When it comes to tattoo ink, there are so many choices. The benefits tattoo ink manufacturers tout are often so similar that their promises seem to blend and merge into one collective voice saying “We have the best tattoo ink on the market!”
Not all brands have gone the organic pigment, vegan-friendly route yet, but so many of the premium brands on the market offer those features as well as sterility, extensive and/or unusual color selections, and prices that are similar enough to each other that at a distance, it might seem that no one stands out from the crowd. How on earth does a novice tattoo artist figure out which brand manufactures the best tattoo ink for them and their clients? How does an experienced artist know which of the newer brands on the market are worth trying?
There are definitely a lot of choices available to tattoo artists today. It's true that they have some overlapping characteristics, but all tattoo inks are distinguishable from each other when you take a closer look. You have to know what you're looking for, though. Once you decide which combination of features, price range and color selection you want, then you'll be able to figure out which brands are most likely to meet your needs and exceed your expectations.
Which Ink Characteristics Matter to You?
We’ve taken some of the guesswork out of choosing a tattoo ink brand by carrying what we feel are the top tattoo inks on the market today. Whichever brand you end up choosing, if you buy it from Painful Pleasures, you’ll be getting quality tattoo ink. We have close relationships with the manufacturers of the tattoo inks we carry, and we purchase directly from them to ensure that you get trustworthy, reliable ink. You’ll never have to worry about counterfeits or low-grade pigments when you buy your tattoo ink from us.
Even if you narrow down your options by deciding to purchase from Painful Pleasures, you still have more than a dozen brands to contemplate and weigh against each other. To start sorting through those options, ignore the brands themselves for a moment and think about tattoo ink characteristics in general.
When we evaluated the basic qualities that distinguish tattoo inks from each other in In our article Differences Between Tattoo Ink Brands, we found that the top tattoo ink brands on the market today can all be categorized and differentiated from each other by looking at these key characteristics:
- Country of Manufacture
- Vegan-Friendliness (containing no animal-based glycerin, & no animal testing)
- Organic or Inorganic Composition (all pigments derived from natural ingredients)
- Pre-dispersed or Stable Pigments (i.e. “shake & use” inks vs. pigments you’ll have to mix and thin before using)
- Overall Price
If any of these qualities stands out as important to you, take note, and then look at our tattoo ink characteristics by brand charts to find the brands that have the qualities you care about most. For instance, if you’re a U.S.-based new school tattoo artist, then you’ll likely want a pre-dispersed ink made in America. If you’re just starting out, price is probably important to you, but you might be willing to sacrifice a little there and go with a medium-priced brand to get organic tattoo ink. (We're talking about a $0.50-$1 per bottle difference between low- and medium-priced brands in most cases.) If that was your criteria set, then these would be the best options for you:
Now let’s say that, since you’re exploring your options, you’re only interested in purchasing ½ oz. bottles initially. In that case, Starbrite is the only option of the 3 above that would suit your needs, because we don’t carry ½ oz. bottles of Formula 51 or Fantasia. However, if your style incorporates vividly-bright colors, then you’d be better off buying fewer bottles and getting 1 oz. bottles of Formula 51, whose colors are vibrant and different from what many other tattoo ink brands have to offer.
If you’re an established artist interested in trying a new brand of tattoo ink to take your art to the next level, you might consider some of the medium-high to high-priced tattoo inks that are organic, vegan-friendly, and manufactured in the U.S. You'll get rich, vibrant colors, consistent performance, and all-around stunning tattoos from the top inks with those qualities--tattoo inks like:
Now, if you’re an old school tattoo artist, the only option in that list for you is Alla Prima Ink. It’s the stable tattoo ink on the market today, and it’s the only one Painful Pleasures currently carries. If you’re more interested in pre-dispersed inks, then scratch Alla Prima from your list.
To narrow it down further, consider how much color diversity matters to you. If you want to try a pre-dispersed ink with more colors than any other tattoo ink brand on the market, Intenze tattoo ink is for you. Intenze is an innovator in the tattoo industry; they were the first to manufacture sterile tattoo inks and have stayed on the cutting edge where technology and art meet ever since. Eternal tattoo ink is a great second choice, though, in terms of selection, and Bloodline (formerly Skin Candy tattoo ink) follows as a close third. Arcane tattoo ink has about 1/4 of the selection the other brands have to offer currently, but it’s made with the same tried and true pigments found in the original Alla Prima tattoo ink line, so it’s a solid selection for someone who uses a more limited color palette or who’s able to successfully layer ink to achieve similar results to what a larger color palette would offer.
Once you’ve decided which characteristics matter to you most, take a look at our tattoo ink characteristics charts to pinpoint exactly which brands meet all of your requirements. The charts will show you all of our top tattoo inks, shoulder-to-shoulder, so that you can easily identify the ones that have the qualities important to you. You’ll likely be able to narrow your choices down to 2-3 options fairly quickly that way. Once you get to that point, you can move to the next phase of choosing the best tattoo ink for you.
Other Factors to Consider When Choosing a Tattoo Ink Brand
Most people want to know what other people think about a product before they purchase it. If focusing strictly on the characteristics each brand has to offer doesn’t help you narrow your options down to a reasonable number of tattoo inks to test, then find out what other people think. You can talk to your friends, talk to other tattoo artists in our online community, and/or look for brand or even specific tattoo ink color reviews online. You’ll find some reviews sprinkled throughout our website when you visit individual product detail pages, and you can look to the internet at large for additional opinions. Some tattoo ink manufacturers will have reviews and customer testimonials right on their sites. Those that don’t may require a bit more research.
One other thing to think about when narrowing down your options to find the best tattoo ink for you is the history of the company that makes each brand you’re considering, as well as where those brands are headed. If you read our article Top Brands in the Golden Age of Tattoo Inks, you’ll find detailed histories of each of the top 14 tattoo inks available on Painfulpleasures.com. We combed the web, reviewed each brand’s website, and talked to the manufacturers directly to find out everything we could about them to help you in your quest to find the perfect tattoo ink for you.
In terms of innovation, Intenze stands out heads above the rest, but they’re not the only ones doing cool things. Formula 51 is another up-and-comer to watch. They tout offering tattoo inks made for tattoo artists by tattoo artists, and they really do utilize tattoo artists throughout the product development process. Just as Intenze recruits world-renowned tattoo artists to help them with their tattoo ink development process, Formula 51 also has tattoo artists come up with their new color ideas. Their artist-developers test the prototypes on themselves, and then Formula 51 Tattoo Ink has a small group of outside testers try the fine-tuned results from initial testing. After that, they send samples to select artists all over the world to get their opinions before they put any color into final production. The end result is a line of tattoo inks in crazy-cool colors that actually perform consistently, because Formula 51 trashes any ink that doesn't pass through their gauntlet of tests with flying colors.
Eternal Ink, Alla Prima Ink, and many other tattoo ink brands are constantly making strides to build better and better product lines that will best meet your needs, too. Learn more about what each tattoo ink manufacturer is doing in our Top Brands in the Golden Age of Tattoo Inks article.
Which Option Works Best in Your Hands?
After you’ve narrowed your options to a couple preferred brands that you'd like to try, choose a few basic colors that you can get some real mileage out of, like black, a neutral shade of blue, white, etc., and buy a bottle of each color from each brand you’re considering. Don’t go crazy; just get a single ½ oz. or 1 oz. bottle of each color so you can do some testing. Try to choose fairly similar shades of each color between the brands you're comparing. That way you can see whose blue is the boldest once healed, which black is sharpest, and that sort of thing.
We offer a few options to make it affordable for you to do a test like this. If you’re a tattoo artist purchasing $100 or more worth of tattoo supplies at a time, then shop our Wholesale Store to take advantage of the reduced prices we offer industry professionals. If you’re putting in a big order of $500 or more, you can save even more by purchasing from our Distributor section. We also offer weekly coupons, which you’ll find in our newsletters (sign-up in the bottom-right corner of any page of your preferred Store, Retail, Wholesale or Distributor) and in our Events section.
When your new inks arrive, take them for a test drive. See which ones flow the best as you work, can most easily be blended to achieve your desired effect, and most importantly, which inks look best once healed. That means you’ll have to be patient and give your test subjects (yourself or willing clients) time to heal before you make a final decision on which is the best tattoo ink for you. We promise it'll be a worthwhile investment, though. When it's all said and done, you'll know which tattoo inks have the characteristics you want, are in your price range, work well in your hands, and heal beautifully, creating art that you can be truly proud of and that your clients will cherish for a lifetime.
Once the Verdict's in...
When you complete your own tattoo ink testing and settle on the brand--or perhaps brands--that best meet your needs and yield the best results possible, it's time to do some real shopping. Build your arsenal wisely. You can save money by purchasing tattoo ink sets and supplementing them with an extra color or two, if they don't come with everything you need to build your basic essential color palette. You can always special-order a single bottle or two here and there if you need special colors for special projects, but make sure you stock up on the inks you use most often during your initial purchase.
In addition to the savings you'll get by purchasing tattoo ink sets or single colors in bulk from our Wholesale or Distributor Stores and applying one of our weekly coupons, you can take advantage of the occasional sales and markdowns we offer on select tattoo inks. For instance, right now we're promoting Intenze with a 15% off sale*, and select other products are marked down, like some of our Evil Ink and Futura Tattoo Ink. To see our current deals, visit our Sales & Deals section anytime.