Color Tattoos Versus Black and Gray

Are you thinking about getting some new ink, but are weighing your options between classic black and gray and colorful designs? 

Tattoos may have gotten their start as black inked designs, but they have progressed in leaps and bounds. Now, many people opt for colorful portraits with eye-catching shades.

Related Post: Portrait Tattoo Styles

When it comes down to which choice is the best for you, taking the pros and cons of black and gray, and color tattoos into consideration can help you make your decision.

The Pros of Color Tattoos 

Some tattoo designs are meant to include color. Watercolor designs, Japanese Hannya tattoos, and old school sailor tattoos often include color. Vibrant hues bring a watercolor design to life, while a Japanese Hannya mask definitely commands attention in a vivid shade of red. 

One of the benefits of deciding to go colorful with your tattoo is that you’re not limited when it comes to style – you can consider a variety of options. Also, color can play a role in your tattoo’s meaning.

Jack Lowe, a professional tattoo artist at Skin Kitchen Tattoo, points out that you can use different colors to symbolize different things,

“Say there’s something in the tattoo, like a key. ‘Oh, my grandfather’s favorite color was blue’, alright so we can do the key blue to symbolize your grandfather. With a black and gray tattoo, that wouldn’t really be possible. So, there are certain little things you can do with color.”

TIP: When shopping around for your perfect tattoo, look through photos of healed tattoos, not freshly inked designs. You want to see the end result without the swelling and irritation – a healed tattoo looks different to a fresh one. 

The Cons of Color Tattoos

If you want a colorful tattoo, your choice of design size is important.

“Colorwork has brightness and hue as well as value to consider,”

Nick “the Tailor” Solomon, a tattoo artist and founder of the New Chapters Tattoo Project, explains to Byrdie,

“so you have more options, but at a small scale, many of the colors will visually blend and become muddy.”

It’s important to have a conversation with your tattoo artist about what you want and don’t want – they will be able to advise you on whether your chosen design and size will work or if it won’t have the designed end result.

Color tattoos come with a little more required maintenance, especially if you’re someone that spends a lot of time outdoors.

“You’ve got to be a little more careful in the sunlight. Some of the colors are more colorfast than others. I’ve found that orange is the hardest color to keep nice and saturated over long periods of time when a person is getting a lot of sun exposure.”

Jack Lowe at Skin Kitchen Tattoo

If you’re someone that works outdoors or is exposed to the sun a lot, think twice about getting a tattoo on your arms of a place that’s exposed a lot.  

The Pros of Black and Gray Tattoos

Just like there are some tattoo styles that look great with saturated colors, there are some styles that are best left with a stark black and skin contrast. 

There are different ways to approach a black and gray tattoo. As Solomon explains to Byrdie,

“First is blackwork, which is only black ink and skin tone, with no gradation. The second is black and gray, which uses black ink mixed with water to create lighter and darker tones. Lastly is ‘opaque gray’ tattoos, which use black ink mixed with white ink to create the color gray, which is then used.”

A significant pro of going this route is that a black and gray tattoo lasts longer than colorful ones.

“Colored tattoos can fade over time and might need regular touch-ups to remain sharp. Black and gray tattoos are low maintenance in this regard as they don’t fade easily and do not require you to get periodic touch-ups”

Studio Aureo

Not only does this make black and gray tattoos a practical choice, but also the fact that there is less chance of clashing. A black and gray tattoo won’t conflict with any outfit choices like a bright tattoo might.

Just because your tattoo artist is only working with two shades, it does not mean your tattoo will be boring.

“Having only two colors means black and gray tattoos use the contrast of shading to bring the tattoo to life and create some awesome two tone effects.”


The Cons of Black and Gray Tattoos

If you’ve chosen a style that normally relies on color and you’ve opted for black and gray, you could lose some of the ‘wow’ factor of the design, so it’s important to really think about your choice of design and whether it fits in with your choice of color. 

If you only base your decision on practicality and go for a black and gray design you’re not completely in love with, you could regret it. 

TIP: If you’re on the fence about whether you want your design to be colored in or not, split your appointments. Get the black lines done, then, after you’ve experienced your tattoo for a bit, you can choose whether to get more gray shading or go ahead with color.

Allergic Reactions and Aftercare 

The healing process may take a bit longer if you opt for a color tattoo. This is due to the fact that more ink is being used, meaning more holes are being poked into your body (the size of your chosen design also needs to be considered, here). So, you may have to pay a bit more attention to the aftercare process if you’ve got a color tattoo. 

Whether you have all the colors of the rainbow in your tattoo or it’s just one solid black line, always apply sunscreen when out and about to protect your ink. However, it’s not just the sun you have to watch out for, but also allergic reactions. 

It is possible to be allergic to tattoo ink, and allergic reactions to red tattoo pigments are the most common.

Itching, swelling, and rashes are possible symptoms of an allergic reaction – your dermatologist will be able to prescribe the best course of treatment. 

For more on what to do when your tattoo becomes red and itchy, click here

What it all comes down to is what tattoo decision will not give you cause for regret. That, plus following the aftercare instructions your tattoo artist sends you home with properly so that you’re left with a healed design you love.

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