December 05, 2020 7 min read

The tattoo industry is more popular than ever as people are drawn to the visual language of tattooing. Getting a tattoo was taboo years ago. Today, it's pretty uncommon to go out in public without seeing someone who is inked. With an increase in the number of people getting tattoos comes an increase in the average tattoo client's diversity.

Unfortunately, common misconceptions are circulating around the tattoo industry regarding tattoos on darker skin. For years, myths surrounding tattooing dark skin tones have kept clients from getting the ink they've been craving and kept artists from booking clients that would be a great fit. While there are differences to keep in mind when tattooing darker skin tones, there's no reason your skin tone should keep you from getting the tattoo you've always wanted.

Let's take a closer look at some of the common misconceptions of tattooing dark skin tones. We'll debunk these myths, explore the techniques and colors that work best, and give you tips to get the best results. Get ready to let your body be the canvas for your next tattoo masterpiece.

The Art of Tattooing Starts with Science

Some of the rumors circulating around the tattoo industry have people with darker skin feeling they aren’t a good canvas for a tattoo. Myths surrounding tattoos on dark skin rumor that colors won't show correctly, tattoos fade quickly, and scar more easily. Thanks to popular TV shows like Ink Master, featuring artists who complain about being assigned "dark canvases," it's easy to see why people believe these misconceptions.

The truth is that a good tattoo artist can deliver an amazing tattoo on all skin tones if they have an understanding of both the art and the science of tattoos on dark skin. Let's break it down.

Like a hairdresser with different things to consider when styling curly hair vs. straight hair, tattoo artists have other things to consider when tattooing dark vs. light skin. Overall, the structure of our skin is the same regardless of your skin tone. We all have 3 layers of the skin:

  • Epidermis
  • Dermis
  • Subcutaneous Fat

The epidermis is made up of pigmented cells called melanocytes. Everyone has the same number of melanocytes regardless of the shade of your skin. Melanocytes produce melanosomes, which are what determines your skin color. People with darker skin tones create more melanosomes, which gives their skin tone that darker shade. The tattoo results on dark skin are less about the skin structure and more style and color. That's why you need a tattoo artist who understands the science of tattooing, not just the art.

Common Misconceptions About Tattoos on Dark Skin

dark skin tattoos

The most important thing to understand with tattoos on dark skin is that it's usually the artist, not the skin, that is the problem. Tattoo artists who lack skill pose the biggest problem for people with darker skin tones when they want to get inked. That's because, for years, tattoo artists have produced failed outcomes or simply made excuses that tattoos on dark skin can't be done.

Let's look at some of the myths surrounding tattoos on dark skin and quickly cover why they're false.

1.     Delicate Line Designs Don’t Work on Darker Skin.

As mentioned earlier, there's been a misconception that darker skin is more rigid. Structurally, all skin is the same, debunking that theory. Still, the delicate styling techniques required for fine lines have been avoided for clients with darker skin tones. Fine line tattooing will work on dark skin, but won’t be as prominent as a thick, bold line. This is why the experienced artist usually advises to get either traditional, tribal or any bold-lined style. You should always envision what your tattoo will look like from 10’ feet away for best results.

All tattoo outlines should be performed in one pass from start to finish. This has always been our litmus test when developing any new machine coil, rotary, or pen. Not all machines will produce this result.

2.     Dark Skin Scars More Easily

Now, there's the scarring issue we often hear about. Because darker skin tones create more fibroblasts, they are predisposed to scars and keloids. This is true because cells boost collagen production at wound sites. But when it comes to tattoos on dark skin, the issue isn't so much the likelihood of scarring as it is the tattoo application. Because many artists believe that darker skin is structurally tougher, they tend to run machines at higher voltages necessary or increase multiple passes when tattooing.  There should never be more than 3 passes in one area when filling in a tattoo.

More than 3 passes will cause more skin trauma, resulting in a longer healing process. This overcompensation leads to a greater chance of skin damage and scarring. Experienced tattooers should know how to alleviate these issues.

3.     Tattoos on Dark Skin Fade More Easily

The last myth we're going to look at covers the issue of fading. For years, information has filtered around the tattoo industry that tattoos on dark skin fade more easily. For tattoos that fade quickly, the issue is two-fold. As you have probably seen, the tattooer’s technique and expertise have a lot to do with the healed tattoo. But how quickly a tattoo fades also has a lot to do with self-care.

No matter the skin tone, any client who doesn't follow the tattoo aftercare properly, will end up with a tattoo that doesn't heal right or fades easily. The truth is that tattoos on dark skin tend to hold their color well because people with darker skin tones moisturize with rich moisturizers like shea and cocoa butter. So, those who experience fast fading can attribute it to their artist or their own negligence.

Tips for Best Results with Tattoos on Dark Skin

tattoos on dark skin

Now that we've set all the rumors aside, let's jump into what it takes to get your tattoo's best results if you have darker skin tones.

1.     Discuss Color Options

All inks are created to provide full, vibrant pigments. But the truth is that colors show up differently on different skin tones. Think about painting a canvas. Bright orange will have an extra vibrancy if your canvas is white rather than tan or brown. The same goes with tattoo colors.

Tattooers who don't have a lot of experience working with darker skin tones will automatically suggest that you stick to black or grey. But if you want color, you need to find ones that work with your complexion. For example, purple has poor contrast on black skin, and yellow can quickly fade, but deep, earthy tones show up very well. Great color options on darker skin include: deep, rich red, salmon, peach, pink, and olive green. Talk to your tattoo artist to pick flattering shades that give your piece the pop you're craving.

2.     Know Your Body

A great way to get amazing tattoo results is to know your body. Have a discussion with your tattooer before they begin to tattoo. If your skin is prone to keloids, tell them. They can make sure to use a technique that limits pressure and uses their machine at a lower setting to limit the risk of scarring. If you're tattooing at a time of year when your skin is lighter, discuss color options with your artist.

All dark skinned people should realize that pigment lays under the epidermis, so any pigment will appear darker if the epidermis above is darker. For example, light red will appear as a darker hue. From our experience, we recommend red, black, green, light blue, and purple to best results on dark skin.

3.     Do a Test Run

Artists who have lots of success with tattoos on dark skin do a short color test before beginning the project. Talk to your tattoo artist about testing 7-10 hues on your skin. Try everything from warm to cool tones. Give it some time to heal, so you have a better chance of picking the right colors for your skin tone. This will also show the artist your specific skin traits and how your skin absorbs color.

4.     Pick the Right Artist

As you've probably figured by now, the ultimate success for tattoos on dark skin lies in the hands of your artist. Unfortunately, many "industry experts" are found on the internet and social media that simply lack experience. Before you sit down in the chair:

  1. Ask your artist about their experience.
  2. Look at their portfolio.
  3. Do your research. If an artist gives you a portfolio that shows little to no tattoos on dark skin, you've found your first red flag.
  4. Discuss a strategy. Will they use less power if your skin tends to scar? Will they avoid repeating fine lines to get you the tattoo you've envisioned without a high risk of keloids?
  5. Check out online reviews.
  6. Ask to see pictures of healed photos of tattoos on dark skin. Fresh ink looks a lot different than it does when a tattoo heals. See how tattoos age on the skin of some of their clients.

Remember, tattoos are forever. You need to feel secure.

While myths have circulated the tattoo industry for years, there's no reason you can’t get great looking tattoos on dark skin. Find an artist that specializes in and embraces tattooing all skin types. They'll understand what works best to help you achieve the results you've envisioned. Remember, just as shades vary, so do results. Take your time to ask questions, discuss your options, and be flexible. It's not the skin and the colors that limit your options; it's the artist. When you find the right artist, they will use their creativity to turn your vision into a beautiful piece of art.


As always, all content has been written by CA Tattoo Supply, based on our 30-year experience in tattooing. If you have read this and feel we have left out any pertinent information, please add your personal experiences to the comment section below.