Are Color Tattoos More Expensive Than Solid Black Designs?

So you’ve decided to you want to get a tattoo, you’ve picked the location, and the perfect design, but you’re not sure whether you want to add color or simply leave it black and gray. Say you’ve got something that would look fantastic either way, but a few splashes of color could push it over the top into pure awesomeness. Or maybe you’re on a budget and you want a color tattoo, but perhaps using only black ink would help you save some money?

Yes, a purely black and gray tattoo will be more affordable than a tattoo that involves colored ink. Especially if you have a design that requires more than one color or the whole rainbow. Color tattoos will be more expensive up front as well as in the long run of tattoo upkeep, ensuring your tattoo the look as good as when you first get it.

Several things factor into why this is the case, including time, resources, effort of the artist, and things you might not consider right off the bat like the lifespan of colors vs. black and gray, how fast tattoos fade, and the cost of touch-ups.

If you really want color in your design, you will want to think about placement, your pain tolerance, budget, and how much effort you want to put into protecting your tattoo. Each of these items will be discussed in this article to explain why colors might be such a big deal!

Why do color tattoos cost more?

First, your artist most likely charges you based on the factors listed above: time, resources, and effort. It will take longer for your artist to prepare all the different colors of ink needed for your tattoo, especially if you request a color the artist must mix specifically.

If your tattoo consists of only black, gray, and red (like a rose), then that will take less time to prep for than if your design includes black, gray, red, green, blue, purple, teal, pink, and orange. That’s a lot of colors to mix, which takes more time and time is money.

More colors also mean the artist must use more resources, which s/he will need to pay to replenish. Once again, the fewer colors that are needed, the cheaper it will be – it’s all just a chain reaction.

Effort of the artist also needs to be considered. If you have a complicated design that requires the precise placement, with blending and intricate details for each color, that will take not only effort in designing the tattoo, but also time in getting the details right once you’re under the needle.

Once again, this takes more time, and if your artist charges an hourly fee, you can see where the cost will come from. A simple design with only black and gray ink will not require needle changes as well, while a color design will require several.

One last thing to keep in mind if opting for colored ink is that the colors will fade faster over time and will therefore need to be touched up in the future. Certain colors will fade faster than others, so this isn’t an overarching statement for all color tattoos. Touch-ups are also going to cost you and if necessary, might need to be factored into the overall budget of the tattoo.

Do color tattoos hurt more?

Colored ink does not determine how painful the tattooing process will be. There are several factors that do indeed determine this, however it will still be a needle penetrating your skin repeatedly and causing an open wound, no matter what color ink is being injected.

In the past, the consistency of colored ink was thicker than black and gray ink, and therefore the artist needed to go over the same spot more to get the ink into the dermis (the thickest layer of skin, and the layer the ink needs to get into in order to last), and as stated previously, the needle is creating an open wound so the more times the artist goes over one spot the more it will hurt.

Thankfully, that is no longer the case. The development of tattoo supplies and ink has progressed enough that all ink is generally the same consistency, so the pain level will be the same.

How long do color tattoos last?

As mentioned in the section that refers to cost, colored tattoos tend to fade faster than black and gray ink. While black and gray will also fade over time due to the skin adapting to the pigment and the production of new skin cells, it will take longer than colors.

Your skin tone will impact how certain colors will look initially as well as how fast they will fade. Lighter colors and white generally fade the fastest, as well as watercolor designs because of the artist’s technique when tattooing.

The placement of the tattoo also impacts how quickly your tattoo might fade. Foot tattoos, for example, tend to fade much faster than forearm tattoos because of the friction caused by shoes. When deciding where to place your tattoo, pick a place that is not often covered by tight clothing to avoid that friction that causes fading. If you live in a tropical climate and go barefoot often, a foot tattoo might be a great place! But if you work in construction and are required to wear close-toed shoes every day, maybe not.

As a delightful contradiction, direct sunlight can also cause your tattoo to fade faster. A good preventative for this is to use sunscreen diligently and keep your ink protected. You can also wear loose clothing over your tattoo to avoid both friction and direct sunlight. If you pick a location that is in that happy medium of being covered without friction, that will allow for maximum tattoo protection.

One last thing that will influence how quickly your tattoo fades is the immediate aftercare process. As your skin heals, it creates new skin cells, which can cause fading. Some tattoo artists offer a free touch-up within a certain window after you’ve received your initial tattoo because of this. However, if you follow your artist’s instructions for tattoo aftercare to a T, the fading can be minimal.

Are there certain colors to avoid?

This depends on several factors. Lighter colors and watercolor designs will indeed fade faster, but if you have the budget, patience, and pain tolerance to go in for frequent touch-ups, then by all means, get whatever colors your heart desires.

I know that frequent touch-ups are not an option for many people, though. If you’d rather not take your chances, then opt for darker colors. If your design still looks rad with simple black and gray, maybe add some splashes of dark purple or red, those will last much longer than pastel colors.

Artist commonly use white to enhance the details of a darker tattoo, which often fade faster than the rest of the tattoo but since don’t worry – you likely won’t notice when that white fades, since it was just a small amount, and the primary focus of the design is on the darker colors.


The main takeaway is that color tattoos are indeed more expensive that a simple black and gray design. Because of the time and resources needed to include colors into your design, mix the inks, switch needles, etc., the initial cost will be more. You will need to care for that tattoo very carefully and think about how long you will have that tattoo (which, for most of us, is the rest of your life) and how many touch-ups you want to sign up for to keep your tattoo looking stellar.