Tattooing All Skin Types: Cheat Sheet To Color And White Ink Tattoos

As a tattoo artist, you have to be prepared for tattooing all skin types. One minute someone with fair or white skin will talk through the door and two hours later, you might have another client with darker skin.

Do you turn back your darker client because you have no clue about tattooing all skin types? Well, the reality is some artists do, and others end up botching the work.

Ideally, it should be the same for all skin types, but the truth is, it’s not. Tattooing all skin types is not the same, especially when it comes to colored and white ink tattoos. 

In this post, we’ll explore tattooing all skin types with colored and white ink, and how skin tone plays a role in the results. 

Myths About Tattooing Dark Skin

Many people believe that black ink is the only color that will work for dark skin. That is simply not the case. Here are two common myths an alarming number of people believe to be true:

Dark-skinned people can’t or shouldn’t get colored ink

White or fair skin tones seem to be the best choice for colored ink, merely because most colors appear vibrant. Think of it as drawing on a white, blank sheet, and drawing on different colored materials like cardboard or a piece of black cartridge paper. You will notice that your crayon will not look the same on all pieces. Try using different colors or even different types of crayons and notice how the results will vary. That’s sort of how tattoo ink and skin work.

The skin is the same, however, the tint is not. This means that you will have to pay extra care when tattooing dark skin to ensure the colors selected complement the tint. 

People with dark skin get tattoo scars more easily

This isn’t entirely the case. It all has to do with how the artist approaches the skin. In the past, dark skin was believed to be tougher so tattoo artists would run their machines higher and go over the same spot over and over again. This overworks the skin and causes unnecessary damage. The result is a tattoo that doesn’t heal well and increases the risk of keloid formation

Colored Ink Tattoos

Since tattoo ink is placed under the skin, it will act as a cover over the ink. Some of these covers are lighter, others are darker. We’ve established that. So, the darker the color is the brighter the ink you will have to use for it to be prominent, otherwise, it may come out looking muddy. 

An inexperienced tattoo artist may spend unnecessary time trying to create highlights and contrasts using white ink. You’ll soon come to find that white ink eventually ‘fades’ and it will not look the same in a couple of years. Another incorrect approach is adding more ink than usual, which will affect the way it heals and will create thicker than necessary lines. 

A skilled tattoo artist that is used to tattooing all skin types knows that it’s all a matter of how the colors are manipulated. The artist may want to prepare an ink test when working on large, colorful pieces and will analyze factors such as placement and size before putting ink to skin.

Color tattooed female

Ink testing

A good tattoo artist will perform an ink test on darker skin before applying any color. This will help to determine which will work well with the person’s skin tone and undertone, and which won’t. This gives a pretty good idea of how the skin will absorb color and can even indicate any sensitivities or allergies. 

This is usually done a few weeks before the actual appointment to give the skin time to heal. It will look like a bunch of lines or dots on the skin. These lines and dots will help to improve the quality of your work. 


Placement is something that most people think about in terms of how the tattoo will look. A good tattoo artist will consider how the placement of the tattoo will affect its outcome.

One huge consideration is exposure to sunlight. Sunlight is responsible for fading tattoos on all skin types. Colored ink tends to fade faster. The rate at which it fades will increase if placed in an area that is consistently exposed to sunlight. For example, a tattoo on the forearm or leg will fade much faster than one on the back or chest. These areas of skin also tend to be lighter, which is another factor that comes into play.


You’ll notice that some tattoo artists do not tattoo small tattoos. Instead, they only tattoo large, colorful pieces. Many artists do this because larger tattoos allow them to showcase their talent. Another hidden reason is that smaller tattoos fade faster than big tattoos. When this happens, especially when created with colored ink, the colors will begin to look muddy. 

Note that every tattoo you do will be a showcase of your work to potential clients. You should offer the most accurate advice to your clients and inform them about the intricacies of using colored ink versus black ink. Some clients will insist in spite of your advice. It’s entirely up to you to decide whether you want to do this or not.

Best Colored Ink For Dark Skin

As a general rule, warm colors will mesh well with dark skin tones and make both appear more vibrant. Cool colors such as green and blue will create a contrast and will appear more vibrant.

Black Ink

This is the default ink for tattooing all skin types. This is the darkest colored ink, therefore, it will be the most stand-out. Black ink is also the slowest colored ink to fade.

Red ink

Red ink is used often for tattooing all skin types, and it tends to look brilliant on dark skin. The darker the skin tone is the more brilliant it will look. Note that some reds deepen over time into a burgundy color, so stick with crimson or another bright colored red ink. 

Blue and purple ink

Blue ink, particularly royal blue, works well on dark skin. Many tattoo artists prefer to use blue and purple stencils when they tattoo dark skin because it tends to be more visible than red stencils.

Green ink 

Green is another color that tends to fare well on dark skin. The darker the green is usually the more vibrant the tattoo will appear. 

Yellow and orange ink

Yellow and orange ink tend to not be a preferred color for people with dark skin because they have warm undertones. A good way to tell is by taking a look at the veins inside the wrist. Green veins indicate a warm undertone.

White Ink Tattoos

White ink tattoos become a trend ever so often. This isn’t the same thing as using white ink to add contrast to a tattoo. We’re talking about tattoos made entirely of white ink. 

When you type in “white ink tattoo” in your search bar, you’ll notice that the majority of them are done to fair skin. Does this mean it is not an option for black people? Not entirely so.

What are white ink tattoos?

White ink tattoos are made using translucent ink. They’re subtle and appear on the skin as raised scars. This creates a desirable 3-D effect that many people love, and it also glows in the dark.

The problem with white ink tattoos is that they don’t tend to last very long, and by the 5-year mark, it will look vastly different from when it was applied. For this reason, many tattoo artists stay away from using white as a stand-alone color on anyone’s skin.

Nevertheless, people continue to get white ink tattoos and it’s more of a personal choice. Ironically many people end up getting them covered up when they lose their spunk.

Color tattooed male

White ink tattoos on light versus dark skin

When the skin is tattooed, the client’s skin tone will eventually start to pass through it. This means that the natural skin tone will always be dominant unless the ink is darker. 

Since white ink is the lightest colored ink, this will start happening sooner, and eventually, a darker skin tone would begin to show through the ink. In some instances, the ink will even take on a yellow color.

This will also happen to light skin tones, and the white ink will start to become uneven or patchy. This sometimes begins happening as soon as two months after getting a white ink tattoo. 

Mastering Tattooing All Skin Types

You might be tired of the P-Word (practice), but it’s something you’ll have to do as long as you intend to be a tattoo artist.

The theory is one thing, but you’ll only get better at colored and white ink tattoos by tattooing all skin types over and over again. The more you practice the more you will feel comfortable doing it. You’ll also gain a ton more skill points which will be reflected in your work. 

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