What Are Tattoos Without Ink?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 8, 2019
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

We all love our ink, both old and new. We love window shopping and new ideas, and we love the planning and design of our next piece. We love hunting out new designs, styles, techniques and the decisions of ‘new artist’ or ‘trusted artist.’ This is familiar to us all, but is it possible to actually find something ‘new,’ something that will stop traffic?

There may be a way to have the best of both worlds. Possible, or just fantasy? Enter the world of tattoos without ink or body etching. It’s undoubtedly a place worth visiting, we can assure you.

It isn’t a new idea, not by a long shot, but it’s getting more and more traction. It’s moved from the world of performance art and cultural statements into the world at large, and slowly, but surely, growing.

Yes, there is such a thing as tattoos without ink. It’s called dry inking and has the following features:

  • Scars the skin to give the resulting artwork
  • Can be painful
  • Popular with text designs
  • Avoids allergies from ink

Why Go Inkless?

The whole process of getting an inkless tattoo, the healing, and then the slow fading of the design, gives it a unique perm/non-perm feeling. It can be used to celebrate or commemorate any serious or life-changing event. 

The inkless tattoo will change and evolve, which is part of the attraction of having something that will change with you and then, slowly, fade away. You’ll always know it is/was there, but like any significant life event, it’s now in the past and gone. A good way, if you excuse the pun, to celebrate the healing process. 

The inkless tattoo is less prominent than a standard inked design, so for people wanting a low-key design, this is good. Your lifestyle, be it job, culture or even family, may not permit in-your-face far-out art and bold designs. Inkless can be an answer, a way to have a tattoo but not have it, cake and eating it — almost.

What to Expect From Dry Inking

Most tattooists will tattoo you ‘dry,’ which is without ink. The gun will still puncture the skin and will leave behind the all too familiar scarring.

Here are a few guidelines:

  • Thicker, heavier lines will scar and generally produce a better result
  • Avoid fine detail. Nothing too intricate
  • Ask your tattooist to etch over the design several times 
  • Avoid shading; simple lines work better
  • Text is very popular

Be warned, however, that a dry/inkless tattoo may be more painful and a lot messier. The ink in a regular tattoo is both lubricant and coagulant. If this is your chosen path, walk it with care, and be prepared for more pain and more blood. The upside of this is that it’ll give an extra endorphin rush above and beyond the usual sitting.

What Next?

With the correct aftercare procedures, the redness and then the scarring will fade over time. The aftercare here will be typically fastidious regarding hygiene, like any new ink, but less so with the TLC side of cleaning the new tattoo. 

The idea is to distress the design intentionally. As scabs are forming, you’ll be encouraged to pick at or remove any new scab formation. This will lengthen the healing process, sure, but create a more distinct scar. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but this ‘abuse’ will lead to a more permanent ‘non-permanent’ tattoo, which is the aim, right? 

Now you have your new artwork, what can you expect? Like any inked tattoo, the initial redness and irritation on and around the tattoo will fade. You’re then left with red, raised scarring of the actual design that will fade to your skin tone, or slightly darker. The scarring will then fade back to your normal skin tone over time and, depending on the work done, will vanish in about a year, give or take. 

Cautionary Note!

A significant caveat to insert here is about keloid scarring. You’ll need to go through keloid formation and your susceptibility with your tattoo artist, and be very clear from the outset what it is you want. 

Different skin types respond differently to the gun. If you disturb the tattoo during healing, then keloid formation is far more likely to occur. What was supposed to be a non-permanent tattoo and change, evolve and fade over time, won’t. You may end up with far more reminders of your visit than you intended. Be careful!

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