Tattoo StylesTattoo Styles: Black and Grey

Inkache Tattoo

Tattoo Styles: Black and Grey

Black and grey tattoos are similar to realistic tattooing, but instead of using color, this style only uses black with a heavy use of shading.

Black and grey tattoo style is used to create some type of 3D effect without using color. As the name suggests, this technique combines solid black ink with shades of grey. There are strong ties between the birth of modern “black and grey” tattoos and prison culture, especially in Mexico and the United States.

© Nick Noonan

Tattooing is banned in prisons, so inmates resort to creating their own machines and inks. Charcoal, cigarette ash and black pen ink are often mixed with water and applied into the skin. Diluting solid black with water leads to a “wash” effect of grey tones, adding depth and dimension to 2D tattoos. What began as an experimental necessity for inmates soon became a sought-after technique in the industry.

© Ruben Jordan Langsted

Originally called “jailhouse style” tattooing in the west, the technique was adopted by licensed tattooers and re-named “black and grey”. Ink manufacturers now sell a wide range of grey tones. While some tattooers still dilute black with distilled water, the use of solid grey inks is preferred for a longer lasting look. This shading technique is prevalent all over the world, found in a wide range of aesthetic styles.