When it comes to choosing tattoo ink, there are tons of high-quality choices. At first glance, these tattoo ink brands might seem almost identical. But if you start experimenting with them, you’ll notice subtle differences in consistency, flow rate, and how they heal.
So, finding the best tattoo ink for you and your clients is all based on preference. But before you spend a fortune testing dozens of inks, check out this basic guide to help find your ideal tattoo ink brand.
5 Key Characteristics of Tattoo Ink
When trying to find the best tattoo ink for you and your needs, it helps to consider these five characteristics.
1. Color Options
It may seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll want to consider color options first and foremost. For instance, if you’re an artist who specializes in black and gray work, focus on brands that are known for black inks, white highlighting pigments, and gray wash sets. Examples of brands like that include Dynamic, Kuro Sumi, and Empire Ink. On the other hand, if you’re a color artist, you’ll want to explore the colors offered by each brand to see which are most suitable for your palette.
2. Ethical Formulation
Most quality tattoo inks nowadays are vegan-friendly and organic. Choosing inks that are made from organic materials without any animal products (or animal testing) is a smart choice for the environment and integrity of your setup. All artist-trusted brands available on our Web store are vegan-friendly and organic, so you can trust in quality (and ethical) formulas.
3. Consistency + Flow Rate
Tattoo inks vary in terms of how thick and thin they are. This consistency also impacts the ink’s flow rate. For instance, inks that are too thick might be hard to pack into your client’s skin. On the other hand, inks that are too thin or over-diluted can be runny and hard to work with. Many artists find they prefer a happy medium between thick and thin: that “smooth like butter” sweet spot — but even that sweet spot has some subtle variances, and one artist’s sweet spot may be a little thicker or thinner than the next artist’s.
Tattoo ink consistency is largely impacted by carrier ingredients in the formula. The carrier ingredients carry the pigment into the skin. Common carriers include things like alcohol, glycerin, and witch hazel. Something like glycerine can really impact an ink’s consistency and flow rate. For instance, inks that are higher in glycerine are typically thicker in consistency, while inks that are glycerine-free (like World Famous Blackout) will be thinner and faster flowing.
4. Pre-Dispersed versus Stable Pigments
Speaking of carriers and formulas… most tattoo inks today contain pre-dispersed pigments, which means the ratio of pigment to carrier solvent is pre-determined. Consequently, pre-dispersed inks don’t require any additional mixing or thinning. These are also known as “shake and use” inks. All inks available on our site are pre-dispersed. Stable pigments, on the other hand, require careful blending and mixing before tattooing. Therefore, we only recommend stable pigments for highly experienced and discerning tattoo artists. Finding out what consistency and formula you prefer is all based on experimentation. But you can trust in high-quality formulas with consistencies artists love from any of the brands listed later in this blog.
And, of course, make sure your tattoo ink fits into your budget.
In our Differences Between Tattoo Ink Brands article, we go into even further depth about each of these characteristics. Check it out as an extra guide to help you compare brands against one another.
While many of the top tattoo brands have some overlapping characteristics, that doesn’t mean they will provide the exact same color quality, color selection, and ink performance. Deciding which combination of characteristics you’re looking for is just the first step.
Trust in Artist-Approved Tattoo Inks
Step two? Checking out artist reviews.
As with shopping for any new product, reading (or asking for) reviews from other artists can be extremely beneficial. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to fill your ink cups with something new, seek tattoo ink brands with artist approval. An experienced tattoo artist will likely have tried many different tattoo ink brands over the course of their career. Consequently, they’ll be able to give you practical, firsthand guidance about how different tattoo inks perform. We especially recommend seeking reviews from artists whose style is similar to your own.
You’ll find plenty of artist reviews on our ink listings. Plus, we’ve taken a lot of the guesswork out of choosing a tattoo ink brand. We have close relationships with the ink manufacturers we carry, and we purchase from them directly to ensure you get trustworthy tattoo ink. Consequently, you’ll have more than a dozen industry-leading tattoo ink brands to choose from.
The Best Tattoo Ink Brands
There have never been more tattoo ink brands and colors to choose from — some have even said we’re in the golden age of tattoo ink. While each of the brands below meets our standards for safety and performance, they each provide a slightly different value and experience.
1. World Famous
Founded by artist Lou Rubino, Jr., World Famous Tattoo Ink is vibrant, varied, and bold. Lou Rubino Jr. brings his decades of tattooing expertise to the World Famous formula to produce the best healed results.
2. Kuro Sumi
Originally formulated in Japan, Kuro Sumi inks are inspired by the rich history of Japanese tattooing. Kuro Sumi inks are known for their intense, vibrant colors and pure blacks and whites.
After years of mixing ink at home for use in his tattoo shops, artist Terry Welker created Eternal Ink. Eternal Ink is one of the most popular and recognizable names in the business.
Artist Mario Barth founded Intenze in 2002 after almost 40 years of tattooing. Intenze inks are aptly named for their vibrancy, giving artist consistent healed results that pop.
6. Empire Inks
Empire Inks was launched in 2012 by Colt Brown, a skilled black and gray portrait artist. Artists around the globe turn to Empire Inks for its expert system of gray wash ink.
Created by tattoo artist Federico Ferroni, Solid Ink is considered one of the best pigments on the market for its bold palette and longevity.
8. Fusion (Wholesale Only)
Adam Everett and Next Generation Tattoo Machines have teamed up to bring you Fusion Tattoo Ink, a brand with a higher pigment load than any other major tattoo ink brand on the market for bold, vibrant colors.
Other Tattoo Ink Brands to Consider
While the brands above are our most popular sellers, we carry plenty of other brands to explore and experiment with, particularly if you’re looking for brands that specialize in black and gray inks.
Allegory Ink aims to provide artists with rich, reliable pigments, and their signature Blak tattoo ink has everything an artist could want when it comes to black pigment as does their newest ink, White for white inks.
Arcane is Alla Prima Ink’s pre-dispersed line of tattoo inks, which have a high pigment load specifically for artists who love a bright palette.
Created by renowned artists Franco Vescovi and Jack Rudy, Nocturnal’s special black ink blends aim to recreate the fluidity and evenness of drawing inks for tattoo artists.
Known for its wide selection of black inks, Panthera is an Italian brand that uses molecular technology for pigments that have a remarkable gloss and extra durability against sun fade.
Silverback Ink debuted in 2005 with “The Original” Grey Wash series and since then has expanded to include a full range of black and grey tattoo inks
Tommy’s StarBrite line consists of 170 vibrant colors and has gained a solid reputation over the past 20 years for its variety, consistency, and color vibrance.
Alla Prima Ink
Alla Prima is the only stable pigment ink we carry, and it’s widely recognized for its quality, vibrance, and longevity.
Black Buddha specializes in bold, fade-resistant black and gray inks.
Bloodline inks are manufactured by Skin Candy and provide some of the most brilliant, vibrant tattoo ink colors on the market.
Founded by artist Brandyn Feldman, Holdfast takes pride in providing honest, high-quality inks with deep color.
UV Tattoo Ink
In recent years, ultraviolet (UV) tattoo ink has gained popularity. These unique tattoo inks create “invisible” tattoos or add highlights that “pop” under black lights. Contrary to popular belief, UV tattoo ink doesn’t “glow in the dark” on its own—it requires a blacklight or some other non-visible UV source to be visible. Consequently, UV tattoos are popular with clients who want tattoos but don’t want to display them on a daily basis.
With the rise in popularity of UV tattoos, many artists have wondered whether UV ink is safe. Like all tattoo inks, UV ink isn’t FDA-approved (a possible point of confusion, as some UV tattoo ink has been approved for food-related uses). Unlike other tattoo inks, however, UV inks contain special dyes that fluoresce under UV light. These special dyes have caused a few mild allergic reactions for some clients… but the same is true of traditional tattoo ink.
Keep in mind, however, that even tattoos done completely in clear UV ink may be slightly visible due to scarring and healing. Additionally, some UV inks are more susceptible to fading or discoloration, especially from sun exposure. To avoid turning a barely visible UV tattoo into an unsightly yellow-brown splotch, it’s important to give your clients high-quality aftercare and recommend SPF products to protect their tattoos from the sun.
The Best Tattoo Ink at the Best Prices
Check out our Web store for some of the top-rated ink brands in the industry. Use this guide before you shop and make sure to keep the five key characteristics of tattoo ink in mind. Experiment with all the top-tier ink at some of the best prices you can find online.