White Ink Tattoos: Pros & Cons, 8 Years Later

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.

Getting my first tattoo by Justin Coppolino a few days after my 18th birthday.

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.

Tattooing over a stencil in white ink is tricky. Find an artist who knows how to do it without tainting the color.

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!

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  1. I’m thinking about to do a white tattoo. I’m white but I’m sun bathing very often and I imagine, that the white tattoo would look very nice on my tanned skin. What is your opinion and what do you recommend?

    1. Actually it’s the opposite — white tattoos tend to look cleaner on pale skin because you have less melanin, so it stays looking lighter. I’m not sure if you caught the last point in the article but if you tan, your tattoo tans. It can yellow with sun exposure and will fade a lot faster into your skin color. For the first year I put SPF 100 on it and it stayed pretty crisp, but then I got more lax and it started fading a lot faster.

  2. Thinking about getting another white tattoo. I have one around my ankle/foot and it’s there for over 25 years now. Still looks beautiful, just a little faded. Probably because it is a delicate tribal, not just lines, is why it is still pretty visable. I happened to be in Switserland at the time and just walked in a tattoostudio to ask if I could get a white one. The man was willing to do that and told me I should come back in 2 days to touch it up, because he could hardly see where he missed a spot. It never had a raised look and healed perfectly. Wanted to share this, because I am after all this time still very glad I chose for a white one. Thanks for the article!

    1. Love that story! And yes, the touch up after healed is essential because it can be difficult to see when the skin is freshly tattooed!!

  3. Thank you for this article!
    I’ve been considering a butterfly tattoo that’s filled in with white ink, and this really helped me understand what it might look like after some time has passed.

  4. Considering my first ever tattoo and leaning towards white ink for all the reasons you mentioned. I don’t know if you would have the answer to this, but let’s say 10 years later it has faded, could you get it touched up again with white ink or even consider getting it touched up with black ink?

    1. That’s a great question! I had mine touched up but very shortly after my first session where some of the white was fainter than the rest of the design. So I would assume the answer is yes but I would ask a tattoo artist during a consultation! I can’t imagine why not, considering people do touch ups / cover ups of other colors all the time!

  5. Last week, my brother told me he wants to get a tattoo soon to commemorate his son’s birth, so he’s looking for design ideas. I’m glad you talked about white ink tattoos and how they fade much quicker than other types of tattoos, so I’ll make sure my brother knows this immediately. Thanks for describing white ink tattoos and how long they last.

  6. Thanks for the article.
    I would love a white tattoo but have no idea where to find an artist. It would be my first tattoo so very new to the industry and only been living in Perth for a little while so don’t know any artists at all. Anyone have any suggestions

    1. I have 22 tats..but I been thinking bout doing the white ink tat….maybe in a few months I will get one

  7. I got my first white ink tattoo a year ago, it’s my second tattoo total. I wanted a reminder of what I’ve overcame in my life and not to give up. I’m a suicide attempt warrior. I wanted to cover my scars from a teen with something meaningful. Last summer was a really dark place for me and this helped. My white tat is a white feather representing a guardian angel. Inside through the feather lines is my semi colon in purple and teal. One year later it’s now more of a pink/white hue and no longer raised. I chose white ink for many of the same reasons as you. This tat was for me and I wanted it to be subtle with a splash of color.

  8. I got a forearm white ink tattoo about 3 years ago. It’s all line work Peonies with a couple olive branches. I did search online and found an artist that had done some white ink before and was willing to a “half sleeve” as he called it. I have never been in love with a tattoo more! Every doctor or nurse that sees it asks about and thinks it is “so classy and subtle and beautiful”! I truly love it. After months of research i decided it was a good fit for me for every reason someone would want a white ink tattoo and I have very red pale white skin, and from what I read that was a good thing! Haha it was raised and a little bumpy and scar looking for about a year and then went smooth and looks perfect. I never go out in the sun for long without applying sunscreen. It’s the first thing I spray! 🙂 I love it and finding an artist who can show you their work of white ink previously done is a plus!

  9. Wow, thanks for the article. My bestie and I just got matching tattoos and left the colors up to the artist. He used some white in the wings of a dragonfly. Everyone that has seen it mentions that the white will fade. I don’t have a problem with that. It is on my forearm so hopefully it will last a while longer than if it were somewhere else. Again. Thanks.

    1. That sounds lovely! And in several years you can always get it touched up, many people do that when they want to really preserve the art.

  10. Hello Miranda,
    I have 13 tattoos and 6 are white and my favorites. Now 15 years later I am ready to get them touched up and get another to commemorate my husband’s “life after lufe” (death) 15 months later.

    I love these white tattoos for several of the same reasons you listed…
    1. They are delicate, classy, subtle, and most of the time my secret. Also there’s a subliminal vibration that never fails to boost me up during a rough moment
    2. I LOVE the positive reaction from both men and women when they notice them for the first time. I get many questions about them, how I decided to get white tattoos, and how I found the designs (Pinterest).
    3. Many older women secretly wanting to get a tattoo, but are “sitting on the fence” whether to get one, tell me seeing mine is the catalyst to going ahead and getting one.
    4. I feel confident and powerful having tattoos that are unique, quirky, and reflects my spirituality.

  11. Hi Miranda, thanks a lot for the article!

    I’d just like to ask if you putting on the 100 SPF sunscreen did prevent the tattoo from tanning/changing colour. I am considering getting one, but am not sure whether to get it. But I would put it somewhere where I don’t tan, so the change in colour is minimal.

    Your pros and cos helped as well.


    1. Hi Kristina! I continued to do the 100 SPF for about a year. Yes, I personally believe it helped to preserve the brightness. Then I admittedly got lazy and stopped. Stopping, plus just the natural aging of the tattoo has led it to becoming fainter though I’d say now it looks pretty on par with “older” white tattoo photos that I saw when researching it (and liked the look of). In general as someone who tans easily as well I knew it was inevitable. My skin darkens really quickly when exposed to the sun. Keeping your tattoo covered + SPF should help preserve it longer! Also just a note– my tattoo always looks more prominent when I haven’t been outside / during winter!!

  12. Thanks for this article! I am almost 63 and got a white tattoo over the scar from my port catheter. It wasn’t easy to find an artist! 4+ years later and it’s quite a bit faded, very subtle which is what I wanted, given its on my chest. Most people don’t notice at all. I wish I had done more of a design!

  13. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve never heard of them! But as you stated work place isn’t always so accepting of tattoos, so this is perfect for me. I’m getting it for me and not anyone else. So that’s another reason I like the white tattoo.
    Hope I can find someone who does white ink!

  14. Thank you for a great article! I am 63 and considering my first tattoo. Fading wouldn’t be an issue for me. I have very short hair and am considering getting a tat on my neck. I’m actually thinking about having a “bonding” experience with my almost 17 year old grandson. Trying to figure out what I want, and where, as well as something a little conservative for him (at mom’s request.)

  15. The artist that did my white was for highlight purposes. It did have the raised look initially, that settled and the white was awesome and got many comments, two weeks later it looked almost flesh tone. For a white guy(sorta) I have dark skin, similar to native american. I was hoping the white would be brighter. For highlighting I think it’s worth trying for everyone. I’d post pics of it here if option. Best of luck to everyone!

  16. Fantastic article. Thank you for your explanation of pros and cons. Especially the part about finding a specific tattoo artist that specializes in white tattoos. I wouldn’t have thought they’re any different for the artist than a regular tattoo, so this fact is greatly appreciated. Gorgeous subtle tattoo btw. 🙂

  17. Great article. I really needed this.

    I have dark skin and am in politics. I want a tattoo, but it must be subtle. Like you, I don’t know if I’ll want it decades from now, so the fact that it fades suits me well.

    The tattoo is for me – a reminder of what I’ve went through this year. It was a battle, but I am grateful. The tattoo will be me getting my inside pain out. But I want to do it in the most classy, subtle, understated way possible.

    Your pros and cons are perfect too.


    1. I’m so glad I could help! This is a great idea if you don’t want it noticed. To this day people don’t know it’s there 🙂

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