man with tattoos wearing tattoo vagabond tshirt

Blackout tattoo sleeve or color?

Tattoo Style Guides

/By

Kieran

To quote those immortal words from the kid in the ever popular El Paso Taco advertisement, ‘why not both?’

I’ve got one colored sleeve and one black tattoo sleeve. They’re a matched pair designed for me by my artist.

And if you were to ask me whether I preferred the black sleeve or the colored tattoo sleeve I wouldn’t be able to give you a straight answer. I like them both for different reasons.

But let’s focus on the black sleeve as there’s a lot of worthless opinions dressed up as expert advice on the internet about black tattoos. And I’ll seek to dispel some of the myths surrounding heavy blackwork tattoos. 

blackout tattoo sleeve and color
My tattoo sleeves

First myth – Blackout tattoos hurt more than regular tattoos

They don’t hurt more than regular tattoos. A tattoo involving heavy amounts of black ink over large surfaces will have the same sensations for those body parts as any other colour of tattoo.

However these styles of tattoo often use larger gauge needles and require more passes over the area to ensure a consistent distribution of ink. And to ensure no spots have been missed.

My tattooist did both my black and my colored tattoo sleeves. Same artist. But he took a tiny bit longer to do the blackwork.

Mainly because he had to continually go back over the same spots.

And the tattoo gun he used to do my black sleeve was far more vicious than the one he used to do my color sleeve.

The little rotary he used for my detailed colored sleeve couldn’t cut the mustard when it came to the heavy blackwork.

So he had to go back to the old school dual coiled plug and play tattoo machine. And he had to use it with a heavy gauge needle.

It sounded like a chainsaw. And compared to the high tech rotary tattoo gun it felt like a chainsaw too. The thing was down right abusive.

But did it hurt more? No. It didn’t hurt more. Same amount of pain. Just spread over a much larger area each tattoo sitting. 

Second Myth – Blackout tattoos take longer to heal

The length of time it takes a tattoo to heal is dependent on the size. Bigger works take longer to heal irrespective of which color the work is.

The bigger the surface area tattooed, the longer you can expect it to take to heal.

When healing it also didn’t itch any more than a colored tattoo.

The amount of itchiness you experience will be determined by the size of your tattoo. And its placement is a factor. As some spots itch more than others in my experience. 

Third Myth – Blackout tattoos are a form of cultural appropriation

This myth seems to float around based on the idea that people with heavy black tattoos are trying to make themselves ‘black’.

Darker skinned people are discriminated against so we’re appropriating their skin colour or so some people claim.

So the argument flows that by having heavy blackwork tattoos we’re all closet supremecists or some such nonsense.

Ah, nope.

Black people and all those with skin colors other than white do face discrimination daily. That’s a real fact. They do.

But a blackout tattoo is not an attempt to be ‘black’. Or to appropriate somebody’s skin color. Nor does any ‘culture’ have a claim on the particular style of tattoo.

So it isn’t ‘appropriation’. 

Fourth Myth – Blackout tattoos may pose a danger to your skin

This ones partially true. It’s claimed that they do more damage to your skin and also make it harder to detect skin abnormalities like cancer.

First, they don’t do any more or less damage to your skin.

The tattoo gun and artist does the damage. The color is irrelevant. Black doesn’t do any more or less damage.

Next the skin abnormalities. This part is partially true. It is harder to detect skin abnormalities like melanoma or other cancers.

If you’re prone to skin cancers you should probably rethink your decision to get a blackout tattoo. Or any tattoo for that matter.

I got a checkup recently. The doctor couldn’t check either arm.

Both the colored sleeve and the blackout sleeve made it impossible for him to check me for skin cancer. He basically just busied himself with the un-tattooed spots and ignored the rest.

So if you’re worried about skin cancer, don’t get any form of tattoo. Because all tattoos will make it harder for your doctor to detect skin abnormalities. 

Conclusions – Am I happy with my black tattoo sleeve? 

Heck yes. I’m happy with all my tattoos. I don’t get tattooed to follow a trend. Nor do I get tattooed to please others or for social media.

I get tattoos for myself. And to please nobody else.

If a heavy black tattoo is what you want, get it. F*ck everybody else.

If it’s ‘boring’ for your artist to do, as some on the internet claim, well that’s the artists problem.

Most artists I know find working on anything boring. But they love getting paid. And the only thing they love more than getting paid is getting paid for their particular craft.

They’ll tattoo anything you want, wherever you want it, for enough coin.

If it costs a little more to do because it involves more needles, more ink, takes longer or is more boring (than every other style) for the artist well, if you can’t afford a tattoo you should save up. And when you can afford the tattoo you want, then get it.

Just remember, blackout tattoos aren’t better or worse than colored tattoos.

And when deciding on whether you should get a blackout tattoo or a colored sleeve, just remember those immortal words, ‘why not both?’

Why not both?