Irrespective of how elaborate your technical setup is, one crucial element that can make or break any tattoo is the ink: the magic potion that brings all the color.
Tattoo inks can influence everything from the vibrancy of the artwork, the quality of the finish, how long the tattoos maintain their consistency and how quickly they fade over time and your customers’ safety during the aftercare period.
Furthermore, emphasizing the implication of ink selection is that various ink types serve different purposes (some inks are exclusively for lining, others work best for shading, while others still only produce the best results when used for a specific tattooing style.)
Consequently, there is no overstating the importance of choosing the right ink for the whole tattooing process.
However, choosing the perfect ink for the job is no easy feat, especially for newbie artists without a clue on the best inks for their craft and style. A few more variables enter the picture.
First, you have to find inks that perfectly match the hues in the concept for your piece. Next, you have to filter from the abundance of options on the market, a task that can quickly get overwhelming. Lastly, and most importantly, you have to ensure that your selected inks are products that prioritize your customers’ safety. The best brands use only non-toxic, preferably organic ingredients, feature safe, secure packaging, and adhere to the strictest health and industry standards.
Here, we simplify the process by providing you with a shortlist of vetted tattoo inks to streamline your ink selection process.
Our Top Pick: Intenze Tattoo Ink
Create any list of the best tattoo ink brands today, and Intenze Tattoo Ink is guaranteed to be one of the first names that appear. Established in 1978, Intenze Ink has one of the longest track records of producing some of the industry’s highest quality inks.
One of the company’s standout features is its dedication to providing organic products that adhere to all of the strictest industry standards.
Intenze inks are utterly devoid of animal products, 100% vegan, cruelty-free, and match the requirements for both American and E.U. safety standards. The company also offers all their inks in pre-sterilized and sealed bottles to ensure they arrive at your location in perfect condition and without any added safety risks.
Intenze also continues to innovate on its manufacturing process to maximize user safety continually. They also maintain a quality control page where they outline all changes to their products for complete transparency.
If you are buying tattoo inks for the first time and want a brand that brings the best possible assurance of safety and standout quality, you can’t go wrong with Intenze Tattoo Ink.
Intenze inks are relatively pricier than most of the competition. However, the price difference is unsurprising, considering their dedication to quality and user safety.
Another central selling point with this brand is the wide assortment of product offerings available from the manufacturer—with more than 250 color options available, they have one of the most varied portfolios in the industry. Intenze also offers rare pastel colors like Banana Creme, Peach, and Creamsicle, which are tough to find anywhere else.
All Intenze inks are suitable for all types of work (including lining, color packing, and shading) on all skin tones. Plus, the company offers useful usage tips like the right needle sizes and a host of other helpful guidelines (that new artists will appreciate) to use on each product page.
With their varied selection of products, their strict adherence to safety practices, and their established name in the industry, it is no surprise that legendary tattooists like Bob Tyrrell, Mike Demasi, Freddie Negrete, Mark Mahoney, and Boris have all formed coalitions with this brand.
Try out any of Intenze’s color ink sets or any of their ten pastel colors for significant discounts on arguably the best products in the industry. Most of their products are available in both 1-ounce and 12-ounce bottles.
- Devoid of animal products, 100% vegan, cruelty-free
- Adheres to both American and E.U. safety standards
- Available in both 1-ounce and 12-ounce bottles
- More than 250 color options available
- Suitable for lining, color packing, and shading
- With backing from legendary tattooists
- Pastel colors available
- Backed by an abundance of customer reviews that testify to the consistent color results and colorfastness of their inks
Understanding Tattoo Ink Safety
A 2019 review of 20 tattoo and permanent make-up inks by the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency found that 8 of the tested inks contained excessive levels of specific chemicals like heavy metals, aromatic amines, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that may be toxic, cause skin sensitization, or even cancer. This issue is a severe cause for concern.
When manufacturing tattoo inks, manufacturers are simultaneously optimizing for both safety and color consistency, and vibrancy. These two properties are not always in agreement.
The product manufacturers also have to factor in the right ink carrier to use in the mixture. A carrier acts as the solvent that carries the colored pigment from the point of needle insertion to the surrounding skin. The carrier also helps keep the ink from drying out too quickly, ensures the ink mixes evenly, aids hitch-free application, and helps keep the mixture pathogen-free.
Hence, tattoo ink makers typically have a tough time finding a balance of ingredients that ensures safety, minimizes the risk of irritation and provides decent color results.
However, perfecting your tattoo ink recipe is no excuse for incorporating known harmful substances like heavy metals, phthalates, benzo(a)pyrene, and other carcinogens. You are better off opting for options that feature primarily organic pigments and carrier liquid (many top products today are leaning towards organic manufacturing processes.)
Nevertheless, “organic” does not mean 100% safe.
Many organic tattoo inks contain azo pigments originally developed for coloring textiles and painting cars. Some of the available preliminary research suggests that these pigments may be carcinogenic.
While there is currently no 100% guarantee with any tattoo ink, your best bet for maximizing safety is to adhere to the following recommendation by the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency:
- Check the tattoo inks for certification that indicate they have been tested and considered safe by relevant E.U. and U.S. authorities.
- Adhere to strict hygiene rules during tattooing sessions, including sterilizing all equipment and ink, keeping the environment pristine, and mitigating possible exposure to bacterial, fungal, or viral infections.
- Ensure you (or your tattooist) has the relevant knowledge and competence required to create tattoos safely.
- Avoid creating or getting tattoos from private individuals at home.
- Consult your healthcare practitioner if you experience any unusual symptoms after getting new tattoos.
Other 7 Best Tattoo Inks We Also Recommend
Tattoo inks are one section of the tattoo equipment market where the extreme abundance of high-quality options can quickly overwhelm even seasoned professionals. If you are in the market for a new set of colors and are stuck at this point, fret not.
We scoured hundreds of entries to bring you only the best of the best to help save you time and get quicker to the perfect product for your needs.
Besides our top pick, Intenze Ink, here are the other leading brands that made the cut:
1. World Famous Tattoo Ink
This company takes an entirely different approach to the art of tattoo ink production. At World Famous Tattoo Ink, the entire manufacturing process is built around a network of famous and rising tattoo artists worldwide that make up the World Famous family. One quick look at the brand’s history, and it’s not hard to see why they choose this unique path.
World Famous sits on the back of a tattooing family that has been in the business for over 50 years. The brand’s founder, Lou Rubino, is a second-generation tattoo artist who started tattooing immediately after high school under his Dad, Lou Senior, a veteran tattoo artist.
Consequently, it is unsurprising that this brand builds its frameworks around connecting working tattooists around the world.
World Famous Tattoo currently sponsors a portfolio of rising artists worldwide, hosts tattooing conventions, and has a pro-team of highly-sought-after tattooists that work to help bolster its product line.
Considering the wealth of talent available to this company, it is unsurprising that World Famous incorporates highly innovative processes to produce some of the most in-demand inks in the world.
Their lineup includes a couple of hundred shades of bold and vibrant inks that help bring all your surreal concepts to life. Ink options from World Famous include multiple variants of each color, bearing names of contributing artists. Some popular options include Everest Orange, Paul Rogers Red, and Ryan Smith Jewel Moonstone.
- Made by legendary tattooists
- Bold, vibrant colors
- A plethora of color options
- Industry and artist-supporting brand
- Non-toxic and vegan-safe
- EU resAP 2008 certification
2. Bloodline Tattoo Ink
Bloodline Tattoo Ink is a world-famous brand run by August Worchell, a one-time guitarist in Johnny Crash.
Major highlights of this company include featuring as the primary pigment supplier on Miami Ink (the first tattoo reality show to air on live T.V.) and one-time being responsible for manufacturing around a third of all tattoo inks used in the United States.
However, for a brand celebrated this much, Bloodline Tattoo Ink has relatively humble beginnings.
August started the company by learning how to make ink the old-fashioned way from O.G. tattooists of the 70s and 80s and created hand-made ink by himself from his headquarters in California.
Today, in addition to running one of the most successful tattoo ink brands for 25+ years, August has also served as a cook for several other brands, and he has worked as the brain behind the kickstarting of several well-known companies.
Bloodline Tattoo Ink is also known for its extensive humanitarian efforts. One of their popular campaigns is their Food for Life event that helps feed street children in the Philippines’ impoverished areas.
His company, Bloodline Tattoo Ink, has made a name for itself in the industry as the work of a perfectionist, designed to satisfy other perfectionists. Artists worldwide fame Bloodline for producing some of the most vibrant and fastest-healing inks you will find anywhere.
Some of Bloodline’s U.V. inks contain phosphorus, and hence, may cause an extra burning sensation when entering the skin of some folks.
- Assurance of only the highest quality inks
- Evenly saturating bright inks
- Superfast healing pigments
- Extended 2+ years shelf-life
3. Kuro Sumi Tattoo Ink
Ask any seasoned tattooist for ink recommendation for blackwork, and Kuro Sumi is guaranteed to be one of the first few names you hear. Kuro Sumi produces a line of rich inks initially formulated in Japan to work with the traditional Japanese tattoo style.
A defining characteristic of Japanese tattoos is the presence of deep, vibrant colors that pop and immediately catch the eyes wherever they appear. With this brand, you get inks that wholly embrace this aesthetic.
With Kuro Sumi, you get the deepest blacks, saturated grays, and some of the most vibrant color schemes you will find anywhere. Any option from this brand is sure to impress.
While shopping for Kuro Sumi inks, be on the watch for cheap imitations. Due to its extreme popularity, Kuro Sumi black inks are some of the most imitated products on the market. Cheap ink replicas typically do not adhere to any industry standards. Hence, they may contain potentially harmful substances.
Another central selling point of Kuro Sumi Ink is their use of a 100% organic formulation that makes it one of the safest choices on the market and a preferred option for working with sensitive skin.
Try out their superior black work set that includes a black ink bottle for outlining and a grey wash bottle for shading, or use their 7-color primary colors set if you are working on more flamboyant tattoos.
- Traditional Japanese formula with rich, vibrant colors
- 100% organic and vegan-safe
- Made in the U.S.A.
4. Radiant Colors
From their home base in Los Angeles, Radiant Colors have made themselves one of the country’s premier ink manufacturers, supplying some of the highest-end, vibrant colors nationwide and internationally.
Over their ten years of production, the company has made a name for itself as a premier location for sourcing top-quality tattoo inks.
One key behind Radiant Colors’ success is their long history of partnerships with renowned artists worldwide to ensure that they produce inks that match the requirements of tattooists and are on par with the latest developments in the field. The company also uses the most cutting-edge technology to ensure that their end products are always homogeneous, sterilized, and free of any pollutants or irritants.
Furthermore, folks with sensitive skin can enjoy these products without worry, as all Radiant inks are entirely organic and vegan-safe.
Try out their flagship offering, the Radiant Ink – Pastel Colours set, for colorful soft tones that are guaranteed to impress every time. The company also offers a range of standard colors in singles or groups, available in ½ ounce, 1 ounce, and 2-ounce bottles.
- Suitable for sensitive skin
- Available in ½ ounce, 1 ounce, and 2-ounce bottles
- 100% organic and vegan-safe
- Made in the U.S.A.
5. Panthera Ink
Italian products are often considered the standard (when it comes to quality) in a wide range of fashion and beauty niches. The tattoo ink space is arguably no different. Panthera Ink is a company based in Italy that currently represents one of the premier manufacturers of colors thanks to their extreme focus on producing only topline quality products.
Started in 2000 on the back of 25 years of the founders’ active tattooing practice, Panthera Ink is an ink line by tattooists that continually strives to be the go-to for artists that demand products at the bleeding edge of innovation, quality, and safety practices.
Panthera Ink achieves this lofty goal by incorporating qualitative analysis systems into their selection of raw materials to ensure the best sources and the highest purity levels. The company also integrates some of the most conscientious processing methods into their manufacturing process.
Consequently, Panthera Ink produces a line of products that brings vibrant, eye-catching colors yet offers some of the least possible risks to the end-users.
Their Tribal XXX ink is one of the darkest blacks on the market and is many tattooists’ favorite ink for lining work. The Tribal XXX is one of the most vibrant, fade-resistant blacks you will find anywhere.
Another popular offering from Panthera Ink is the Panthera Ralf Nonnweiler Artist Series, a partnership with famous german tattooist Ralf Nonnweiler, an excellent ink for shading and grey wash pieces.
- Strict manufacturing process ensures highest purity levels
- 100% organic and vegan-safe
- Made in Italy
- Made by tattooists
6. Mom’s Millennium Ink
Contrary to what the cheeky brand name would have you believe, Mom’s Millennium Ink is one of the most reputable names in the tattoo industry. From their launch in 1998, the company made a name for itself in the market, thanks to its rich inks portfolio, famed for its vibrant colors and unrivaled consistency.
For expert tattooists, the ink’s consistency is one of the top factors to consider when choosing the right product for any job. With consistent ink, you don’t have to worry about shade mismatches, and you can rest assured that your art will maintain normal levels of vibrancy at all points. Here, Mom’s Millennium Inks deliver.
The company placed intense emphasis on multiple checks of their products for color consistency, regular flow rate, and pigment durability.
Consequently, the brand holds the admiration of many artists and other industry participants for producing inks that you can always trust to act right.
Restock your arsenal with Mom’s Millennium Ink 70 bottle superset for a supply of all the high-end tattoo inks you need. Alternatively, you can coup their Nuclear Colors UV-reactive ink set for unique (only visible under a blacklight) and fashionable tattoo highlights that are sure to impress.
- Long-standing reputation for producing consistent inks
- Over 80 shades available
- UV-reactive ink available
- All-American brand
7. Starbrite Colors
Starbrite Colors offers the closest thing to a quality budget brand you will find in this market.
The tattoo ink market is rife with an abundance of attractive, low-priced offerings that end up being subpar in quality and are often a significant safety risk. Here, Starbrite Colors offers a much-needed breath of fresh air.
From their manufacturing plant in Connecticut, this brand produces a line of high-quality inks at a fraction of the price you get with more expensive options. With Starbrite, there are no cutting corners, and what you get is quality that is on par with the offerings of most major brands.
Starbrite runs its production efforts from a Class A ISO-certified Cleanroom, ensuring that your ink is free from any pollutants or irritants. The brand also incorporates state-of-the-art gamma radiation to ensure complete sterilization of the end product.
Even in terms of the quality of the resultant art, Starbrite inks are no pushovers. Their inks pack a smooth texture and consistent flow that make them easy to work with and ensures they enter the skin evenly and heal quickly.
Starbrite Tattoo Ink provides a decently priced option that is excellent for both starters and established artists. With 170+ shades to choose from, the brand also does an excellent job of covering all the bases that require covering.
- Competitive pricing scheme
- More than 170 color shades available