first on a tattoo. If you have a yellow undertone, avoid using this color as it can look muddy on the skin. Avoid using these shades as anything but a highlight or additional touch.
tattoo of a girl on the arm with yellow and orange and blue tattoo colors
  • Blue ink is a longer wearing pigment when it comes to tattooing. This shade suits all skin tones. The lighter the color, the quicker it will become faint and fade.
blue butterfly tattoo on girl's arm
  • Purple quickly loses its intensity over time. The lighter the purple, the more likely it will fade quickly. Deep purple shades will last longer and look especially complementary on darker, warmer skin tones.
lavender tattoo on the shin
  • UV tattoos are incredibly trendy. When in normal light they look like a faint and pale lighting, when under special UV light they have a bold glow in the dark look. Because UV inks are thinner than normal tattoo inks, they can have a scar effect in normal lighting.
UV tattoo of five flowers on the arm
  • White ink tattoos have grown in popularity due to their subtle and delicate nature. Harder to detect than other colors, they fade much quicker than any other color. White ink will last longer on paler skin than dark skin tones.
tattoo of two flowers with white and red tattoo colors on the wrist

Tattoo Colors for Different Skin Tones

Tattoo ink is deposited under the skin and remains in the dermis layer. Your skin tone and pigment will be on top of the layer when the tattoo ink lays, meaning it could affect the way your inking looks. Here are the best tattoo colors for your skin tone.

For Pale Skin

Most tattoo colors will show up well for pale skin. The growing trend of using white ink looks amazing on pale skin. It’s subtle and delicate but can allow you to carry a message on your skin. The issue with the white ink trend is that it fades very quickly, especially when exposed to sunlight.

For Fair Skin

Fair skin tones support nearly all tattoo colors. Yellow doesn’t look very good on this skin tone, it sometimes has a scar-like effect. Be mindful at tattooing shades of orange as it can be very difficult to remove.

 For Medium Skin

Medium skin tones really pull of tattoo ink in blue, red, purple, and black. Orange and yellow can be difficult to see and will fade quickly. White and green shades look better on medium to deep skin tones, but make ideal accents on medium skin tattoos.

For Dark Skin

The outline and border of tattoos on dark skin should always be bold and black. Black and red are the idea tattoo colors on dark skin, any lighter will be hard to read and will fade very quickly.

black tattoo of three roses on the wrist on dark skin

Tip:

If you are wondering if your favorite tattoo style or dream design will suit your skin tone, speak to your tattoo artist. They will know what works best for your skin and help you choose the right colors.

Tattoo for Different Skin Undertones

It’s not just the skin color that impacts the final result of your color tattoo, it’s also your undertone. There are three types of undertone: warm, neutral and cool. It’s important to know what colors work well on your undertone as well as your skin tone. For example, a red on one undertone may appear orange on another or a blue on fair cool undertones could look green on a darker warmer skin.

People with warm undertones will have a yellow, peachy or golden complexion. Cool tones have a blueish or pink skin. You can tell what your undertone is by checking the color of your veins, green-colored veins have warm undertones and black-colored veins indicate a cooler undertone.

People with fair skin and blue undertones look good with almost all tattoo colors, yellow is one of the few colors that is not flattering. When badly executed, yellow tattoos can have a scar-like appearance. Red, orange and purple pigments look amazing on cool undertones.

Warmer skin tones look better with dark tattoos than cooler undertones. Dark green, blue, red and purple complement warm undertones. Avoid cool-tone shades like pastel colors, as your natural skin tone may overpower these tones.

How Well the Skin Takes the Ink

Black and blue pigments are generally tolerated the best in your skin: they’re easily taken up, and they’re removed with the least effort. People with fairer skin will show more tattoo pigment, whereas people with darker skin will require a higher concentration of pigment before anything shows. Depending on how bold you want your design to be, you should select a color that will accomplish that goal: if you want your tattoo to be subtle, opt for a white or grey pigment; if you want your tattoo to be eye-catching, opt for a dark black pigment.

tattoo of two fishes on the forearm with blue and purple tattoo colors

All in all, color is a very important factor in the decision process of getting a tattoo, and it’s not always a simple decision. Once you’ve considered all of the variables discussed throughout this article, you should consult with your tattoo artist to ensure that all of the colors are complementary within the design, and compatible with your overall look. Though you might not end up with the color scheme you set out to get, you’ll be grateful when your ink withstands the weathering of the sun and time.

What Your Melanin Means for Your Choice of Tattoo Colors

So now you know your undertone, but what does that mean for your color choices?

If you have a cooler undertone, there is less melanin standing between your tattoo and the surface layer of your skin. That means it won’t really interfere with the way it looks. Any color you choose will probably show just fine, although blue and red pigments will show most clearly.

tattoo of flower and dragon on the girl's forearm on dark skin

If you have warmer undertones, things get a bit trickier. Since you have more melanin, the colors in your tattoo will show up differently when filtered through your complexion. Just like your blue veins show up on the green side, the pigments of your tattoo will show up warmer than they should. If this is the case for you, we recommended that you get a tattoo with warm colors that match your complexion.

The Effects of the Sun

In addition to your skin color and complexion, you also have to consider your lifestyle when you’re picking out the colors for your tattoo.

Specifically, you should ask yourself how much time you spend in the sun. Do you tend to spend your days indoors? Do you mostly go out at night? Or do you live a beach life full of bright sunshine?

Why does it matter? Well, it all comes down to your melanin again. The more time you spend in the sun, the more melanin builds up in your skin. That’s why your exposed skin turns a darker, tanned color after you’ve spent some time working outdoors or lounging on a beach towel.

Therefore, if you’re the type to spend a lot of time exposing your skin to the sun, you should get a tattoo with colors that work best with a warmer complexion, since you’ll spend a lot of time with higher concentrations of melanin above those tattoo ink pigments.

Additionally, some colors will also fade more quickly than others, especially when exposed to large amounts of sunlight.

What are the safest Tattoo colors

Neon skin inks are loaded chemicals and mercury. The reds are perhaps the worst, because they also contain the highly toxic iron oxide and cadmium.

If you really want to get a permanent tattoo, stick with the basics. Black remains safest. Blue and green inks with copper phthalocyanine pigments are safe too. Some parlous mix their own inks; it’s generally safest to use branded inks that list their ingredients, says Dr Amit Karkhanis, laser and cosmetic physician.

tattoo of cypress tree with green and brown tattoo colors on the forearm

Are there any natural alternatives?

Some tattoo studios have yellows and blues that are turmeric- and indigo-based. There are other colours that are naturally derived, but also many that make false claim, so always check the contents.

Color Tattoos or Black and Gray Tattoos

The Benefits of Color Tattoos

If you want a tattoo as bright as your personality, then color is the way to go. Several tattoo schools naturally gravitate to colorwork: Old School Traditional, New School, Watercolor, Japanese, and Illustrative are all styles that lend themselves well to color. Some tattoo artists specialize in colorwork, or a particular style of tattoo, which is why checking out portfolios is so important. “When choosing an artist, one should look at their portfolios and pick someone who they are most in alignment with, and let them do their job and trust the process,” says Forte.

tattoo of different parts of world on the back with different tattoo colors

Be sure to check out photos with healed tattoos instead of fresh work; a healed tattoo will look different without the swelling, irritation, and possible bleeding from a brand-new piece.

Set on color for your new ink? Also consider the size of your piece. “Colorwork has brightness and hue as well as value to consider,” says Nick, “so you have more options, but at a small scale, many of the colors will visually blend and become muddy.” Your artist may suggest changing your piece’s size to maintain color integrity or simplifying the color palette to avoid a dirty-looking result.

The Benefits of Black and Gray Tattoos

Looking for a bold, stark contrast, or intricate patterns? Black and gray tattoos are here for you. Realism, Tribal, and Blackwork are all styles of tattoo that suit themselves to this simple but never boring palette. But wait—there are variations of monochromatic tattoos. “There are three types of black and gray tattoos,” says Nick. “First is blackwork, which is only black ink and skin tone, with no gradation. The second is black and gray, which uses black ink mixed with water to create lighter and darker tones. 

man with black tattoos on the neck and Chinese script on the fingers

Lastly is ‘opaque gray’ tattoos, which use black ink mixed with white ink to create the color gray, which is then used.” Familiarize yourself with and determine which of these three categories will be the best fit for you.Things like teeny finger tattoos, small scripts, and delicate designs can all be executed beautifully in black and gray. “Tighter, more detailed work tends to work better in black and gray,” says Nick. “With black and gray, the most important consideration is value. Light vs. dark tones. This lends itself to readability, even on a small scale.”

 Are Color Tattoos More Expensive?

Tattoo artists generally won’t charge more for color tattoos. Non-black tattoo inks are a little bit more expensive, but this usually isn’t taken into consideration unless it is a big all-color piece. Color ink usually fills the spaces, making the process more time-consuming. Most tattoo artists will price by the size or time spent tattooing.

White ink and UV ink is more expensive, and they are very hard to execute well. Generally, people specialize in this style of tattooing, their expertise is usually worth more to a customer.

Posted by
Xahra

This is Zahra. I'm in love with different languages and colors. So I decided to be the messenger of the world of colors! Here in Dopely, I write about colors and I like to take you to their world with me.

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