Did that girl at the bar have a face tattoo or is it a bit too dark to tell? Nope, you weren’t mistaken, her face tattoo had just been done in white ink. Barely noticeable white tattoos can be an option if you want a tattoo in a visible place but want it to be subtle too. Even though white ink tattoos can look amazing, they’re notoriously tricky to get right, which is why many tattoo artists don’t dabble in white tattoos.
If you’re thinking about getting a white tattoo we have everything you need to know about getting one, including expert advice from London-based tattoo artist and white ink specialist Dani (@danijtattoo).
What are white tattoos?
White tattoos are tattoos that predominantly use white ink. Sometimes they’re made totally of the white ink, however this style of tattoos does come with its drawbacks which we’ll explore in this blog.
Because of this, more often than not, white is used in black and grey or colour tattoos to add highlights. Tattoo artist Dani explains how she uses white ink:
"White ink is an amazing tool, it creates a whole new dimension in my work. I work with black and grey so adding white aspects really gives it something special."
It’s this something special that many of us tattoo collectors are after. When it comes to white tattoos you’ll want to choose a tattooer that specialises in them. Tattooing in white ink can be more challenging. So, speak to your tattoo artist to make sure you’re both comfortable with the tattoo before you get inked.
Tattoo by @danijtattoo
White ink tattoo design ideas
If you’re like us, your socials are full of tattoos and design ideas. Let us inspire you some more with some design ideas. To be honest you can get whatever you like tattooed (I have 14 cat tattoos and counting), but if you’re not sure, scroll down our list for some serious inspo.
White flower tattoos
A favourite flower or your birth flower make for a great white ink tattoo. From dainty roses to bold sunflowers, white ink can be used in a variety of styles. We love a fine line tattoo, this delicate style makes for beautiful floral tattoos, think poppy or blossom petals. White flower tattoos look amazing anywhere, but placing one on your hand, behind your ear or on your neck would be cute. White ink can sometimes go unnoticed which makes it a great choice for prominent places.
Tattoo by @danijtattoo
Black and white traditional tattoo
Traditionally done in colour, traditional style tattoos also look amazing in black and white. With the rise of blackwork tattooing, more and more collectors are honouring this old-school style in black ink. The bold line style and ink blocking lend themselves to a monochrome colour palette perfectly. In these tattoos, white ink is used as a highlight, or depending on the colour of the wearer's skin, patches are left without ink to form the design.
White feather tattoo
A little message from above, feathers are often a symbol of divinity. If you have lost a loved one, seeing a feather can be a sign that they’re thinking of you and offering protection. A thing of beauty, white ink tattoos suit the delicate nature of feathers. We think this placement behind the ear is especially meaningful, as the message is just for the wearer to hear.
White animal tattoos
From tigers to dragons, animals are always a good idea when it comes to a tattoo. This butterfly is beautifully captured in white ink, once healed it’ll look super delicate.
Can white ink lighten a tattoo?
As we’ve mentioned white ink can be used in a couple of ways. As a standalone pigment for a whole tattoo or as a highlight. Because white is the lightest shade, it makes sense to think it can lighten a tattoo, however Dani explains how white ink really works:
"The use of white ink within a tattoo doesn’t necessarily lighten the whole tattoo but it can give it extra dimension. Your eye is naturally drawn to the white points which can make the whole piece seem lighter."
Tattoo by @danijtattoo
Can you put white ink on a black tattoo?
"You can put white ink on a black tattoo, but you may need to adjust your expectations." Dani explains that "white ink blast-overs on a blackout sleeve, for example, can work great, but the tattooist’s experience and skill with this will greatly affect the outcome."
If you’re thinking of adding white ink to your black tattoo you need to know that "it won’t come out white like paper or even like white on blank skin, it’ll be a shade of grey."
Dani also shares that if you're looking to "add white highlights to a previous tattoo it can help freshen it up, but this might not always be the best course of action. Asking your artist for advice on your particular case is the best way to go."
How does a white tattoo look on black skin?
Tattoo inks can look different depending on the skin tone they’re tattooed on. The ink colour can also look different when your tattoo is freshly done and when it’s healed.
Tattoo artist Dani explains that when you get tattooed “the ink stays in the dermis layer of your skin, just below your epidermis. The epidermis acts as a sort of filter to how you will see the ink below. White ink will give you a slightly lighter version of your skin pigment, and black will give you a darker skin pigment. But all inks will be seen through a skin tone filter.”
How white ink looks on darker skin tones can also be influenced by the experience and skills of the tattoo artist. Many artists draw their designs on a range of skin tones to try and show you how inks may look. Some also offer colour ink tests too. If you’re not sure how white ink will look on your skin, speak to your tattoo artist.
Do white tattoos last?
The number one question when you get tattooed is how long will my tattoo last? Dani reveals that white tattoos do in fact last but “they must be taken care of. White ink is particularly sensitive to UV light. The general rule is, the lighter the ink the easier it can be affected by sun damage.”
Which is why she recommends “using an SPF everyday to keep your skin healthy and your tattoos looking crisp.”
You can also help your tattoos look bright with Stories & Ink Vibrancy Serum. Formulated to fight fade, this moisturiser gives tattoos a new lease of life.
What are the cons of white on tattoos?
Unique, subtle and easy to hide, white tattoos have a lot of pros, but they’re a style that’s more well known for their cons. It’s always up to you what tattoos you choose to adorn your body. White tattoos are beautiful, but before you rush out to get inked you should know that:
- They can easily fade is not taken care of
- Not every tattoo artist will tattoo them
- Your tattoo will tan like your skin, so remember your SPF
- They won’t always look crisp white, they can look grey or yellow
What does a white tattoo look like when healed?
Tattoo artist Dani reveals that "white ink settles in just like any other ink." Read our blog, what a healed tattoo looks like so you know exactly what to expect.
When you’re thinking about getting a white ink tattoo "it’s really important to see healed pictures of white rather than just fresh before going ahead." Dani explains how she "never uses white as an integral part of the design. I want it to still make sense if we took it away."
Fresh (left) and healed tattoo (right) by @danijtattoo
You can play a part in how your white tattoo heals. Making sure to heal your tattoo should be everyone’s number one priority. Good aftercare starts with a good aftercare cream.
Dani also shares that "if the proper sun protection isn’t used it can fade the white significantly. I can’t control how clients treat their skin when they leave so I want to do everything I can to make sure they have a solid tattoo regardless of their SPF usage."
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- Tattoo moisturiser: the secret to fresher ink
- Tattoo Trends for 2023
For more skin stories, aftercare advice and artist highlights, check out the Stories & Ink Journal.