How to Tattoo Darker Skin Tones

When tattooing darker skin, there are a few tips and tricks you need to know. It’s harder to create contrast between ink colors and darker skin, so understanding how to create tattoos that still pop is important.

However, if you don’t have much experience tattooing, it can be hard to know how to take skin tone into account. 

That’s why, in this article, we’ll be breaking down how to:

  • Create contrast using thick linework
  • Use limited tones to make your tattoo more readable
  • Make sure colors heal correctly in the skin

How to Tattoo Dark Skin Tones


Use Bold Linework

To make sure your linework stands out, you’ll want to use thick outlines, as opposed to small and detailed linework. 

A thick outline will really break apart the tattoo so you can clearly see where everything is in your design. It will also make the tattoo more readable, even from afar.


Use Fewer Values

When designing a tattoo for a client with darker skin, you will need to work with more limited values. 

On light skin, more tones (lighter gray washes and lighter colors) are easy to see. However, the darker the skin tone, the fewer values you should incorporate. 

When you start with the tattoo, go in with your darkest values first. This will let you make sure the most powerful areas stand out. Then, you can lighten things up from there. Since you’ll be using just a few values, this can be tricky. The best way to prepare is to do some drawing studies with fewer tones to practice.


Limit the Amount of Shading You Use

With lighter skin, you might go through the tattoo and use several different gray washes to make different transitions. However, with darker skin tones, it will be more difficult to see that lighter gray wash, and you will be causing trauma to the skin for no reason.


Use a Dark Background

Creating contrast is a great way to make a tattoo pop. Making the background of a tattoo as dark as possible by packing black ink and making the foreground light will push the foreground forward.

However, you need to make sure those light tones are easy to distinguish. If you do a dark background and then also include lots of shading, the entire tattoo will become too dark and blend together with no light tones to break it apart. 

Planning is key when it comes to creating this type of contrast. You want to make sure that you're thinking about all these things before jumping onto the tattoo because it will be easy to get lost and end up with a tattoo you’re not happy with.


Make the Tattoo Large

No matter how perfectly you do a tattoo, the ink will expand a bit underneath the skin over time. If you go too small with a design, especially on darker skin tones, the tattoo will eventually become unreadable. 

You make sure you're doing your design big enough so it stands out and lasts through time.


Know How Color Works on Darker Skin Tones

Image credit: @mrlauder

One thing you want to think about is that the colors that you're putting into the skin are going to show up darker on a darker complected person.

The tones inside the skin are going to be much darker as soon as they're done healing. So it works best to choose a lighter color that you know is going to heal up correctly in the skin to the tone you’re aiming for.

Learn to Tattoo Without an Apprenticeship

In the past, learning in the shop through an apprenticeship was the only way aspiring artists could learn to tattoo. Today, however, artists are skipping the apprenticeship to learn on their own time at home with the Artist Accelerator Program.

The world’s oldest and largest online tattoo course, the Artist Accelerator Program’s easy-to-follow, 9-step framework lets anyone go from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist without the year of grunt work or hazing. 

Inside the program, you’ll be taught everything you’d learn in a traditional apprenticeship by professional tattoo artists and receive feedback on your art and tattoos in the program’s private online Mastermind community.

Over 2500 students have used the Artist Accelerator Program’s 9-step framework to break into the tattoo industry, with many opening their own studios or working in shops around the world. 

If you’d like to see the framework they used, click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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