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

As a tattoo artist, you have to be prepared to tattoo all of the different skin types. Human beings present with all sorts of different skin types, whether it be different skin color, quality, or condition and you need to be able to adapt your tattooing techniques accordingly and most often, on the spot. 

Unfortunately, we have seen some artists turn away clients with dark skin tones as they do not know how to tattoo them. We have also seen some artists attempt to tattoo dark skin tones and completely botch the tattoo. This could come from a lack of experience, or from being taught incorrectly by their mentor.  

Ideally, tattooing should be the same for all skin types, but the truth is, it’s not. Tattooing all skin tones is not the same, especially when it comes to full-color 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 final results of the tattoo. 

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 color tattoos

On white or fair skin tones, color ink is often recommended as most colors used will be vibrant and bright, even when it has aged quite a bit. But this does not mean that color inks will not show up or be vibrant on dark skin tones. The best way that people illustrate the difference between the two is on different sheets of colored paper. If you take some bright crayons and draw on a white piece of paper, and then use those same crayons on a brown sheet of paper, this is a great visual representation of what happens when we tattoo colorful ink onto fair skin tones versus dark skin tones. 

This is because when tattooing, we deposit the ink under the layer of the skin that is responsible for melanin production - when the skin heals, the color in the skin will have grown over the tattoo, which can mute colored inks. But this in no way means that they disappear! It just means that as an artist, you need to pay better attention to your client’s undertone, make better design and color choices, and let your clients know that this may happen to their tattoos. 

People with dark skin get tattoo scars more easily

This is another myth that is not entirely true. The scarring has everything to do with how the artist approaches the skin. In the past, dark skin was believed to be thicker and tougher to tattoo 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. When tattooing dark skin, you need to use the same care, gentleness, and technique as when tattooing fair skin. 

Colored Ink Tattoos

Since tattoo ink is placed under the layer of skin where melanin is present, colors may heal more dullly than when the tattoo was fresh. Sometimes it can be lighter, others can be darker. We’ve established that. So, the darker the skin tone is, the brighter the ink you will have to use for it to be prominent, and to avoid it looking muddy when it is healed. 

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 may cause unnecessary scarring and muddyness. 

A skilled tattoo artist who is used to tattooing all skin tones 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 on the skin.

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 you 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 when you do the larger tattoo as you will be better prepared. 


Placement is something that most people think about in terms of how the tattoo will look on the body. 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 and tones. Colored ink tends to fade faster than black ink. The rate at which it fades will increase if the tattoo is on 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 the skin also tend to be lighter, which is another factor that comes into play when deciding on placement. 


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 and smudge faster than big tattoos. When this happens, especially when the tattoo is done with color 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 color ink versus black ink. Some clients will insist despite your advice. It’s entirely up to you to decide whether you want to do the tattoo or not. We recommend making sure you are well-read on the Five Keys to Becoming a Successful Tattoo Artist so that you avoid unnecessary mistakes by taking on clients who do not understand tattooing. 

Best Colored Ink For Dark Skin

As a general rule, warm colors will work well with dark skin tones and will appear quite bright. 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 tones. 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 tones. The darker the skin tone is the more brilliant the red will look. Note that some reds deepen over time into a burgundy color, so stick with crimson or another brightly 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 they tend to be more visible than red stencils.

Green ink 

Green is another color that tends to fare well on dark skin. Usually, the brighter the green is 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 every 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 on fair skin tones. Does this mean it is not an option for people with dark skin tones? Not entirely so.

What are white ink tattoos?

White ink tattoos are made using white tattoo ink. They’re subtle and appear on the skin as raised scars. This creates a desirable 3-D effect that many people love. It does not glow in the dark like some people think. 

The problem with white ink tattoos is that they don’t tend to last very long, and by the 5-year mark, they will look vastly different from when they were first 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 appeal and start fading. 

White ink tattoos on light versus dark skin

When the skin is tattooed, the client’s skin tone will eventually show over the tattoo. 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 will begin to show through the ink. In some instances, the ink will even take on a yellow hue.

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 hearing the P-word (practice), but it’s something you’ll have to do as long as you intend to be a tattoo artist. If you’re wanting to level up a bit faster, we recommend taking a look at some online master classes with industry professionals, such as our Black and Gray Realism Course by master tattooer Hugo Feist. Sign up now to take your tattooing to the next level. 

The theory is one thing, but you’ll only get better at colored and white ink tattoos by tattooing all skin types and tones, 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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