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Written by Kieran

Blackout Tattoos: What They Are & Why I Got One!


There is no single reason for why people choose blackwork or why people get blackout tattoos. A blackout tattoo can be used to coverup existing tattoos or it can be a standalone statement piece. It may even be a symbol of grief and mourning.

To try and understand why people get what’s often incorrectly called a blackout tattoo, let’s first endeavor to understand what a ‘blackout tattoo’ is and in which genre of tattooing it fits.

As someone who has both a blackout tattoo sleeve and a color tattoo sleeve, plus a degree in cultural sociology, here’s what I think you need to know about blackout tattoos.

Kieran - author - tattoovagabond and inlovelyblue
I have both a blackout tattoo sleeve and a colored tattoo sleeve – Both were completed by the same artist

What are blackout tattoos?

‘Blackout’ is a generic catchall term given to any type of tattoo that involves a heavy use of black tattoo ink.

Tattoos that are termed ‘blackout’ all tend to make use of heavy blackwork. These tattoos all use a consistent application of opaque black ink over a large bodily surface. As such ‘blackout tattoos’ all fall within the style of tattooing called blackwork.

Blackwork as a tattooing style uses solid panes of black ink to create abstract patterns and geometric shapes. Blackwork as a style of tattooing uses only black ink.

The most common placements for ‘blackout’ tattoos are the arms and legs. Though other placements are becoming more common thanks to tattooists like Ruslan & Tonya at AbuSevTattoo. AbuSevTattoo also make a lot of the specialized equipment used by blackwork artists.

Blackout tattoos aren’t new. Blackwork as a tattoo style is as old as tattooing itself. The use of large panes of solid black ink is common in many different cultures.

Negative space blackout tattoo sleeve
What my army looked like as I got my own blackout sleeve

Are blackout tattoos a single style?

Blackout tattoos are not a single style or coherent standalone genre of tattoo. All blackout tattoos fall within the traditional domain of ‘blackwork’.

The larger and more bold the use of black is, the more likely it is to be labeled as a ‘blackout tattoo’.

Yet there are many different styles or sub-genres of blackwork tattoos that make heavy use of black ink. And these are all lumped together and often mistakenly called ‘blackout tattoos’. 

What are some types of ‘Blackout’ tattoos?

Two types of blackout tattoos that stand out are large negative space tattoo designs and large geometric blackwork. Though larger tribal or neotribal tattoo designs also seem to be making it into the ‘blackout tattoo’ catchall on social media these days.

Pretty much, if a tattoo is large and uses a single solid shade of black it’s likely labeled as a ‘blackout tattoo’ on social media.

How are Blackout tattoos done?

Tattoos labeled as ‘blackout tattoos’ will involve tattooing a large area of the body using only black ink. Typically the arms or legs.

The application of dark black ink is consistent across the designs. And shading isn’t used in ‘blackout’ designs. Just take a look at these blackwork and black tattoo ideas.

Negative Space Blackout Tattoo
Getting the upper portion of my own blackout sleeve

Can you tattoo over blackout tattoos?

You can tattoo over blackwork. One stylistic element of blackout tattooing that is rising in popularity is the use of white ink over larger blackwork designs.

Blackout tattoo sleeves with white ink are rising in popularity thanks to social media. And the use of white ink over a large ‘blackout sleeve’ can allow for the creation of subtle designs with a striking contrast.

Colors other than white ink won’t work well over a black tattoo. So if you desire a colored tattoo you will first need to have the black tattoo removed

Why do people get blackout tattoos?

There is no single reason for why people choose blackwork or why people get blackout tattoos. A blackout tattoo can be used to coverup existing tattoos or it can be a standalone statement piece.

Blackwork in general has less intricate details and no shading. And blackwork tattoos will likely resist aging and fading far better than most other styles of tattooing.

It’s important not to label all blackwork that uses large panes of black ink as a ‘blackout tattoo’ and assume that the work is a coverup.

The majority of the tattoos seen on social media that are labeled as blackout tattoos are not coverups of older tattoos. The majority of the tattoos labeled as ‘blackout tattoos’ are standalone tattoo pieces. They aren’t coverups. 

Why did I choose to get a ‘blackout tattoo’?

My black tattoo sleeve is a negative space design. It’s often referred to as a negative space blackout tattoo. Yet it will soon have the addition of white ink tattooed over the black sleeve in parts of the design.

I had my artist design this black tattoo sleeve for me. It contrasts with my colored tattoo sleeve and was created as sign of loss and mourning.

In western cultures a black armband is often worn as a symbol that the wearer is in mourning. And this meaning translates across into tattoos.

Historically, a solid black armband tattoo represents the loss of a loved one. In western cultures black is the color of death and mourning. And my black tattoo sleeve represents or symbolizes the act of carrying with me the memory of the deceased.

It’s a more permanent black armband.   

A picture of this authors (Kieran) own black out sleeve. Which a called a 'negative space blackout'
This authors own blackout sleeve – Yes, I actually have a blackout and am writing from actual experience!

Blackout Tattoos FAQ

Are blackout tattoos more difficult for tattoo artists?

Blackout tattoos are not more difficult for a tattoo artist to produce. Blackout tattoos are easier and less time consuming for your tattooist. And no reputable tattooist will tell you that a blackout tattoo is more difficult or time consuming.

My own blackout sleeve was completed in half the time it took to produce my colored sleeve. And both my color sleeve and my blackout tattoo sleeve were produced by the same tattoo artist.

Kieran - author - tattoovagabond and inlovelyblue
Do blackout tattoos take longer to heal?

Blackout tattoos do not take longer to heal. In all types of tattoos and with all colors of ink including black, the tattoo ink is injected at a depth of 1-2mm into the second layer of skin called the dermis. A solid color tattoo and a solid black tattoo are identical in terms of process and healing times.

Do blackout tattoos hurt more or cause more pain?

A blackout tattoo does not hurt more to get than a colored tattoo. In fact, as someone who has both a colored sleeve and a blackout sleeve, I can say from experience that the colored sleeve hurt more.

A colored tattoo will require more passes over the area to get the desired color saturation. A colored tattoo takes longer to get right and hurts more than a blackout tattoo.

Do blackout tattoos cost more to get?

Tattoo prices are determined by the amount of consumables used and the number of hours required of the artists time. Blackout tattoos use less consumables and require less time to produce. Blackout tattoos cost less than a detailed colored tattoo of a similar size.

My own blackout sleeve was half the price of my colored sleeve. And both were completed by the same artist.

Are blackout tattoos a form of cultural appropriation?

I have 8 university degrees and one of them is a bachelor of cultural sociology. As someone with a degree in cultural sociology and a blackout sleeve I can say that no, blackout tattoos are not a form of cultural appropriation.

Are blackout tattoos more difficult to remove?

Blackout tattoos are not more difficult or more expensive to remove. The only FDA approved method of tattoo removal is laser removal. And black is one of the easiest colors for laser removal technologies to break down and remove.

Why did Ronnie Radke get a blackout?

When you have as much ink as someone like Ronnie Radke, tattoo removal becomes the least desirable option if you want to change your style and aesthetic. Tattoo removal is costly and painful, with a long down time for recovery.

If you’re covered head to toe in ink and want to change your tattoos, having them removed and then retattooing the area is extremely painful, expensive and time consuming. In such a case, blackwork coverups and blackout tattoos are often the more appealing option. When Ronnie Radke wanted to change his style and aesthetic, blackout tattoos were likely best option.

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