Whenever I reveal that I have a tattoo on my forearm, about two and a half inches in length, I usually get a surprised reaction. There have been people who had known me for several years before learning I had a tattoo hiding in plain sight.
I was eighteen when I got my first tattoo, and it’s in white ink. I had fallen in love with the aesthetic of white ink tattoos while scrolling through tumblr while in high school, and I promised myself that if I was still into the look when I turned eighteen, I’d go for it.
The tattoo says “learn to fly,” shortened from, “take these broken wings and learn to fly,” from Blackbird by The Beatles. It’s one of my absolute favorite songs, and the lyrics meant a lot to me my senior year of high school when all my best laid plans seemed to be going awry. I felt like I was constantly being forced to make the most out of situations and spin them into positive outcomes. Anyway, you’re probably not here for the meaning of my tattoo— you’re here trying to decide on whether or not to get a white ink tattoo yourself.
This year will mark eight years since I’ve gotten my tattoo. Here are the pros and cons now that I’ve lived with it for almost a decade.
Pros of White Ink Tattoos
Completely white tattoos are still not too common.
While they have been getting popular more recently, I get a lot of people saying that they’ve never seen a white ink tattoo before mine. I think most people who sit through the discomfort of a tattoo, and pay money for the art, want their piece to be super visible and so choose traditional tattoo colors. I think white ink makes a statement on its own, and makes for a unique and delicate tattoo.
White ink tattoos are subtle.
If you want to get a tattoo that’s not super noticeable, white is the perfect choice. With my tattoo, I was able to check “no” on job applications asking if I had tattoos. I liked having a tattoo that was sort of just for me— a little reminder that I could look down, a note to my future self. In general, they have a softer appearance that I love.
They fade into a fleshy color.
This could be a pro or a con depending on how you look at it— but white tattoos don’t stay vibrant forever and end up fading into a fleshy color. This was a pro for me, because when I was deciding to get a tattoo, I was so hung up on whether or not I’d appreciate it 20+ years from that moment. With white ink tattoos, you don’t really need to worry about regret too much, because they fade into such a subtle marking. It was sort of a nice “starter” tattoo for me, and I actually love the way it looks after eight years of fading. You can see it if it’s pointed out to you, but most people don’t notice it.
Cons of White Ink Tattoos
You might find a hard time finding an artist.
I actually visited a few artists before I found one that showed any enthusiasm for doing my tattoo. Justin showed me his portfolio of past white ink designs he had done, and was the first artist who didn’t literally cringe when I asked for a white ink tattoo. Because all-white tattoos can be a little unpredictable in terms of fading and healing right, some artists just don’t want their name on something they predict a client has unrealistic expectations about. Plus, it’s really easy to mess up a white ink tattoo if the artist isn’t knowledgeable. Most commonly, inexperienced artists get the stencil ink mixed in with the white, leaving a dingy grey color behind. Definitely shop around when looking for an artist and favor those who have done white ink successfully in the past. My suggestion? Ask someone with a white tattoo you admire who their artist was.
They fade on all skin types to a varying degree.
I already mentioned the fading under “pros” but this is obviously a con as well if you really want your tattoo to make a lasting statement. It really just depends on your skin. My artist explained to me that contrary to common assumptions, white ink tattoos tend to last longer on pale skin because there is less melanin affecting the ink. But no matter what your skin tone, you will experience drastic fading at some point, whether it’s a year in or five.
They can be mistaken for scars.
I guess this one could also be a pro or a con depending on the look you’re going for… but I have had a couple people in the past mistake my forearm tattoo for self-harm scars.
Other Things to Know About White Ink Tattoos
White ink has a thicker consistency.
White ink isn’t usually being manufactured for outlining work. The thicker consistency makes it harder for artists to achieve clean lines that stay crisp after healing. It can also cause a raised appearance, causing the scarred look. White ink tattoos fade much quicker than other tattoos but also tend to blur faster because of this reason.
They don’t glow under black light.
This is a misconception. UV tattoos and white ink tattoos are two separate animals. Even when mine was fresh, it never glowed.
If you tan, your tattoo tans.
If your skin gets darker, so will your tattoo. I literally put on SPF 100 on my tattoo for the first year trying my best to maintain its brilliance under the strong SoCal sun. Eventually I got tired of that and stopped, which is when the fading started to accelerate and my tattoo started leaning a bit more yellow-beige than white.
All in all, I still love my white tattoo and would consider getting another one in the future if I didn’t mind the design fading. Do you have a white ink tattoo? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments!