Bright Ink, Dark Skin
August 28, 2009 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to get a bright, saturated, extremely colorful tattoo on light brown skin?

It hasn't escaped my notice that the tattoos I admire are generally on Caucasians. I've heard that you should consider tattoo ink like colored cellophane; the color of your skin will shine through. I've heard tattoo artists saying that your color options become more limited as your skin gets darker. Hence, I've kind of accepted the fact that brightly colored tattoos are out of the question for me.

I'd love someone to prove me wrong, though, with photos or anecdotes or personal experiences! I'm half Mexican and half White, with skin the approximate color of peanut butter. I would like to see examples of colorful tattoos on people in a relatively similar shade range (ex: Latinos, South Asians, Native Americans, multiracial people, any light-brown people regardless of race). I know about BMEzine, but it's total information overload. If there are certain colors that would work but others that wouldn't, I'd like to know that too; this previous thread discusses white ink, for example.

If I got inked, it would almost certainly be on the upper arm or back, as pictured. I know that the bright color in photos of tattoos is sometimes because the tattoo is very fresh, and I also know that maintaining that brightness has a lot to do with limiting sun exposure, sunscreen, regular touch-ups, etc. I just want to know: is it possible for someone with my shade of skin to get a very colorful tattoo and keep it that way with a reasonable amount of effort?

I know Metafilter "doesn't do race well." This is not a cultural question about race or identity or ethnicity, it is a scientific question about how tattoo ink appears when applied to different shades of skin. In addition, I know there are issues with tattooing over scars; that's a different can of worms, kids. Your reward for keeping discourse civil is an extra bonus NSFW colorful tattoo.
posted by Juliet Banana to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe it's just my computer or the pics, but your skin doesn't seem very dark at all. You don't need to be really pale like the lady with the NSFW tat for the colors to show. Many of my friends are Hispanic with darker skin than yours, and their colored tats look fine. A good tattoo artist will be familiar with the best way to get good color.
posted by ishotjr at 9:26 AM on August 28, 2009

I know little about tattoos, and I'm white as a sheet to boot, but I think you might want to research some alternative dyes. They've really started to branch out lately to create new effects and properties, perhaps something with a greater saturation exists. It's not exactly what you asked for, but it's in the ballpark, plus, if there's one person on here who (needs/would look awesome with) a UV-reactive tattoo, it's you. It would really pop with your skin tone. They also have glow-in-the-dark inks, but it looks like they're still ... medically risky. They've also developed more easily zapped tattoos, in case you want to rethink things.

You might also consider some outlining work, which would help create the illusion of greater saturation.
posted by adipocere at 9:28 AM on August 28, 2009

IANATA, but I am tattooed (sorry, another fair-skinned whitegirl here) and I imagine that a good tattoist could guide you in a direction most likely to result in what you want. In other words, she might be able to suggest colors, designs, shading techniques, etc. that would work for you. Ask around, see if someone will do a consult free of charge. Also, Urban Ink magazine doesn't seem to have much web presence, but might be a starting point.
posted by scratch at 9:42 AM on August 28, 2009

I'm caucasian, but this time of year I'm about the same color as you, and I've got plenty of bright color work. It's definitely lower-contrast when I have a solid tan vs when I'm winter-pale, but the colors themselves don't fade or anything.

(Note - that's an *untanned* shot, obviously :P)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:44 AM on August 28, 2009

Yes, totally possible. Will probably involve white ink, will probably involve touch-ups in the long term.

If memory serves, your family lives in Los Angeles, but you live in Columbus, OH (and are moving to Chicago?) Of these three locations, expect LA to have the most tattoo artists that are experienced with brown-skinned folks.

(Most artists won't use UV ink, by the way, let alone glow-in-the-dark ink. And quite a few of 'em will attempt to dissuade you from using those kinds of things, as their long-term prospects are still mostly unknown.)
posted by box at 9:48 AM on August 28, 2009

also pale under my tattoos, but on my last one, the artist put in a little white and it makes me wonder if you couldn't treat your skin like a darker paper stock - put down a layer of white first to really pop the colors. This could be stupid, and I'm a graphic designer, who works on media that is not skin. Hopefully someone smarter then me can tell you why this will or won't work.
posted by monkey!knife!fight! at 9:49 AM on August 28, 2009

My cousin (1/2 black, 1/2 white) has skin about like yours, maybe a bit darker, and he got a gorgeous tattoo with bright pretty colors on his shoulderblade. No idea how it'll hold up over time, as he got it about a year ago, but I saw it a couple days after he had it done and it looked great.
posted by katemonster at 9:49 AM on August 28, 2009

Response by poster: Box, I didn't think white ink showed up that well on brown skin. Are you saying there'd be an under layer of white with color over it? Does that even work?

Also, you have the memory of an elephant. I never thought about it, but you're right, Los Angeles artists would probably be used to tattooing Hispanic skin.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:52 AM on August 28, 2009

Your skin isn't so dark that it would impede a brightly-colored tattoo. I am also a tattooed fair-skinned white girl, but I have many, many tattooed friends and tattoo artist friends, and I have seen nice bright color work on people with skin similar to, and a little darker than, yours. I have one friend in particular who is Asian, and she has almost a full bodysuit, almost all of which is colorful. Her skin tone is very similar to yours.

I found an example of bright color work on Modblog - this one, which is on a girl who has slightly lighter skin than you do. I'd peruse the archives there, which is a little less daunting than BMEZine as a whole, though some entries are definitely NSFW.

When you look for an artist, look at their portfolio and see if they have experience with people with non-Caucasion skin. Discuss what you want with them and see if they can provide examples. I think you'll be able to get a very nice colorful tattoo!

On preview: I know an excellent tattoo artist in L.A. who has experience tattooing people of many skin tones. She's great with color work, too. MeMail me if you want her contact info.
posted by bedhead at 9:59 AM on August 28, 2009

AH! tattoo link overload...Love it!

I am a tattooed white girl, so this is my personal opinion from observation, not practice in actually tattooing.

Your skin doesn't really seem too dark. I have a lot of hispanic people in my town with large bodies of work and they don't really seem to have much problem with color. I have noticed a lack of yellow colors though, and yellow is a really finicky color to get a pop out of for anybody or any skin color. for what it's worth, the brightest yellow color on my body came from a guy who made his own ink.

Of the links you posted, I think "satu" "rated" and "colorful" have the tones that would show best on your skin, but I don't think any of them are completely out of the range of possibility for you.

If you call some of the places you linked to (like that dare devil place...I'll have to try that) they can probably talk your ear off about options and solutions as tattooers are generally friendly and like someone who puts a lot of thought into what they get.

nthing people who say LA will have a lot of tattooers experienced with brown skin and 2nding that outlining helps with definition on "darker" skin (but you look pretty borderline to me - if you wanted to try an abstract outline free design you could do it and if it was not popping to your liking go back and have either some shading / shadowing added or a little outlining done)
posted by WeekendJen at 10:20 AM on August 28, 2009

Not an underlayer, per se, just a little bit of white in the lightest shaded parts. Using white that way is one of the things that distinguishes the new-school style.
posted by box at 10:23 AM on August 28, 2009

Your skin color is not a concern (that is not a general statement, but a specific statement to you). Your tone will still allow these bright colors to pop.

Some of the tattoos that you linked lack borders (they have no darker outline containing the color). This is a technique that will probably _not_ work as well with your skin tone (the contrast between their ghost-like skin and the color provides a nice solid edge, your skin may not provide that level of contrast). I think that you would want an outline to make your colors pop better.

Your request _may_ require light-colored or white ink (which is by far the fastest fading pigment, along with yellow). If I were you I would try to stay away from those colors (or represent them in a different tone to give them more lasting power). A good tattoo artist should be able to suggest a variety of ways to execute on a given design (and if they don't want to take the time to consult with you, they won't want to take the time to do a kick ass job).

One of the keys that I have found for tattoo longevity is sunscreen. Even if I wear sunscreen on no other part of my body, it goes on the tattoo'd areas every time I am in the sun. It makes a huge difference. A buddy of mine got a tattoo around the same time I did, he didn't give a shit and I did. The difference between the two is very, very obvious, and everybody notices. Dealing with the pale spot/s is a lot better than having a nasty bled through patch of withered, greened out, inkblot on you.

In summary, bright color will kick ass, you will probably be best off with a border, avoid the lighter-colored pigments if you can, sunscreen whenever you are in the sun (pretend that area is vampiric!).

Good luck! and I know we don't need to ask, but TAKE PICS (during and after the work)!
posted by milqman at 10:24 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just met a girl with a similar skin tone to yours. She has a large deep purple tattoo across her back that looks fantastic. It's like the darkest color in the top flower here. I wouldn't call it bright, but it's definitely highly saturated and looks great.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:25 AM on August 28, 2009

You're not too dark that I'd think your skin coloring would be a major problem at all. But I'd keep in mind that many many tattoos in online portfolios generally, including the ones you linked specifically, are photographed fairly soon, if not immediately after the tattoo is finished. Even if you were the palest person in the world who went to the best tattoo artist in the world, unless you never, ever expose your skin to sunlight, you're going to have some fading over time. Case in point, my chestpiece was much brighter when I got it done four years ago, and even though I religiously wear sunscreen every single day (no joke), there's been some fading. It's pretty bright, just not "HOLY COW LOOKAT THAT" bright. I have another, older (less awesome) tattoo on my shoulder which initially had areas of unoutlined yellowy green. Those areas are now gone. Completely.

That being said, that's what touch-ups exist for. They keep tattoos bright and fresh.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:27 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Another example: the older of GalaDarling's halfsleeves looks significantly less bright in this picture here, in natural sunlight.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:30 AM on August 28, 2009

I'm half-Hispanic with pretty light skin, but I tan very dark and the colors in my tattoos (mostly reds) still pop in the summer. I'd definitely talk to the artist beforehand and make it clear that this is a priority for you. Getting the work done somewhere that has experience tattooing people with your skin tone seems like a great idea, too.

Maybe there's a useful distinction to be made between "brightness" and "saturation". I think its the saturation of color that makes a tattoo really glow on you and I think there are artists who specialize in that kind of work. Things like deep reds, purples, blues, and greens, while not necessarily bright, might look a lot richer on you than pinks and yellows.

Also, you have to quit posting all of these amazing awesome beautiful tattoo links! I'm not scheduled to want another one for at least 5 years and you're killing me.
posted by juliplease at 1:41 PM on August 28, 2009

Response by poster: I'm going to go ahead and say you should not click any of these links if you're at work. Seriously, one has full-on boobage.

Bedhead, props to the Modblog tip; I'm still clicking through endless entries but at least it's more curated than BMEzine proper so there's less "overshaded under-contrasty skeletal clown ripping out of a hole in your flesh" stuff to wade through. Though I could do with a nice break from fresh bleeding scarification pieces.

This girl is a pretty close match on skin color, and the turquoise coloring is pretty bright.

This girl is bleached out by the flash, but I think she's South Asian; they are not colorful tattoos but the lavender on her chest looks good.

On the flip side, this chest piece is obviously colored, yet no where near as colorful as I would want.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:07 PM on August 28, 2009

Brown girl here with great colorful tattoos. Yes they look brighter and more vibrant on white skin but I'm a touch darker than you and very pleased with the colors I have. Mine are almost 17 years old and still look rich. Prominent colors used were blue and red. Lighter colors might not look as good.
posted by yfatah at 2:36 PM on August 28, 2009

Seconding Urban Ink. A friend of mine sent them an email asking for a referral to a tattoo artist who was experienced in working with clients of color; she got a list of three or four artists and was very happy with the one she chose.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:05 PM on August 28, 2009

A biracial friend of mine has some pretty colorful tattoos. (Warning, while the first image I link to is SFW, it is on a fetishwear site, and I make no guarantees for the rest of the site. The second two are totally SFW.) Sorry the pictures don't show his tattoos better. He tends to keep his clothes on. Also, his work is all at least 5 years old, and probably closer to 10. Most of the portfolio stuff you linked to was most likely taken just after the session was finished. A healed tattoo is much less saturate than a fresh one.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:00 PM on August 28, 2009

Tattoos are metaphorically put on using translucent markers... So the color of the ink is mixed with the color of your skin. Colors that are lighter than you skin will lighten a little, but not that much. The darker your skin is, the darker a given color of ink will end up, just like drawing on darker paper.

However, YOUR skin looks light enough that you should have no problem getting a nice bright tattoo.

My advice is to head down to EVOLVED or one of the other good shops in your area and look through the portfolios, find an artist that strikes you, and have a proper consultation in person.
posted by glider at 7:24 PM on August 29, 2009

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