Unfortunately, there’s a very pervasive myth that darker skin tones cannot accommodate colorful tattoos. This makes color tattoo inspiration for folks with dark skin harder to find — and once they do find a design they love, it can be even trickier to find an artist who knows how to do the job effectively.
Yes, it’s true that colorful inks will not show up on more melanated skin the same way they do on lighter skin tones — but that doesn’t mean the colors won’t be visible at all, or we should just stick to black and gray ink. If that were the case, tattoo artists like the ones featured in this article simply would not have a job: A lot of their work involves tattooing vibrant ink on clients with brown skin.
Tattooing darker skin with color is truly not impossible. It just requires your artist to be knowledgeable about working with darker skin — specifically, how to identify undertones within darker skin tones and adapt their techniques to accommodate the many different skin tones that exist. “It boils down to knowing that you have to have a different approach, you have to experiment more, and you have to have more understanding,” Baltimore-based tattoo artist Tiaret Mitchell shares with Allure. “When you’re dealing with dark skin, you’ve got to evaluate undertones, you have to study color theory… and then apply it.” Sadly, some artists simply haven’t dedicated the time and effort to learn how to do that.
Your skin’s undertones do matter a lot. Once ink is healed, its color can shift into a different hue. For example, “let’s say you have a red undertone and you get blue [ink]; your tattoo could end up healing [into] a turquoise-green color,” Mitchell says. That’s why they highly recommend getting color tests, especially for any large pieces you want.
“Color tests are basically swatches of ink — like small little dots, squares, or whatever shape you want — where you get the [colors of the] rainbow [tattooed] to see how each heals on your skin,” before you commit to the full tattoo, they explain. While some artists might not have color tests listed on their booking pages, it’s always a good idea to ask if they can do one as part of the consultation process, Mitchell says. It’s a great way to see what shades you like best to create the tattoo of your dreams, and it helps determine if you have any potential allergies to pigment. No matter what design you’re getting it’s important to make sure it’s what you want and that you communicate your desires clearly (and respectfully, of course) with your tattooist. It’s their art, but it’s your body.
Need more proof that colorful ink can look great on darker skin? Scroll through this comprehensive inspiration guide featuring 46 tattoos (both fresh and healed) in all colors of the rainbow on various depths of brown and dark skin.