Beautifully subtle on lighter skin and strikingly bold on dark skin, white ink tattoos have been popping up all over social media and in tattoo magazines. They can even give a faint glowing effect that can stand out in a dim bar or club. If you want it actually to glow, you can even ask your tattoo artist to add a little UV ink.

Have you been thinking about taking the plunge and getting some white ink body art? Like any body modification, you should take time to educate yourself on the process before deciding if it’s for you. Here we’ll go over some of the basics to help you make your choice.

What Is a White Ink Tattoo?

As you may have guessed from the name, these tattoos use white ink instead of traditional black ink to create words and images on your skin. Most white ink art isn’t purely white, however. Most artists will blend a hint of another color to help the white ink last longer.

White ink tattoos tend to be raised, giving a slightly 3D look to your design. This can be an asset or a downside, depending on the look you want. White ink is somewhat thicker than most other ink colors, which causes this effect.

The Best Ways to Use White Ink in Tattoos

White ink stands out in a couple of situations. Of course, the effect will vary quite a bit depending on your skin tone.

  • If you want a barely-there tattoo on light skin, white ink is a great choice. Especially if you work in an environment that frowns on visible tattoos, but you don’t want to hide your skin art away on your back or another seldom-exposed area.
  • On the flip-side, if you have very dark skin and struggle to have your body art stand out with standard black or colored inks, white ink can look very bold. It can make designs pop on dark skin.
  • White ink can highlight designs in other colors as well. It can add a look of depth to art designs, giving them a 3D look. Using it to enhance colored ink designs will make your tattoo pop and create a truly unique wearable art piece.

What Are the Drawbacks of Using White Ink?

Despite how cool white ink looks, there are plenty of people (tattoo artists included) who will tell you they may not be the best idea. And there are a few downsides you should consider ahead of time.

White Ink Tattoos Are More Painful

If you have a low pain tolerance, white ink tattoos may not be for you. The rumors you’ve heard are true: they tend to be more painful than your average black ink tattoo.

This is because the needle needs to go deeper to deposit the white ink under your skin. It can also take more than one pass of the needle to sufficiently saturate the color, so it shows up. If your skin is already tender from the first pass, the second will hurt even more.

There Can Be Fading, Bleeding, and Color Change

While all tattoos can fade and bleed eventually, white ink is especially challenging. It tends to fade more quickly than black ink. Due to its lack of pigment, it’s also very susceptible to change over time. It will likely take on characteristics of your skin tone. Warmer skin tones can cause it to develop a yellowish hue, for example.

Since white ink is thicker, it’s also harder to get crisp lines. When placed against other colors, it can start to blend with them. The white highlight around your red tattoo can slowly take on a pink tint. Of course, the experience and care of your tattoo artist can help prevent this color bleed.

It Can End Up Looking Like a Scar

On really light skin, white ink is likely to look red around the edges. This redness can continue even after it has healed, creating a scar-like effect. While some people find this to be a cool effect, it may not be the look you’re going for.

White Ink Tattoos Are More Expensive

Since white ink is considered a specialty color, it can also cost you more. Not all tattoo artists are comfortable doing it, so those willing to put in the work can charge a premium. Blank ink tattoos are already expensive. Adding colors ups the price and adding white ink, even more so.

Who Should Consider a White Ink Tattoo?

Skin art is a really personal thing. If you have your heart set on a white ink tattoo, you should go for it despite the potential downsides. However, it may work better for some people than others.

Experienced Tattoo Clients

We wouldn’t recommend white ink for a first tattoo. You don’t really know how your skin interacts with tattoo ink if you’ve never had one before. Tattoos may fade or discolor more quickly than average for you. That would make white ink an incredibly risky gamble.

Since they tend to be more painful and more expensive than a standard tattoo, doing a test drive with black ink will help you gauge whether you and your wallet can handle something even more intense.

Those Wanting a Highlight in a Color Tattoo

Using white ink as a highlight in a bigger design is a great way to incorporate it. Just make sure your tattoo artist takes precautions to help prevent bleeding with other colors in the image. A little will go a long way to add that extra oomph to your design.

People With Dark Skin Tones

It’s also undeniable that white ink is great on darker skin tones. Many people of color struggle to find tattoo artists and art that really work for them. White ink can help uniquely emphasize designs on dark skin that just won’t show up as well on light skin.

The aging and fading process also tends to be less of an issue on dark skin. White ink doesn’t yellow or fade into oblivion as obviously on darker skin.

Extending the Life of Your White Ink Tattoo

Taking care of your tattoo is essential, and it’s even more important than usual when it comes to white ink tattoos. You’ll want to protect your investment and keep that ink looking fresh for as long as possible. Your tattoo artist will give you some tips, but here are a few things to keep in mind.

Choose the Right Location

The location of your tattoo can help extend its life or make it harder to take care of. It can also affect how you care for it. Getting tattoos on your hands and wrists are particularly tricky. These areas are almost always exposed and washed more frequently.

Similarly, your outer arm is more likely to be exposed to the sun, and also be rubbed by clothing frequently (unless you always go sleeveless…which is a choice). Your feet are constantly rubbed by shoes and socks, which will also make tattoos there fade faster.

Since white ink fades faster anyway, you’ll want to avoid these areas that are notorious for speeding that process.

Be Mindful About After-Care

To get the most out of your white ink tattoo, make sure to take its after-care seriously, including by following these tips.

  • Immediately after getting a tattoo, you’ll have to resist the urge to touch it. No matter how cool and raised the skin is, it’s an open wound. That means that it’s in danger of becoming infected.
  • Your artist will recommend an ointment to help the skin heal and probably apply some at the end of your session. Make sure to keep using it as directed once you get home. You can also apply a lotion to your tattoo to help it heal.
  • If your tattoo is in an area where your clothes will rub against it, make sure to keep it covered while it heals. This will help protect your design and keep it clean.
  • After your tattoo has healed, your job isn’t over. Sun exposure can significantly reduce the lifespan of white ink tattoos. If it’s on an area of skin that will be out in the sun all day, you really should put on sunscreen. Protecting yourself from excessive sun exposure is a good idea anyway, no matter your skin color.

Go Forth and Tattoo Responsibly

Now that you’re armed with the pros and cons of white ink tattoos, you should be better equipped to choose whether or not it will work for you.

Always make sure to choose a tattoo artist you trust. Read reviews and ask friends for recommendations before going to someone new. And please choose a professional artist with a clean studio. Don’t let some guy who lives in a van tattoo you on your kitchen table, okay?

In all seriousness, take time to build a relationship with your tattoo artist. When you trust someone to give you a clean and safe experience, you’ll feel much more comfortable and safer. Give your tattoos the proper care after, and you’ll be more likely to avoid infection and enjoy a beautiful design for years to come.

About the Author

Odessa Denby

Odessa Denby is a writer and editor born in the wilds of Pennsylvania. After studying abroad at Oxford University she caught the travel bug and ended up living in South Korea for 4 years. There, she learned about the wonders of skincare and started blogging. Now living in New York, she maintains a YouTube channel where she demonstrates how to create clothing and costumes by hand to have a more sustainable and personalized wardrobe. Encouraging more educated and conscientious consumption is one of her main passions. Her creative writing work has been published in a number of literary journals including Slipstream and Outside Culture. You can find more of her non-fiction work on Medium. When not writing, she fills her hours with tea snobbery, bubble baths, and period dramas.

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