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Can I get my tattoo with color outlines and no black shading?

This question comes up from time to time. Much like white tattoos, people often see images of brand new tattoos with colored outlines and with little or no black in the piece and comment on how “feminine” “light” or “whimsical” they are.  

Those tattoos often do look great…for the photograph. Give it a few years and that same tattoo with a yellow outline will look 20 years old.

Example. I would put money on the strength of this tattoo when it was first done. I’m sure it was an amazing looking color portrait of a pomegranate. But the tattooer wasn’t responsible with her client. She didn’t use black. Within a few years, the color faded, blended, and the whole tattoo fell apart. Now she has to come back and pay to have the whole tattoo done again. Adding black to the equation made a world of difference and even as the color fades, my client will have a solid tattoo for decades to come.


And another. No black. The tattoo basically disappeared after a number of years.

I had a client once who was pale white. He actually told me he was too white for black tattoos! Haha. He insisted he wanted his tattoos to be bright like a neon sign. “Think about it”, I asked,” is a neon sign brighter during the day or the night?”

The darkness of night is what makes the color look bright and the same is true of your tattoo. Black makes colors look brighter.

What about water color tattoos?

The water color technique of tattooing is a trend that has taken the industry by storm. Again it’s that feminine light look that people are drawn to. As with all trends, it also feels fresh and unique. But like color portraits 10 years ago, it isn’t time tested, and like color portraits, most of them are done without using enough black to keep it in place. My guess, 5 years from now, we are going to start seeing them come back the shop.  As my buddy in New York, another respected tattooer says, “this trend will end with a shit ton of cover ups”.

The trend hasn’t been around long enough for me to provide examples in this article but looking at the evidence, I think it’s clear.

There are always exceptions and our shop has pumped out some of LA’s best but most of the industry is getting to a point where we just don’t want to take the risk.  If after reading this you think you might be one of the exceptions feel free to write.

Trust your tattooer, we want your tattoo to look better than you do. In 5 years when someone asks “who does your ink?", we want you to say our name with joy and with no regret.

Don’t be afraid of black! 


One thing stands true, bold holds and black and grey lasts forever. I think it was the legendary tattooer, Joe Capobianco, who said something like “a great color tattoo has clean lines, solid black shading and bright colors.  If you have that, when your color fades, you still have 2/3rds of a great tattoo.”

If you have no black lines and little to no black shading, you are just left with a cruddy looking tattoo. Black shading gives a more realistic looking tattoo with more dimensions. 

One of my clients came with a good tattoo but no black in it at all . Only a few years old, she had to redo the whole sleeve again, this time with me.

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