In our article Top Brands in the Golden Age of Tattoo Inks, we took a close look at 14 of today’s top tattoo ink manufacturers, their histories, and some of the benefits each brand has to offer. Even with all that information at your fingertips, it can be hard to see which of the best tattoo ink brands is ideal for your clients. How do they differ in meaningful ways that you can consider when choosing which tattoo inks to use in your shop?
When you take a step back and look for what sets the best tattoo ink brands apart from each other, you’ll start to see some commonalities that serve as good starting points for choosing a brand. Where tattoo inks are made, what they’re made of, whether they’re pre-dispersed or stable pigment-based inks, what color options are available, who’s taking the lead in innovation, and, of course, how they’re priced are some of the key areas to consider when contemplating the differences between tattoo ink brands. Once you see who offers what and figure out which benefits are most important to you, you’ll have a strong foundation for deciding which tattoo ink brand’s best for you and your clients.
Old school tattoo artists tend to have a sweet tooth for stable pigment-based inks, whereas new school artists tend to have a penchant for pre-dispersed inks. Before you get into specifics like price and color variety, you have to know which brands offer the core type of ink you prefer.
Alla Prima is the stable pigment-based ink available today, and quite literally the only one Painful Pleasures currently carries. All of our other inks are pre-dispersed and basically ready to use straight out of the bottle. You won’t have to worry about mixing pigments (it really isn’t advised with most pre-dispersed inks anyway), and they’ll all have good flow that doesn’t necessitate the thinning and extra mixing that stable pigments require.
Country of Manufacture & Presiding Regulations
11 of the top 14 tattoo ink brands Painful Pleasures carries are made in the U.S.A. Those brands include Alla Prima Ink, Arcane, Bloodline (formerly Skin Candy), Dynamic, Eternal Ink, Fantasia, Formula 51, Intenze Tattoo Inks, Mom’s Ink by Millennium Colors, Inc., Radiant, and Starbrite Colors Tattoo Ink. The 3 made internationally include Kuro Sumi tattoo inks, which are made in Japan, and Italian brands Panthera Black Ink and Sacred Colors. The Italian tattoo inks have to meet the doubly-strict standards of both the Italian Ministry of Health and ResAP 2008, which unifies much of Europe in an effort to protect consumers by regulating cosmetics, pesticides and pharmaceuticals more rigidly.
As tattoos have grown in popularity over the past few decades, the global tattoo community has made strides to deliver a continuously safer, more client-centric tattooing process. Manufacturers to distributors to shop owners and individual tattoo artists are more conscious than ever about sterility and safety in general. In that vein, conscientious tattoo ink brands have eliminated known carcinogens from their recipes. Not all ink is created equal, though; there are plenty of fraudsters manufacturing fake brand name inks and some legitimate ones that still use more chemicals than your clients may be comfortable with having injected into their skin.
Until regulations are in harmony with each other on an international level, the best thing you can do for your clients is purchase non-toxic inks made by brands that produce solvent- and PET plastic-free inks created using organic pigments. Some of your clients may only allow you to tattoo them with vegan-friendly tattoo inks made by brands with even stricter guidelines. (Note that there are still toxins found in nature, like heavy metals, so be cognizant of potential issues even with tattoo inks labeled organic.)
A new wave of non-toxic tattoo inks made from organic pigments has emerged in recent years, after certain chemicals previously used in many tattoo inks started being linked to cancer. Brands like Intenze, Eternal Ink, Formula 51, and Kuro Sumi are at the forefront, saying that their pigments are all made from ingredients plucked straight from nature. Eternal, Intenze, and Kuro Sumi take things a step further and tout that their inks are also vegan-friendly, because they do not include glycerin carriers derived from animal fat, pigments made from crushed bone, or any other animal products or bi-products.
Tattoo Ink Color Options
Variety is the spice of life, so it’s no surprise that color selection can make a tattoo ink brand 3-pepper spicy or flat-out bland, depending how much diversity there is in the palette it covers. Brands like Panthera Ink have it rough, since their specialty is black inks… and there are only so many shades of black you can make en masse and sell successfully. (Panthera does offer a Polar White Tattoo Ink in addition to its 4 main black shades, by the way.) Fortunately, black is the most-used “color”, so a company specializing in black can still do a lot of business.
Out of all of the top tattoo ink brands, Painful Pleasures carries more Intenze and Eternal Ink options than it does for any other brand, so you’ll have the greatest selection of colors, the most diverse kit choices, and the widest range of bottle size options per color if you shop these brands. However, if you’re looking for some crazy color options, Bloodline (Skin Candy) and Formula 51 are brands whose color catalogs you’ll definitely want to scope out. Formula 51’s catalog may only be 1/3 the size of Bloodline’s presently, but how can you walk away without taking a closer look at pop culture-inspired inks with names like Clockwork Orange, Crack Rock, Planet of the Grapes, and Smurfis Dermis?
If you have the mentality that an individual brand’s color palette doesn’t really matter—that you can just pick and choose the colors you like best from each—you’re only partially right. If you’re a new school artist who prefers pre-dispersed ink, you may be disappointed to find that you can’t always mix pre-dispersed inks very easily, particularly from different brands that utilize different carriers. If you want to mix colors to create your own unique shades, you should really try Alla Prima’s stable pigment-based inks. If you’re simply considering using different brands' colors alongside each other, you’ll be able to do that more successfully. However, keep in mind that your clients may react to different brands and even colors within a brand differently; if you mix things up too much, you may not be able to easily tell them which ink caused a problem if they have a reaction. Additionally, different brands may yield different healing times. To keep things consistent and simple, and to achieve the best possible outcome for your client, it’s ideal to stick to one brand.
To see our full selection of tattoo ink brands and the colors within each line, visit our Tattoo Inks section.
Tattoo Ink Prices
The best way to compare tattoo ink brand price differences is to look at what each brand normally charges for a 1 oz. bottle of tattoo ink (excluding sale prices), since not all brands carry other sizes like 0.5 oz., 2 oz., and 4 oz.
- Intenze and Sacred Colors are at the high end of the spectrum, with prices close to $10/bottle (at Wholesale prices)—Intenze because it’s a truly premium brand, and Sacred Colors because it’s a high-quality imported brand.
- Bloodline/Skin Candy, Formula 51, Mom’s Millennium Ink, Alla Prima Ink, Eternal Ink, and Arcane Ink are all in the $8.39-$8.75 range (listed from lowest to highest).
- Radiant, Dynamic, Fantasia, and Starbrite range from $7.00-$7.99 respectively.
- Kuro Sumi is available for $4.99 per 1 oz. bottle.
Check out our How Tattoo Ink Brands Stack up Against Each Other blog post for an at-a-glance view of how each of the top 14 tattoo ink brands compare in terms of price (with multiple bottle sizes listed) as well as aspects like vegan-friendliness and ink type.
At the end of the day, one of the most important factors to look at when comparing tattoo ink brands is who’s taking the lead and paving the way for the tattoo industry. While every brand has its own unique angle and strives to meet its target clients' needs at the best price for the quality offered, there’s one company that stands heads and shoulders above the rest in regard to company culture, quality, options, and innovation: Intenze.
Founded by world-renowned tattoo artist Mario Barth, Intenze has been setting the precedent for other tattoo ink brands for more than two decades. Intenze was the first ink brand to place value on sterilization, which drove up their costs at a time when no other company was spending money so “frivolously”. Intenze has a unique approach to developing the inks it manufactures, too. It draws upon the experiences and needs of some of the world’s best tattoo artists, who represent a wide range of styles, for help designing the colors and ink qualities that other similar artists will appreciate most. Learn more about Intenze in our Top Brands in the Golden Age of Tattoo Inks article.
Who Will You Choose to Represent You?
Tattoo artists are ambassadors for the tattoo supplies they use and represent, but the inks they choose will represent their work for years to come, and therefore must be chosen wisely. Take care when deciding who your preferred tattoo ink brand will be. Consider all the points we’ve covered here, try out a few kinds, see how different inks heal in combination with your unique style of tattooing… and be sure to check out next week’s Tattoo Ink Series installment before deciding which ink brand will represent you for the duration of the lives of the clients you tattoo!