How To Make Homemade Tattoo Ink

  • Written By Dan Hunter on May 26, 2019
    Last Updated: November 26, 2020

Homemade tattoo inks are commonly favored by youth under 18, who cannot legally get a tattoo in most US states. Alternatively, you may be over 18 but still want to make your own ink for budget purposes. It could be that you can’t find the exact shade you need. Nobody wants to get colors wrong on their exquisite, permanent designs.

Surveys estimate that four out of 10 adults in the U.S now have a tattoo. Although tattoo inks are not regulated by the FDA, it has expressed concerns about people making tattoo ink or buying DIY (do-it-yourself) kits.

Join us as we find out what tattoo ink is made of and how you can create your own ink at home. We recommend always getting tattooed by a professional, however. This will reduce the risk of infection by practicing safer techniques and using hygienic equipment. If you can find one that can be persuaded to use your homemade ink, that is.

making homemade tattoo ink

What Is Tattoo Ink Normally Made Of?

Most tattoo inks use solvents to carry the pigment from the point where the needle is inserted to the surrounding skin. Solvents used include ethyl alcohol, distilled water, propylene glycol or other antiseptic formulas. Alcohol, used for the base carrier or to swab the skin before application, increases the permeability of the skin.

Pigments used for colors can include heavy metals, like mercury for red, lead for yellow, and nickel for black. Organic chemicals can include carbon from soot or ash, arsenic, beryllium, calcium and lithium. There is also vegan tattoo ink which uses natural ingredients that haven’t been derived from animals.

There are, unfortunately, some manufacturers who do not fully disclose the ingredients of their ink. Many producers will use lightening agents, like lead or titanium, to reduce production costs. An environmental health news report even found benzo(a)pyrene in black tattoo inks—known to cause skin cancer in animals.

Is It Possible To Make Your Own Tattoo Ink?

Many professional tattoo artists will mix their own ink, so they can be 100 percent sure that the contents isn’t toxic. Simple recipes will use non-toxic pigment powders, many of which are similar to those used by Native American tribes. You can always ask your tattoo artist which pigments have been used, if you are concerned about potential ink poisoning.

Normally, they will start with a base of witch hazel or some other antiseptic solution, like vodka. A little bit of propylene glycol would be added to this, along with a similar amount of medical-grade glycerine. Finally, a couple of inches of pigment powder will be mixed in, to achieve the required color.

You can purchase pigment powder from reliable tattoo supplies companies to make your own inks at home. Just remember to perform the task in a clean environment, wearing a mask and gloves to keep everything germ-free. Always store the ink in a sterile container, and away from direct sunlight to avoid the color fading.

DIY tattoo ink is sometimes referred to as “prison” tattoo ink. No, you don’t have to rob a bank first, it’s just that DIY tattooing used to be quite common in prisons. Note that DIY tattoos are now illegal in most prisons. But for someone serving a life sentence, that certainly isn’t their biggest problem.

Baby oil, charcoal and a bit of water were used, along with a tin can or other suitable metal container. Cotton wool would then be burned in the tin can filled with baby oil, as metal makes the soot black. The black powder is scraped off and mixed with water to make an ink.

If you’re on a very limited budget you could try a similar prison ink method at home. Carbonized black ash from burnt wood can make a very dense ink. Vodka is often used instead of water for DIY tattoos, as it is both clear and has antiseptic properties.


While tattoo shops and parlors are strictly regulated by each state’s department of health, professional tattoo inks themselves are not.

The FDA considers tattoo ink to be a form of cosmetics, so does not apply any regulations at this time. When you create your own ink, it’s up to you to make sure that it’s safe, and to protect yourself.

Most homemade inks will contain less vivid pigments, which could result in a faded or washed-out design over time. At some point, you will probably end up wanting either a removal of the tattoo or a professional touch up.

Buying professional ink, rather than making tattoo ink at home, will likely save you time and money in the long run. More likely than not, it will also be safer for your skin.

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