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 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.
Tattoo Colors: Everything You Need to Know
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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/Cons of Tattoo Colors
Each color has its pros and cons 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
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.
Tattoo Colors: More FAQ
How do I Stop Tattoo Color From Fading?
There are many reasons why tattoo colors fade. It’s important to choose an experienced and professional tattoo artist who knows how to work with colors. The ink they use is more concentrated and better quality, which means it is less likely to fade over time.
To make sure your tattoo color stays looking as good as new for longer, make sure to always wear sunscreen. UV light damage will often create dense collagen and mottle pigmentation. This will result in poorer skin quality that doesn’t take or hold tattoo pigment as well. Keep the tattooed area moisturized to ensure it stays bolder and brighter for longer. Use unscented moisturizers and soaps as they are gentler on the skin.
There are plenty of products targeted at tattooed skin, a non-abrasive moisturizer will be enough.
If you are unhappy in how your tattoo color looks, you can freshen it up by getting it touched up by a professional tattoo artist. A good artist will make your tattoo like bright and vibrant again. There is not tattoo that is too old to be revamped again.
Did you know:
Going into a chlorine pool will not fade the color on your tattoo once healed, this is a common misconception.
How Should I Look After My New Color Tattoo?
Caring for your new color tattoo is a vital step in ensuring it stays looking better for longer. Here are some of our tips:
- When you remove the covering from your fresh tattoo, wash the area gently with lukewarm water and mild soap. Splash the water and pat dry.
- Use an antibacterial ointment for the first few days. Your tattooist will be able to recommend one. Use until the scab has gone, and the tattoo is healed. Always tab on the ointment, never rub.
- Avoid direct sunlight and don’t soak the area until healed.
- No matter how itchy the tattoo gets, never scratch it. Avoid touching the area as much as possible.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol for the day before and the days after getting new tattoos.
- Try to avoid wearing tight clothes, going to gym and swimming until your tattoo is healed.
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.
Talk to your tattoo artist and explain the exact specifications of your design to get an accurate price. Every tattooist will have their own pricing scheme.
More to know:
- Tattoo: The Ultimate Guide, Resources And Design Ideas (2022 Update)
- Colored Tattoos Vs. Black & Grey Tattoos: Which Tattoo Style Is Better For Your Next Ink?
- Everything You Need to Know Before Getting a Tattoo – A 101 Guide
- Tattoo Statistics and Interesting Facts: Everything You Need To Know About Tattoos!
- Tattoo Removal – Everything You Should Know (Before You Get a Tatt!)
- Why Do Tattoos Turn Green (2023 Updated)?