How To Make Tattoo Ink Including The Health Risks – Proceed With Caution

by Tori Jones
Tattoo Ink

In today’s exploration, we’re diving deep into the liquid lifeblood of our craft: tattoo ink. It’s more than just the viscous, colorful substance that gets jabbed into your skin. Its depth, its hue, its longevity – it’s the heart and soul of every piece. But what really makes the ink? Where does it come from? And how can we, the proud ink-wearers, make it ourselves?

Tattoo Ink
@Fallon Michael via unsplash- Love this design? Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try Tattoo Balm

This art form traces its roots back to ancient civilizations, where indigenous tribes used a blend of soot, ash, and various natural substances to create rudimentary, yet deeply symbolic body markings. Fast-forward thousands of years, and our ink recipes have become a little more complex (and a whole lot safer!). Today’s ink is a blend of pigments, carriers, and sometimes a dash of ingenuity and rebellion. However, the symbolism remains: our tattoos, etched in skin with ink, tell our unique stories and experiences.

Method 1: The Pigment Route

The road to creating homemade tattoo ink is riddled with a myriad of possibilities, but two paths have proven the most viable and rewarding. The first, a medley of dry pigment, witch hazel, glycerin, and propylene glycol, echoing the spirit of ancient artists who ground their colors from natural minerals.

Tattoo Ink
@Maxim Hopman Via Unsplash- Love this design? Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try Tattoo Balm

The two primary components in tattoo ink are the pigment and the carrier.

  1. Pigment: This is what gives the ink its color. Pigments used in tattoo inks come from a variety of sources, including plants, minerals, and even some types of plastics. Historically, natural materials like soot or ash were used to create black ink. For homemade ink, non-toxic pigment sources like Indian ink or carbon black can be used.
  2. Carrier: The carrier is a solution that disperses the pigment evenly, keeps it from clumping, and helps transport it into the skin. Traditionally, water, alcohol, glycerin, and witch hazel have been used as carriers.


  1. Sterilization: First, ensure everything is sterile. Boil any tools and containers you’re using to minimize the risk of contamination.
  2. Mixing: Add your pigment to the sterile container. Gradually add in the carrier, stirring constantly until you achieve a smooth, even mixture. The amount of carrier you use will determine the consistency and depth of color of your ink.
  3. Straining: To eliminate any lumps or clumps, strain the ink mixture through a sterile cloth.
  4. Testing: Before using, it’s always wise to test your ink. Apply a small dot to your skin and monitor for any adverse reactions.

Method 2: The Ash and Alcohol Mix [Not Advisable]

Tattoo Ink
@benjamin lehman Via Unsplash- Love this design? Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try Tattoo Balm

Before diving into the process, I must emphasize the potential risks involved in creating homemade tattoo ink, especially when using ash. This method originates from ancient and traditional practices and does not meet modern health and safety standards. Any type of homemade ink, particularly those involving organic material like ash, could carry potential contaminants that lead to infection or allergic reactions. Professional tattoo artists universally use pre-made, sterilized inks tested for safety and quality. That said, for purely academic purposes, here’s a simple description of the process:


  1. Ash: Ideally, the ash should be from a completely burned, non-toxic source material. Hardwood ash is commonly used.
  2. Alcohol: Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol, often used for its disinfectant properties.


  1. Burning: Burn the selected material until only ash remains. The ash needs to be extremely fine, similar to dust, which can be achieved by sifting the ash through cloth or a fine strainer.
  2. Mixing: Gradually add the rubbing alcohol to your ash. Stir until the mixture is completely smooth, with a consistency akin to paint. The amount of alcohol you add will determine the consistency of your ink.
  3. Sterilization: Sterilize your mixture by cooking it in a double boiler for about 30 minutes. This is an attempt to kill any possible bacteria or pathogens, although it is not a foolproof method.
  4. Cooling and Storing: Allow the mixture to cool before storing it in a sterile container, away from light and heat. The mixture should be used promptly to avoid bacterial growth.
  5. Testing: Before using your homemade ink, apply a small dot to the skin and monitor for any reactions.

Again, while understanding the process is fascinating, creating and using homemade tattoo ink comes with significant risks. These risks include infections, potential allergic reactions, and subpar tattoo quality. The recommended and safest practice is to always use professional-grade, pre-made tattoo inks for tattooing. Your health and safety should always be the priority.

Homemade Vs. Store-bought

Tattoo Ink
@Jonathan Cooper Via Unsplash – Love this design? Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try Tattoo Balm

In the tattoo world, ink quality is paramount and homemade ink simply can’t compete with the quality of professional, store-bought ink. Let’s dive into why:

  1. Pigment Quality: Professional tattoo inks use pigments that are vibrant, long-lasting, and safe for use in the skin. The sources of pigments in homemade ink can be unpredictable and the color results inconsistent.
  2. Safety: Store-bought tattoo inks are sterilized and tested to ensure they’re safe to use in the body. Homemade inks, even when attempted to be sterilized at home, can still introduce harmful bacteria or other contaminants to the skin, leading to severe infections.
  3. Consistency: Professional tattoo inks have a consistent viscosity that allows for smooth application. Homemade inks can vary widely in consistency, leading to issues with application and potentially affecting the quality of the tattoo.
  4. Staying Power: Store-bought inks are designed to last, resisting fading over time. Homemade inks often don’t have this longevity, leading to tattoos that can quickly lose their vibrancy or definition.
  5. Regulation: Professional tattoo inks are typically regulated by health organizations, ensuring they meet safety standards. Homemade inks are not subject to this kind of scrutiny.

In essence, while the crafting of homemade tattoo ink can be an interesting academic exercise to understand the history and traditional methods of tattooing, in practice, using such inks can pose significant health risks and lead to substandard tattoo quality. The safest and most reliable choice is always professional, store-bought tattoo ink.

Remember, tattoos are a form of body modification that should be performed with the utmost respect for safety and cleanliness. As with any procedure that breaks the skin, there’s always a risk of infection and disease transmission, so it’s crucial to prioritize safe practices over DIY experiments.


Tattoo Ink
@Nathon Oski Via Unsplash- Love this design? Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try Tattoo Balm

In conclusion, while the fascination for homemade tattoo ink mirrors our inherent curiosity and harks back to the ancient roots of this art form, safety must remain paramount. Modern, professional tattoo inks, perfected over years with rigorous testing and refining, are designed to ensure the health and satisfaction of the tattoo recipient.

As for placement, remember that every inch of skin responds differently to ink. Areas with thicker skin can hold the detail and color better, while spots closer to bone might be more sensitive during the process. Costs can vary widely, depending on factors such as the size and complexity of the design, the rates of the artist, and even the geographic location. In the US, for instance, you might pay anywhere between $50 for a small, simple design to thousands of dollars for large, intricate pieces.

Finally, bear in mind that even with the highest quality ink and a professional hand, the procedure isn’t without risk. Potential side effects can range from short-term redness and swelling to more serious complications like allergic reactions and infections. However, by choosing a reputable, professional tattoo artist and ensuring you follow appropriate aftercare procedures, you can minimize these risks and enjoy the journey of expressing your individuality through the enduring art of tattoos. Remember, your body is a temple, treat it with the respect it deserves, and your tattoos will tell your tale beautifully to the world.

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