Need-to-Know Facts About Tattoo Inks

Tattoo Ink 101Tattoo inks are the paints for your skin canvases, the colors with which you will decorate your clients. Obviously, their brightness and consistency are extremely important for you and your client to be satisfied with your tattoo artistry.

The best needlework in the world can’t make up for dull, inconsistent colors. Not only that, but better-quality tattoo inks run less risk of causing health problems for the client, such as irritation or allergic reactions, although these still can occur. Tattoo inks do fall under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration as cosmetic color additives, but their ingredients are usually secret from the public, and some pigments are known to carry hazardous ingredients.

One thing you can know about any tattoo ink is that it has at least two ingredients, and usually more. Still, these ingredients will fall, broadly, into two categories…

The first is the pigment, which is made up of tiny particles with the desired colors, and the carrier, a fluid in which the particles are suspended in a homogeneous mixture. The pigments are where most of the risks arise, since they can be made from metals and compounds that are toxic, or cause allergic reactions in those susceptible. However, the choice of carrier can also have an effect. In particular, alcohol-based carriers may increase the leakage of the pigment compounds into the bloodstream.

Pigments are almost always secret in their composition, although some brands do make claims of safety. California, at least, requires the labeling of certain hazardous chemicals found in some pigments. There is no strong evidence, however, that anyone is likely to suffer ill effects from the pigment chemicals from a properly done tattoo. Fortunately , the body seals off deposits of ink with scar tissue very rapidly. The greatest health risk, given all proper sanitation is done, is an allergic reaction, a risk particularly of red pigments.

Further, you can customize your inks to some degree. Not only can you order inks that claim to be hypo-allergenic and non-toxic, or that use non-alcohol-based carriers, such as distilled water and propylene glycol or glycerin. However, some companies do sell pigment powder on its own, so you can make your own mix with your preferred carrier. This also will let you mix pigments for a truly custom color, once you know the individual pigments’ properties well.


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With all this in mind, here is an overview of some of the brands of ink out there. Note that while all the reviews given here are taken from those stated by working tattoo artists, the reputation of each is controversial, and there is almost always someone who swears by a brand others see as garbage.

  • Kuro Sumi: A brand most famous for its bold blacks, Kuro Sumi is generally quite well-regarded. Their blacks, like any black you should buy, are listed as usable for both lining and fills. Kuro Sumi has also started making colors, although these don’t have the same stellar reputation as their blacks.
  • Skin Candy: While this brand is well-known, being featured in Miami Ink and the like, many, though certainly not all, tattoo artists hold a dim view of it. You may like it, you might not, but don’t think it’s the best just because it’s on a TV show.
  • Starbrite: This brand is reputed to have especially bright colors, with their yellow-containing colors, including orange and green, having the best reputation in this way.
  • Intenze: A very well-regarded brand with a lot of colors, the only complaint commonly seen with these inks is that some find them to be a bit too liquid. This is really just a matter of preference, so you won’t do wrong trying them out and seeing if they work for you.
  • Waverly’s: A well-regarded, smaller manufacturer, Waverly’s is used by many knowledgeable tattoo artists as their primary supplier, although their slightly limited color range still leads many to go to other brands for particular pieces of art.

This is just a notable few of the brands out there. Others, including National, Eternal, Millenium, PermaPro, are also large and well-known brands, each with their devotees and detractors. You’ll just have to figure out which ones work best for you.

IMPORTANT: Be warned that there are fake, low quality, and even hazardous versions of brands such as Kuro Sumi from China to watch out for. Check your labels, try out a variety of brands and colors, and find out what works for you.

Really there’s no best brand, there’s the best brand for the artist and the job.

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