Black and Grey Tattoo Designs, What Are They?

black and grey chest tattoo

Black and grey tattoo designs are one of the most popular styles today. There could be a number of reasons but if you look around you will undoubtedly find plenty of tattoos that only have shades of black throughout!

What is Black and Grey?

The style is said to have originate in prisons. Inmates most likely had limited resources so colorful ink was not an option.  Guitar strings were used as needles and pens were the sources of their ink. It is even said they could make machines with the motors in tape players.

Inmates were not allowed to tattoo in prison so they have to work in secrecy.  I’m sure getting caught was the least of their worries!

traditional japanese black and grey tattooShading

Different shades of black and grey can be created in a couple different ways. The first is by diluting the black ink with water. This is how my artist created the lighter shades of grey on my traditional Japanese sleeve

. In some areas he only added 3 drops of black ink to create the lightest shades of grey.

Another way, is to mix in some white ink with the black.  This might produce a brighter, thicker result. This will allow the tattoo artist to shade which is important in black and grey tattooing because it provides contrast as the tattoo fades over the years. This allows the tattoo to stand out.

It requires a high level of skill and talent to produce delicate layers of shading.

realistic black and grey tattooHow is it used?

Black and grey tattoo designs can be used through any style of tattooing. Whether it is realistic, old school, Japanese, etc. no color needs to be added. Black and grey shading is even used in color tattoos to provide the shading underneath the color application.

Black and grey tattoos resist fading better than color and the also heal quicker.

outer space black and grey tattooMan backpiece tattoo black greyPali Tattoo Prayer black and greyman Chest tattoo The Little Prince Black and greyBlack Dragon Back tattooAngel Black and greytatuaje Black and greyRoses black and grey tattoo


10 Replies to “Black and Grey Tattoo Designs, What Are They?”

  1. Matt

    Really cool on the origins of the black and grey tattoo. I’m surprised an inmate is able to even get hold of a pen and guitar string. I heard once that they even take away cigarettes because inmates can fashion them into blades somehow. I can only imagine what they can do with a guitar string – Although I suppose a string is much easier to hide than a cigarette. I am always impressed by the creativity of some prisoners.

  2. Marcus

    Black and grey tattoos are undoubtedly my favorite as well. I have two tattoos so far and I’m considering getting a new one real soon.

    I have a few friends that have color tattoos and they had to fill them again just after a few years. I don’t know if it was because of the artist wasn’t that good or if that’s just color tattoos.

    One of my tattoos is done with a bamboo stick in Thailand. They were still able to do all the shading and it was just crazy to see.

    Thanks for all those awesome pictures of tattoos, now I really want a new one 🙂

  3. Roger


    Wow! I hadn’t really heard of this technique before. My favorite is the portrait of the man on the arm. He looks familiar, though I can’t quite place him. Anyway, the artistry is amazing and looks 3-D!

    I also love the space scenes, and the incorporation of the breast into the background!

    Certainly there’s a lot of creativity on display!

    And interesting to note that the black and white doesn’t fade as much as colors, though once you point that out, I suppose it makes sense.

    Thanks for sharing this choice in tattoos!


  4. Hillary

    These are gorgeous-I have a few tats and I wish one of them was in black and white, but I am not going to be getting any more right now. Maybe one day down the line. I particularly like the 2nd one you showed–that one is beautiful!


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