What to Know About Color Tattoos

a woman with a red arm sleeve tattoo

Choosing what tattoo design you want can be tricky enough, let alone when deciding if you want it in black and gray or in color. We’ve compiled a long list of factors to help you decide if color tattoos are right for you! 

History of Color Tattoos

While black ink tattooing has been around for thousands of years, tattoo ink colors first started in Japan in the 1600s. A few hundred years later, the United States and the United Kingdom started to adopt the practice of using blue, yellow, green, and red tattoo colors. As tattoo ink colors advanced, different colors became more popular in the art of tattooing. 

Within the last few decades, high-quality tattoo ink colors have been developed, providing safer and more effective tattooing. One benefit of developing tattoo ink is that there are now multiple kinds of ink in each tattoo ink color. While tattoo inks are still not FDA-approved in the US, tattoo inks have become increasingly safer, causing fewer allergic reactions and longer-lasting tattoos (with less fall-out).

Best Tattoo Colors

When it comes to tattoo design, tattoo colors are an important component, especially since tattoos are meant to last forever. Certain styles of tattoos, including watercolor tattoos, traditional tattoos, and Japanese-style tattooing, often use a heavy dose of colored ink, so depending on the style of tattoo you’re wanting, different colors may be better suited for that style. If you are interested in a smaller tattoo, you may want to keep in mind that the colors can bleed or fade over time in a tattoo, potentially making the tattoo look muddy. Choose colors that fit your desired tattoo, and remember that as a tattoo heals, the colors might look slightly different than when the ink is fresh.

Skin tone can also impact how tattoo ink colors appear, which may impact your decision when choosing colors for a tattoo. Read on for other ways skin tone can impact a tattoo!

arm sleeve tattoo with different colors

Colors That Last the Longest

Black ink and black and gray tattoos tend to last longer and require fewer touch-ups than most color tattoos. Color tattoos, specifically pastel ink colors or watercolor-style tattoos, tend to fade much faster than black tattoo ink and require more frequent touch-ups over the years.

As far as placement goes, tattoo ink does tend to last longer on areas of the body that go through little change as time moves forward. Getting a tattoo on the belly, arms, or thighs may mean your tattoo won’t hold its structure or color as well over time. Tattoos on parts of the body that have high-volume contact, such as the soles of your feet or palms of your hands, may fade quicker as well. Getting tattoos on the shins, ankles, back, shoulders, or collarbone may be the best place for your next tattoo.

Pros + Cons


Typically, colored tattoo ink fades more quicker than black and gray ink. Red ink tends to keep its color more than other ink colors, but as a whole, colored ink doesn’t always hold its vibrancy. It’s more common for ink allergies to appear in colored ink as well. However, there are plenty of benefits to getting a tattoo with colored ink! If you’re interested in realism, or a certain art style, colored ink is a great option. Certain colors tend to show up on different skin tones more or less vibrantly, but using color ink is a great way to add character or definition to your tattoo. 

Black and Gray

Black and gray tattoos are the most common tattoos. This is not only because of style popularity, but also because it’s versatile; it shows up on all skin tones, can be made denser to add depth and dimension to a tattoo, and can be used to make bold or delicate tattoos. The black ink can blur or fade over time too though, as the skin regenerates.

Ink Colors on Different Skin Tones

Pale, Medium, to Dark

Since tattoo ink is placed in the dermis of your skin, it actually sits underneath some pigment and melanin, which can cause tattoo colors to appear differently, depending on skin tone. Usually, the paler the skin, the easier it is to see the tattoo and for it to hold it’s color longer. Darker skin tones may not vibrantly show darker colors of ink, such as blues, purples, or greens.

Medium to dark skin tones may also not hold ink as effectively as paler skin tones. Black ink is the most prominent ink for any skin tone, though! The best way to determine what a tattoo will look like on your skin tone is to work with your tattoo artist and get recommendations from them. Something to note is that red ink cannot be removed from darker skin tones with laser tattoo removal. Tatt2Away® is able to remove any color ink from any skin tone

Another consideration when getting a tattoo, colored ink or black and gray, is how densely packed the ink will be. Darker skin tones may require more densely packed ink in their tattoo to achieve the same effect as paler skin tones get with less ink. Always consult with your tattoo artist if you are unsure whether or not to get color ink in your tattoo!

The Sun and Tattoo Inks

When getting a tattoo and considering tattoo ink color, it’s important to consider other outside factors, like how often your skin will be outside. Since melanin can build up when your skin is exposed to sunlight, (this is why you might tan in the summertime!), your tattoo can fade or appear lighter in color when exposed to the sun. If your tattoo is going to be in a place that might not get any sunlight, you might not even need to consider the effects sunlight can have on your tattoo. However, especially when choosing what tattoo ink colors to add to your tattoo, consider how the sun might affect your ink down the road. If you spend a lot of time basking in the sun, your skin might be warmer in tone (or more tan), which might mean you’d want to consider inking your body with ink tones that compliment that tone, rather than what your skin looks like when you’re not in the sun. 

Safety and Tattoo Colors

Tattoo ink colors are not regulated by the FDA. While there has been significant progress in the production and safety of tattoo inks, allergic reactions do still occur in some people. Some inks, such as red and neon inks contain chemicals and metals that may be dangerous. The EU recently banned quite a few tattoo ink colors since there is little to no regulation in the creation of tattoo ink. This mostly impacts color inks such as greens and reds. When it comes to laser tattoo removal, most trained technicians will not remove neon or fluorescent tattoos, since the ink is pushed through the body’s lymphatic system. With Tatt2Away, the ink is extracted up and out of the body, making it a more natural and safer method to remove a tattoo.

Black ink is the safest color of tattoo ink, followed by some greens and blues. 

Related Post: Think Before You Ink: Tattoo Ink Ban & Unsafe Practices

Alternatives to Traditional Tattooing Ink

There are a few alternatives to traditional tattooing ink. Temporary tattoos are an option if you’re not dead-set on having a permanent tattoo (this can also be a great way to decide if the tattoo you have in your head will look like you want it to on your body!). These can be made with henna or other natural pigments. If you’re still wanting a permanent tattoo without the fear of traditional tattoo ink, different types of ink such as vegan or organic ink do exist. These are marketed as being safer and more environmentally friendly, though there is some debate about the effectiveness of the ink.

Choosing Color or Black and Gray Tattoos

The benefit of getting a color tattoo over a black and gray tattoo is that it can add vibrancy, depth, and dimension to a design. Color tattoos can be used to create a more realistic representation of a subject, such as a portrait or realistic scene. They can also be used to make a design stand out and be more visually striking, drawing more attention to the tattoo.

Black and gray tattoos can create a more subtle, classic look. Black and gray tattoos rely on shading and contrast to create depth and detail, making them a popular choice for traditional designs such as portraits, fine-line tattoos, and tribal tattoos. They also tend to age better over time, since black and gray ink fades less than colored ink. Additionally, black and gray tattoos tend to be less painful and require fewer touch-ups than color tattoos, making them a more practical choice for some people.

As always though, the choice of whether to get a color or black and gray tattoo ultimately depends on personal preference and the style of the tattoo design!

Pricing/Cost of a Color Tattoo

The cost of a tattoo depends on several factors, such as size, complexity, and location of the design, as well as the skill and experience of the tattoo artist (tattoo artists set their own prices, often by hourly rate or size of tattoo). Generally speaking, color tattoos may cost more than black and gray tattoos in the long run due to the additional time and skill required to create the various shades and hues of the design. Color tattoos tend to require more ink and may need more touch-ups over time, which can add to the overall cost. However, this can vary depending on the specific tattoo artist and shop, so it’s important to discuss pricing with them before getting the tattoo.

Some inks, such as UV ink, can cost more due to the skill required to apply this kind of tattoo. Always check with your tattoo artist before getting a tattoo to set cost expectations. 

Related Post: The Cost to Remove Your Tattoo

before and after results of removing a tattoo at tatt2away

Tattoo Regret? Let Tatt2Away Remove the Ink!

For most people, tattoos are meant to be permanent. However, if you ever find yourself in a position where you want to remove your tattoo, you should consider how color tattoos can impact your ability to remove your ink! 

Laser tattoo removal is limited in the tattoo ink colors it can remove. Red ink is nearly impossible to successfully remove from darker skin tones without causing hypopigmentation (an effect that looks like the skin is permanently bleached), and some lasers are unable to detect yellow or orange inks. White ink is very tricky to remove from a tattoo because it can oxidize, leaving the ink in your tattoo gray or brown permanently. Additionally, laser tattoo removal pushes the ink further into the body, to be later processed out through the lymphatic system. Very little research has been conducted on the long-term effects of processing potentially harmful tattoo inks through the body.

Tatt2Away is the solution to laser tattoo removal’s limitations. Tatt2Away is able to remove any color tattoo on any skin tone. Tatt2Away uses the body’s natural healing process to remove unwanted ink. Tatt2Away’s patented technology uses a microdermabrasion technique that causes the body to scab and pulls the ink up and out of the body. To learn more about Tatt2Away’s natural process, or to add Tatt2Away to your business.

So if you’re looking to remove that outdated shamrock tattoo before this St. Patrick’s Day, (out with the old, in with the new, we say!), Tatt2Away is the best choice for you.

Book your free removal consultation for your color tattoo and get started on your removal journey today, on any color tattoo, you may want to be removed!

Tattoo Removal by Tatt2Away®

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