Tattoo inks have come a long way since their humble beginnings, when the “best” pigments consisted of rudely-crushed organic matter, sometimes mixed with water, sometimes wetted by the natural moisture found in leaves, berries and flowers. Now dozens of tattoo ink brands all claiming to have the best inks rival for top spots and the title “industry leader”, but only a few will ever make it into the Winner’s Circle.
In our new article, Top Brands in the Golden Age of Tattoo Inks, we highlight 14 of our top-selling tattoo inks, their backgrounds, and their key benefits. The tattoo inks in that list—which include giants like Intenze and Eternal as well as up-and-comers like Formula 51—naturally fall into two groups: pre-dispersed tattoo inks (new school) vs. stable pigment-based tattoo inks (old school). However, the distribution is insanely unbalanced in favor of pre-dispersed tattoo inks now; the ratio on our shelves is 18:1 at the moment.* Why is that?
The Price of Popularity
Tattoos are now so mainstream that they’re getting the typical over-attention that tends to come with popularity of any kind. That attention inevitably leads to people noticing weaknesses in whatever they’re critiquing and complaining about those weaknesses until they get a response, either from the industry under the microscope or the government. In other words, scrutiny leads to regulations, whether self-imposed or government-enforced.
Mario Barth saw the wave of mainstream tattoo enthusiasts coming early and ran out to meet it with surfboard in hand. He realized that the more people wanted tattoos, the more important it was to deliver a more sterile tattooing experience overall—to patch up the weak spots before they fell under scrutiny by the masses. That meant taking a step no other manufacturer was investing in at the time and sterilizing his pre-dispersed Intenze Tattoo Inks in addition to his tattoo equipment and studios.
How Pre-Dispersed Tattoo Inks Took the Lead
According to Chris 51, co-founder of Formula 51 Tattoo Inks, pre-dispersion of pigments is almost a necessity to create a more sterile tattooing process. Pre-dispersion breaks up the powder pigments found in tattoo inks into much tinier particles that can be thoroughly blended with a sterile carrier liquid, creating a smoother, more fluid mixture that’s ready to be applied to a tattoo site practically right out of the bottle. Pre-dispersed ink provides a much cleaner process than self-mixing stable pigment-based inks by minimizing opportunities for cross-contamination and reducing the risk of artists adding their own scary thinning ingredients to a mixture to achieve similar end results to what pre-dispersed inks naturally provide. Pre-dispersion also has the added upside of providing more consistent ink colors that tattoo artists can rely on, one tattoo after another.
Most quality tattoo ink brands have jumped on the Intenze bandwagon and can now tout that they make sterile, pre-dispersed tattoo inks… that are also non-toxic, organic, vegan-friendly, and generally socially-responsible. These are the true indicators that the enlightened Golden Age of tattoo inks is upon us.
Why Socially-Responsible Tattoo Inks Rule
On the subject of social responsibility, you can’t take every tattoo ink’s marketing jargon as gospel. If an ink doesn’t include any animal parts or bi-products, isn’t tested on animals, and doesn’t support the harm of animals in any way, then you can safely give it a “vegan-friendly” label. Most good-quality brands can also boast being non-toxic; for instance, Alla Prima and Arcane are made without PET plastic, acrylic or solvent, and Eternal Ink is water-based, non-toxic and glycerol-free (which is important to vegans). Be leery of those who use the term “100% organic” as a key selling point for their tattoo inks, though—or at least, beware of how the term is used. Take Formula 51, who clearly states that the pigments used in their tattoo inks are comprised of 100% organic matter. That makes perfect sense. There are a million natural materials from which pigments can be created, like flowers, leaves, tree bark, berries, and more. It’s the manufacturer who guarantees a 100%-organic product that’s questionable. There are too many factors in the process—too many opportunities for something that didn’t come straight from Mother Earth to be incorporated. And even when you find a truly all-natural ink, you have to keep an eye out for the poisons prevalent in nature—e.g. minerals and metals like Antimony, Arsenic, Lead, and Nickel that can be toxic, as the new warning on our Tattoo Inks page explains.
Tattoo inks will likely never be called 100%-safe, all-natural, healthy additives that are good for the human body, BUT, there are great brands out there that are making strides to deliver you the best tattoo inks they possibly can without being arm-twisted to do it by the government. Those are the brands you want to use. Those are the brands you’ll find on Painfulpleasures.com. Alla Prima Tattoo Pigments, Arcane Tattoo Ink, Bloodline & Skin Candy, Eternal Ink, Inenze Tattoo Ink, Formula 51, Kuro Sumi, Mom’s Millennium Inks, Sacred Colors, and Starbrite Inks are just some of the great tattoo ink brands we carry—brands that we stand behind and are proud to offer, because we know they’re working hard to constantly improve the tattooing experience for you.
Whether you’re considering getting a tattoo or you’re a tattoo artist looking for tips and products, we’re here to help. Artists, remember that you get what you pay for in life; if you invest in good-quality tattoo inks that are non-toxic and sterile, the results will be better, you’ll be more likely to get referrals, and you and your clients will both be happy. Those getting tattoos, talk to your artist about the tattoo you want, ask what inks s/he uses and if s/he’d be open to trying a brand you feel more comfortable with, if you feel strongly about it. Don’t just pull a name out of the air, though; do your homework! Check out our Top Brands in the Golden Age of Tattoo Inks article for the low-down on all the best tattoo inks available on Painfulpleasures.com. Above all else, trust your tattoo artist to use the highest-quality tools that perform best in their hands and that will lead to you getting the most amazing tattoo possible. Don’t jeopardize that just for a different organic ink!
*If you don’t know which of the brands mentioned in this post is the only stable pigment-based tattoo ink we currently carry, read the beginning of our Top Brands in the Golden Age of Tattoo Inks article to figure it out. We’re not telling! 😉