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Ask Better Tattooing: Who Makes The Purest Carbon Black Pigment For Tattooing?

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Hello and good morning!

I am unsure how to answer his question as the answer is a little technical and can vary between what is good for tattooing, and what is considered the purest available. Here is a short answer for you.
The purest carbon black available is graphene. or graphite. These products are not used in tattooing.

Onto black pigment…

Black pigment comes in many different sizes of carbon-particle dispersions. The particle sizes are determined by the quality of pyrolysis (length of time, temperature, total combustion), as well as where the carbon is sourced from (carbon-based/containing materials).
While the purest source of carbon usually leads to the smallest dispersion, the safety and efficacy of dispersions decrease when the smaller the particle size is used. Byproducts of production include things like PAH’s which are under scrutiny for being carcinogenic.
Most often mixing companies choose to utilize multiple particle size dispersions (blended particle size carbon black) to create a tattoo pigment that has a level of efficacy that is appreciated by the industry. Large batch operations can create a product that offers a bit of consistency given the option to purchase large quantities of pigments at a time, yet the short shelf life of pigment makes this unrealistic for tattoo artists who wish to get an exact tone for years of operation.
Recent studies surrounding the safety and efficacy of carbon black nano-dispersions have shown that the smaller the particle size of pigment, the less safe it is. Smaller particle dispersions can decrease the quality of the tattoo, the ability of the body to heal, as well as increase the chances of inducing mutagenic effects on cells near the injection site. So, while some may want the purest source of carbon black, the purest sources are least likely to produce quality tattoo pigments or tattoos. Therefore, the purest dispersions could be considered less-than-safe when doing a tattoo. They also fail to saturate as well as less-than-pure pigments.
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As for quality reporting of pigments, there are issues with reporting as well as testing procedures before release to the public. When manufacturing black pigment, companies will forego quality analysis unless costly tests are ordered by companies purchasing supplies. These tests are rarely reported if ever done. Sadly, the quality of pigment rolls down to the choice of the mixer (supplier) and their relationship with pigment producers worldwide. At times this relationship is utilized as leverage for quality and safety over real reporting of products. On top of that, getting industry-wide information that is accessible to students of pigment mixing is scant. Oftentimes mixers share recipes but won’t share places where they source their raw pigment. This also means they are more reluctant to share reports of pigment used as it will release vendor information to competitors.
To be honest, with supply chain issues and manufacturing switching from oil/gas production to renewables, the quality of pigment that is cheaper to acquire is probably less likely to be a good choice for tattoo pigments today. If you are looking for sources of pigments to produce black tattoo inks, check with companies that manufacture carbon black in the EU. Their testing and QA are considered better than sources from SE Asia or the US where little to no reporting is necessary. Also check with sourcing guidelines in the EU, where food-grade carbon black must be sourced from plant matter. If you compare these guidelines to those inside the US, you may choose the source from a specific vendor who is not part of the big 5.
If that seems too much for you, get in touch with National Tattoo Supply and ask them some questions about their raw pigments. They have been pretty open at times with information about pigment mixing and the safety of such pigments used.
Hopefully, this gives you an answer, even though it may seem evasive.
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Thanks for the question. If you want more clarification let me know. We can set up a call or shoot emails back and forth.
If you want to learn more about pigment mixing and the chemistry associated with such an endeavor, let me know. I have a book (that if you can find for purchase) is essential to the pigment mixer.

We also have a YouTube channel that breaks down commonly asked tattoo questions. You can find it by following this link:

Better Tattooing YouTube Channel

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