Tattooing as a form of self expression has taken off in the past decade. As a result new tattoo styles have begun to emerge…
Enter white ink tattoos (also known as white pigment tattoos).
While this style of tattooing has its detractors, the issue of how best to use white pigment is of more importance to those doing the tattoo. Since the worry of how to use the pigment correctly falls on those with the skill to implant it in others skin, clients are hoping for a return on their investment by having that bright white tattoo adorning their body look good for years to come.
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- What’s Up With White Tattoo Ink?
- Why Is My White Tattoo Bumpy Or Raised?
- Do White Ink Tattoos Fade?
- Can You See White Ink Tattoos On Dark Skin?
- How do I care for white ink tattoos?
- Are white ink tattoos more painful than black ink tattoos?
- How expensive are white ink tattoos compared to others?
- In conclusion
What’s Up With White Tattoo Ink?
White pigment is made primarily from dispersed titanium dioxide (TiO2), a substance that is found in many of the products inside our homes. From food to paint, from tattoo pigment to electronics, TiO2 is almost ubiquitous in our modern world.
We have an article about titanium dioxide, read about it here:
What Makes White Tattoo Pigment Unique?
TiO2 is a substance that is added to nearly every tattoo pigment in today’s market and it acts kind of like a quartz prism hanging near a sunny window.
Titanium dioxide’s structure reacts with incoming light making the pigment particles it is mixed with look brighter. It does this by refracting light particles that interact with it, causing those particles to “band together”, like light bouncing off the edge of a CD/DVD,
Depending on the size of the particle, the color of light that is reflected out changes. wavelengths interacting with TiO2 become more red, blues become more blue and when these focused color bands hit a corresponding pigment particle, it makes those colors appear brighter than they normally would.
This “brightening effect” relates to the energy position of electrons in the materials that are being affected. Higher energy photons (Light energy) excite electrons in certain valence shells outside the nucleus of an element/compound. The energy of the photon is passed on and excites the electron, moving it further away from the center of the atom. This transmittance of energy results in a greater viewability to those looking on but only when the energy increase interacts with a viable substance in its path. Much like a chain reaction, the absorption of this energy creates an output of color by allowing certain wavelengths of color to escape and not be absorbed. These omittances are what your eyes see.
The Dangers of Photon Interaction With Organic Pigments
Even if nearly all light energy is able to be trapped or manipulated by TiO2, some small degree of energy is able to pass through the substance. When this happens the increase of energy causes a breakdown in the structure of organic pigments. The cleavage of the amine ring on organic tattoo pigments releases a known, harmful carcinogen, into a person’s bloodstream,
White Ink Mixes Easily With Other Pigments.
White pigments mix with all other colors well. The tendency of white inks to blend or bleed into other colors needs to be brought into play when planning a tattoo. Sure, white inks may be uses to brighten up colors when they are mixed in the bottle but those TiO2 particles are not the same size as the ones we use for white ink tattoos.
Changes to the vibrancy of white inks can happen when:
- Residual ink is left in the tube or on the needle of the tattoo machine. If white ink is going to be added to a tattoo at the end of the tattoo more than likely it will mix with small residual colors left in the tube tip. Regardless of how well the tattooer cleans the needle/tube the leftovers will tint the white.
- Tattoo ink left on the skin will mix with the pigment in the tube changing the white ink.
- During the healing process, tattoo inks in the skin move a bit. This movement of inks can cause neighboring colors to blend together. We assume the older a tattoo becomes the more this happens.
- White inks tend to agglomerate which changes how they work.**More on this below.**
- The skins natural pigmentation may dye TiO2 causing the white color to slowly become more like the wearer’s natural skin tone.
White Ink Clumps Together.
Due to the structure and polarity of white inks, the longer that they sit next to each other, the greater chance they will be attracted to each other.
All tattoo pigments put in the skin are held in place through an immune function. You can read more about skin construction and the immune system by reading our article:
The immune function that holds pigment in place is not an everlasting thing, it is constantly renewing itself to hold the ink fast. The special cells that hold the pigment in place die and are replaced by similar cells throughout the lifetime of the person wearing the tattoo. But, as the cells die off, the attraction of TiO2 is so great that the pigment pulls itself together, clumping with nearby pockets of white ink or attracting other particles closer to itself.
Why Does That Mean For Your Color Tattoo?
When white tattoo ink agglomerates (clumps together) it changes the way it works.
The ability to refract light is diminished or altogether stopped. The pigment particles that are relatively transparent become opaque and the tattoo loses that vibrancy it once had.
Normally this isn’t a big deal, but if the white ink is part of a larger tattoo, you can be sure that the new clumpy bits of pigment will look muddy.
Past the loss of vibrancy, the amplification effects of TiO2 degrades
What About White-Ink-Only Tattoos?
White tattoos may look amazing when they are fresh but as they age the image will change.
First, all pigment that is put into the skin is placed BELOW your skin natural pigmentation. As the tattoo heals and the damaged epidermis is replaced, natural skin tones will sit on top of the pigment, acting like a filter. Through that filter of your skin’s color you will see the tattoo. This means that your white ink tattoo will always be tinted unless you have no natural skin pigmentation.
Secondly, the agglomerations of pigment over time make the tattoo appear PATCHY. If the consistency of pigment put into the skin is altered in any way, the viewability of the tattoo will suffer. With white clumping together over time the lines that make up most white ink tattoos will look broken up, of different sizes, and sometimes like the tattooer missed sections of the tattoo.
The last issue commonly seen in white ink tattoos is the raising or dampness of skin after it heals.
Why Is My White Tattoo Bumpy Or Raised?
This occurs for a few different reasons:
The trauma to the skin was so great that the tattoo procedure resulted in scarred skin.
When a tattoo is being done with most colors, the insertion of a pigment is easily seen, given the skin tone being worked on. With light colors in some skin tones, the ability of the pigment to shine through the skin’s natural colors is limited. Because it has been limited, artists may choose to go over the area being tattooed multiple times, or until they see the color being worked with shine through.
Most people skilled with tattooing darker complexions know that committing ink to skin takes a different technique when comparing the process to lighter complexions. When running a line, or filling in a section with color, the effect of the tattoo may not be seen for a few seconds. The skin reacts to being traumatized and swells, bleeds, and oozes, which can block the viewer’s eye from seeing how effective their technique was. In most cases I see artists going back in without waiting, wanting to get that dopamine hit from running a perfect line in a single shot. That perfect line may already be in the skin but by not waiting the tattooer increases the chances of running into increased trauma during the procedure.
The agglomerations of pigment are so great they have raised the skin.
As tattoos heal the pigment settles into the skin. This settling is accelerated during the first 2-6 months of the tattoo healing as the skin is being remodeled after being traumatized during the procedure. The skin also changes because there has been a foreign substance implanted into it.
White pigment is very dense and. when inserted into the skin it can cause a raised effect, especially when it is densely saturated. The raised effect due to heavy saturation can decrease or even vanish over time – as long as the skin isn’t scarred.
Single Pass White Ink Tattoo Won’t Give The Best Results.
When a white ink tattoo is done a tattooer is forced to focus on having an even saturation of color implanted into the skin of a client. With most colors the particulate size is not crazy large, sometimes it is even nanoscale. With white inks though, the tendency to clump together makes the chances of a tattoo healing even far less likely. The tattoo from the start may look patchy and broken up but that doesn’t mean the tattoo needs to be left for the lifetime of who is wearing it.
Taking multiple passes on a white ink tattoo can improve visibility and longevity but will definitely put a dent in your bank account. Things to think about:
- The time needed to heal the tattoo will be increased to multiple sessions worth of waiting and dealing with the itch.
- Some artists may be very busy. If they are busy, the chances of you getting in to get the tattoo finished may take way longer than you expect. Sometimes that time could push into multiple years of waiting.
- Having multiple sessions on a single, simple tattoo, can cost far more than the same tattoo with a different color. Really think before you ink on this one!
Do White Ink Tattoos Fade?
Let’s be honest. All tattoos fade/lighten over time. UV damage from the sun bleaches out colors and damages skin. Along with that, the process of aging will inevitably push ink out of the nice tight pockets that it rests inside of, blending colors together, and blowing out lines.
White inks are just as susceptible to discoloration as the next pigment but, due to their unique chemical structure and performance, people often assume that these inks fade faster than others. Regardless of what color of pigment you have tattooed, the effects of time will surely take that tattoo pigment and ravage the hell outta’ it.
Do White Ink Tattoos Fade?
I have heard across the globe that “White Ink Fades…” but I have to tell you, that doesn’t make sense. Pigment is pigment. Unless it is carried away from your body, transported via some magical teleportation magic or something, the ink that is in your skin is in there. That is why tattoos are so popular – they are permanent.
White Tattoo Ink Stands The Test Of Time
If a pigment loses its ability to show color – i.e. it bleaches out so far that it no longer shows the color it was intended to show, does not mean there is no pigment in the skin. Particles that were implanted are still in there (in most cases) yet do not show any color. With white ink, the color of the tattoo may change but TiO2 is an extremely hardy compound and rarely breaks down under the normal conditions life gives a client.
Taking the strengths of white tattoo inks into consideration a client shouldn’t worry about the tattoo fading. In fact, the only issues in making the choice to get a white ink tattoo should be focused on skin tone, the time necessary to complete the tattoo, and the money that has to be spent to get it done.
A person who is interested in a white ink tattoo should also set realistic expectations for what the outcome of the tattoo will be. They must take into account their individual biology and understand the chemistry of the pigments that are being used before jumping off the deep end and getting a white ink tattoo.
Can You See White Ink Tattoos On Dark Skin?
Depending on the base color and tone of a person, it is entirely possible for darker colored skin to have a vibrant white ink tattoo. In most cases, the melanin content in darker skin absorbs so much light energy that the white ink cannot be illuminated enough to show up. To work with the skin, use the tattoo techniques listed below.
One more thing before that…
Since melanin is so good at absorbing UV radiation (light), and since white ink needs light energy to work its magic, the denser the melanin concentrations a person’s skin has, the less effective white pigments will be at reflecting light and shining through.
This Applies For All Pigment Shades/Tones
There isn’t some magic trick that goes along with tattooing dark skin. A tattooer only needs patience, good technique, and an understanding that mastery comes from understanding all skin types.
Wait. What was that? Oh…PRACTICE! Yeah, that’s right, you need to practice to get better!
Here are a few tricks that can be used to create a more vivid images on dark skin tones:
Use thicker lines.
Using a thicker line weight when applying a tattoo makes the image more bold. Baing bolder makes it easier to see
Make the design bigger.
By making the design 30% or so larger the ability to view the image is enhanced. Conversely, making a tattoo design 30% smaller on dark skin can make the tattoo illegible.
Use the skin color as a mid tone.
Most designs that are going to be tattooed on dark skin should take the natural resting skin tone into account when creating values. Whatever the resting skin tone is should be considered the mid tone of the piece. Light values can be added as needed. Dark values will need to be added to contrast the skin’s natural color. The darker the skin, the greater amount of black is needed to create a vivid image.
Take multiple sittings to get it right.
Saturation is key to vivid tattoo design. When working with dark skin there needs to be adequate saturation if there is any hope of the design having staying power. By using the above techniques, there will be more work for the same “style” of design so keeping track of how things heal, as well as the saturation of each focal point/area of interest will help the tattoo withstand the test of time.
Proper technique will help it heal well.
How many tattoos on dark skin have you seen that are raised? It is like the tattoo has become a sort of braille, visible to the eye due only to its topography. This occurs when the tattoo procedure is done incorrectly. Skin raises like this when it is SCARRED. That is not good technique, it is very bad!
Putting any tattoo ink into darker skin takes time. Sometimes the first pass will not net an immediate result (where most tattooers are accustomed to seeing a bold, bright line or color fill on light skin). So why not go back in deeper and faster? Because it rips the skin to shreds! Take time and let the inflammation and redness fall away from the tattoo. Give it time to cool off. Then go back in and see if repairs are needed.
Finding an artist who has experience with white ink tattoos can help… Sometimes
Whether it is white ink or another color, choosing a skilled tattooer is key in getting a quality product. Try to stay away from those who have a specific “style” and go to the professionals who know how to do it all.
By going to a tattooer who knows the in’s and out’s of all design types you are more likely to get a tattooer who knows more about different skin types.
How do I care for white ink tattoos?
It’s literally the same as taking care of another tattoo!
Check out our article on aftercare product types and see what you should use to take care of your new tattoo
Are white ink tattoos more painful than black ink tattoos?
Seriously… Come on!
I can fancy a guess that most people think white pigment hurts more because it is normally the last ink put into the tattoo. You are already raw, ready to go, and the artist starts nitpicking small white dots that burn like hell. SO, to answer your question:
No, white pigments do not hurt more than others.
Tattoos are tattoos. Unless you have an allergic reaction to the tattoo pigment, a tattoo feels like a tattoo.
Want to know what places hurt most (regardless of what color being used)? Check out our article:
How expensive are white ink tattoos compared to others?
Not really much more expensive but much more time consuming. That is if you take into account the multiple sessions needed to make the design perfect. But, hey! If you choose to one-shot that white ink tattoo, it won’t cost any more than a similar tattoo done with another color.
Looks Like I need to write another couple articles about some topics here. Live long and prosper, get that white ink tattoo, and have a merry day!
PS. white ink tattoos don’t glow in the dark.