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What is a White Ink Tattoo?

A tattoo needle and white ink are used to create a white ink tattoo.
It's always best to discuss a tattoo with the tattoo artist ahead of time.
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  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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A white ink tattoo is a tattoo which has been done entirely in white ink. Depending on the skill of the tattoo artist and the complexion of the customer, a white ink tattoo can look quite distinctive. Most white ink tattoos look like scars, and they are sometimes mistaken for brandings; many people who get these tattoos get them for this very reason. If you are considering a white ink tattoo, you need to do your research very carefully, as it is easy for these tattoos to go very, very wrong.

When someone is tattooed, an artist uses a very sharp needle to push ink into the skin, below the layers of the skin which are routinely sloughed off. After a period of healing, during which the tattoo may look puffy or distorted, a pattern is left behind. In the case of a white ink tattoo, the pattern shows up as slightly lighter than the skin, looking like a scar or brand. When well cared for, the tattoo can last a lifetime, although it may need to be touched up.

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Many tattoo artists who do white ink tattoos say that they look best on people with pale skin, and that it is a good idea to place them on an area of the body which is not frequently exposed to sunlight. Excessive sun exposure can fade the tattoo, causing it to disappear entirely or creating a strange tint of brown or yellow, depending on the ink used. For clients with darker skin, there may be some options; it is best to talk to a tattoo artist personally about your individual situation.

The advantage of a white ink tattoo is that it is extremely subtle, allowing people to conceal it much more easily than a black or colorwork tattoo. For people who are interested in the look of branding or cutting, a white ink tattoo can be used to create much more detail, and the healing tends to be more dependable. The disadvantage of such a tattoo is that it is prone to fading and discoloration, both of which can be disappointing.

When researching tattoo artists for a white ink tattoo, it is a good idea to discuss the tattoo carefully, and to ask for a portfolio of previous work. If possible, find pictures of the artist's tattoos when they are fresh and in progressive stages of healing to see how they turn out. You should also be very careful about the stencil which the artist applies to your skin, as the inks in some stencils will transfer onto the needle, discoloring the resulting white ink tattoo.

When a white ink tattoo is first applied, it looks puffy and distorted, much like a burn, and it may have a strange yellowish color due to lymph which floods to the site of the wound. If aftercare directions are followed, the tattoo should start to settle down within a few weeks. In the event that you get a white ink tattoo and are dissatisfied, try to go back to the original artist to address the situation.

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anon359117
Post 14

I have had one on my shoulder for a few months now which was outlined in spots in a light lavender color to give it a little definition and 3-D appearance. I noticed that someone had a problem with a wrist tattoo, and I know that the tattoo artist I had said he wouldn't recommend one in any color because of how frequently it moves will make it fade faster.

anon332555
Post 12

I have a white feather on my wrist and at the beginning it looked white and great, but when it started healing, the color faded away. Now it looks like a scar and details were erased. I'm talking about a three or four week period, not years or months. That is my experience, and I don't recommend it

anon280459
Post 10

I have a white tattoo behind my ear. The artist I went to specializes in white ink. It cost more than getting a regular tattoo, mainly because she did four passes when normal tattoos only have one. Make sure the artist you go to has a great free hand as they cannot use a stencil since the ink can mix, making it a less pure white.

anon220577
Post 8

anon, I have two tattoos, one colored, one black and gray with a touch of white. It's unfair to say that the only people who think about getting a white tattoo are "uneducated" about the subject matter. It's a choice that should be thought carefully about, much like what comes out of your mouth.

anon191015
Post 7

I am thinking about getting a white ink tattoo, but I'm not sure how long it will last. When it fades or discolors, how long after you get the tattoo will it start to discolor?

anon153634
Post 6

I have a white tattoo. It is large and covers the sides of my body from my ankle to my pinky finger. My artist was reluctant at first but I wasn't that worried about it being "white white", or it fading which I think was his main concern. I think many artists are reluctant to use white ink as it can be problematic and the expectations of the customers are unrealistic.

He went over it twice which helped it take better, but also made it take a while to heal.

It's five years old now, it's creamy colored and does get sun exposure. I don't have a super pale complexion either. The design is simple, so regardless of it fading or not being pure white, it still stands out and I am still very happy with it.

anon94480
Post 5

white ink is not intended to be used as the only color in a tattoo. it is typically used as a highlight in a color or black and grey tattoo, and done so sparingly. after healing it won't look white if it's by itself (is not next to another color).

most tattoo artists roll their eyes when someone asks about "white ink tattoos", because it's basically a dumb idea. The person asking about it typically isn't educated enough about tattooing to know otherwise. it's very rare that the tattoo will turn out like the customer is expecting it to.

Sunlight exposure isn't the reason. The reason is simple: once it heals, another layer of skin grows over the white tattoo, giving it a tinted appearance if there is no other color beside it to trick the eye into thinking it's really white. it's a bad trend that most tattoo artists wish would just go away.

littletot3
Post 4

MonicaClaire, did your friend get the tattoo in an area that does not see a lot of sunlight? I have completed research on the internet and at tattoo parlors that advise that the best area is one that is usually covered. Otherwise, there is a good chance that the pigment is going to turn to a more yellow color because of exposure to sunlight.

Also, did your friend find any problems with the healing of the tattoo because of scarring? I think that these tattoos are very beautiful and unique, but seem to carry a good amount of risk as well.

hrquir
Post 3

White ink tattoos are very unique looking, yet are a popular trend. Celebrities, such as Kate Moss and Lindsay Lohan, have adopted this new trend and their fans are following in their footsteps.

Though they are very trendy looking, white tattoos are very hard to perform and many tattoo artists will not do them. There is the risk of the tattoo artist struggling with performing the tattoo due to the ink changing color when using the stencil or bloodline method.

So when performing a white ink tattoo, most artists prefer to use freehand but struggle with having the color show up correctly and being able to see where they are injecting the pigment.

MonicaClaire
Post 2

@GeordiKin, The white ink tattoos look great! My friend has one, and I think it is less noticeable than her color tattoos.

She has had to have her white ink tattoo touched up more than her others though.

I haven’t seen as many of them either, I think they are a bit more unique.

These can be more risky though. It is harder for the artist since freehand is the best method and the ink is so hard to see.

The healing process can also go wrong, leaving them raised or yellow.

GeordiKin
Post 1

Interesting article, I had never heard of or seen a white ink tattoo, however now I am very curious. I will have to ask my ink master about this, as I have been searching for a subject for my next piece and this could possibly be the type of tattoo I get. Now I need to continue to look for a suitable subject.

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