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Should I get color or black and white tattoos?

Tattoos are a personal form of body art that allow people to express themselves in a permanent way. When getting a new tattoo, one of the biggest decisions is whether to get it in color or black and white ink. Both options have their own unique pros and cons to consider.

Symbolic Meaning of Color vs. Black and White

Color and black and white tattoos evoke different symbolic meanings. Color tattoos are eye-catching, vibrant, and convey a sense of energy. The variety of color options allows for more customization to match the meaning behind the design. Color can also help make certain elements stand out within a tattoo. Black and white tattoos have a classic, clean look and are associated with tradition and seriousness. They convey a sense of timelessness and elegance. Depending on the placement and design, black and white tattoos can also appear understated compared to colorful ones.

Artistic Value

Both color and black and white tattoos have high artistic value, but in different ways. Color allows a greater range of tones, shadows, and dimensions to be added to a design. This helps create a sense of realism and visual interest. However, an extremely colorful tattoo with too many colors can become visually overwhelming. On the other hand, black and white tattoos must rely solely on intricacy of line work, shading techniques, and use of negative space to create interest. This makes the artist’s technical skill especially important. Overall, color offers more options for realism while black and white relies more on artistry within a limited palette.


There are some differences when it comes to longevity of colored tattoos vs. black and white ones. Over time, all tattoos will fade to some degree due to fading of ink pigments in the skin. However, with proper skin care and sun protection, black ink tends to hold up better and last longer than brightly colored inks, especially lighter colors like yellows, greens, pinks, and oranges. The vibrancy and clarity of color tattoos is more likely to become compromised over decades. On the other hand, faded black ink may lose some richness in tone but can still appear clean and legible. Black and white tattoos may require less frequent touch up sessions over many years.


In general, color tattoos tend to cost more than black and white designs, sometimes up to twice as much. This is because color realism requires utilizing a greater range of expensive specialty pigments to achieve a full spectrum of hues. The tattoo artist will also likely take more time and care applying multiple colors smoothly. However, costs vary greatly based on factors like the design complexity, size, level of detail, body placement, and artist’s rates. Small simple black tattoos are most affordable, while large colorful back pieces spanning the entire back can cost upwards of $1000 or more.


Black and white tattoos tend to be more discreet and understated than colorful designs, especially from a distance. The high contrast of black ink also allows black and white tattoos to be clearly visible on more skin tones compared to colors like yellows and greens which can become washed out on paler complexions. If visibility is a priority, black and white is likely the best option. Meanwhile, brightly colored tattoos will garner more attention which can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on personal preference and professional factors.


Certain body areas may lend themselves better to either color or black and white tattoos from an artistic perspective. Smaller and more delicate tattoos tend to suit areas like wrists, hands, fingers, and behind the ear. These small tattoos often look best in black and white which provides definition. Meanwhile, areas like the arms, legs, back, and chest offer bigger canvases well-suited to colorful, visually striking designs. The shoulders and neck area are also commonly done in color. Black and white works well for script tattoos and portraits.

Design Types

Color and black and white may each naturally suit different tattoo styles and motifs. For example, traditional styles like American traditional, old school, and Neo-traditional often use bright, bold colors while Japanese traditional (irezumi) is done in black, grey, and green. Watercolor tattoos are vibrant by definition. Photorealistic portraiture and renditions of animals, flowers or nature scenes often call for color. On the flip side, tribal tattoos, Celtic knotwork, and biomechanical motifs traditionally use black ink. Script tattoos, geometric designs, and dotwork look striking in plain black and grey. Overall, tattoos with realism, dimension, and fine detail tend to benefit most from color.

Personal Preference

In the end, choosing color or black and white comes down largely to personal preference based on the desired look, meanings, and style preferences. Consider which option better suits the particular tattoo design and intended symbolism. Those drawn to a classic, timeless style may favor black and white. People who want their body art to stand out vividly will likely lean toward color. Look for inspiration images of tattoos in the preferred color scheme. A good tattoo artist can work skillfully with either option.

Trying Temporary Tattoos First

For those uncertain whether they would prefer their permanent tattoo in color or black and white, trying temporary tattoos first can be helpful. Look for temporary tattoo sets that offer a variety of color and black ink designs. Place the temporary tattoos in the intended spot and wear them for a few days to get a realistic idea of how you like the look in real life situations. Seeing the designs on your own body can make the choice clearer. Just keep in mind the permanent version will look more crisp and refined.

Combining Color and Black and White

It’s also possible to have the best of both worlds by combining color and black and white within a single tattoo. For example, a design may be done primarily in black and grey with strategic use of one or two colors to make key elements pop. A tattoo can also transition from color on top to black and white on the bottom. Another option is a color realism background behind a foreground subject in black and white. This sort of balanced approach allows black and white and color work to complement each other.

Factors to Consider

To decide whether to go for color or black and white for a new tattoo, consider the following key factors:

  • Symbolic meaning – Does color or black and white better fit the symbolism and message behind your design?
  • Artistic value – Do you prefer the realism of color or fine black line work and shading?
  • Longevity – How long do you want the tattoo to hold up vibrantly for?
  • Cost – What is your budget? Color generally costs more.
  • Visibility – Do you want the tattoo subtly hidden or eye-catchingly visible?
  • Placement – Does the body area suit color or black and white better artistically?
  • Design style – What styles and motifs tend to use each option?
  • Personal preference – Are you drawn to classic black and white or vibrant colors?

The Pros and Cons of Color and Black and White

To summarize the key points, here is an overview of some pros and cons of each option:

Color Tattoos Black and White Tattoos
  • Vibrant, eye-catching look
  • Conveys energy
  • Allows customization
  • Can add realism
  • Timeless, classic appearance
  • Conveys tradition and seriousness
  • Ages well over time
  • Visually understated
  • Fades and blurs more over time
  • Generally more expensive
  • Can be overwhelming if too colorful
  • Limited artistic range
  • Relies heavily on technique
  • Not as eye-catching from afar


In the end, whether to go for color or black and white tattoos comes down to personal preferences around aesthetics, symbolism, longevity, visibility, budget and artistic considerations regarding the specific design and placement. For many people, the ideal solution is a balanced approach using color and black strategically within the same tattoo. By weighing all these factors, you can decide whether you prefer your body art in bold vibrant colors or classic black and white ink.