Your Guide to Buying Tattoo Inks

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Your Guide to Buying Tattoo Inks

Since ancient times, human beings have been permanently marking their skin, by piercing it with needles, and staining the wound with ink. This process is known as tattooing. Tattooing has become a hugely popular fashion statement, and is gaining respectability as a form of self-expression, to the point that tattooists are recognised as legitimate artists. Anyone seeking to take up the art of tattooing will need several pieces of equipment; one of the indispensable elements is the ink.

Knowing what to look for in tattoo ink can be difficult to those not experienced in the field. It is the intention of this guide to inform the reader about tattoo inks, so that they will have sufficient knowledge to make an educated choice when shopping for them. Further, this guide will explain why eBay, the online auctioning platform, is the optimal choice of consumer websites from which to buy tattoo inks.

What is Tattoo Ink?

This section of the guide will look in depth at the nature and constitution of tattoo inks, providing detailed information about the different elements and types of ink. Every tattoo ink consists of two main ingredients. These are:

  • Pigment bases
  • Carriers

In short, the pigment base provides the colour, and the carrier transfers that colour into the skin surrounding the damaged area. The following sections provide in-depth explanations of each.

Pigment Bases

The pigment base is the ingredient which gives the ink its colour. Homemade pigment bases can be made from almost anything with a colour; examples from throughout history include blood, soot, dirt and the ink from a writing pen. However, most modern tattoo inks are made from heavy metals, and metal compounds. Ink manufacturers are not required to divulge the nature of the ingredients used, or required to subject them to trials. As such, it is often a good idea to buy from reputable sellers, whom have positive feedback from buyers, so as to minimise the risk of irritating or harmful materials being included in the ink.

Below is a table of the chemicals and chemical compounds commonly used as pigment bases in tattoo inks, and which colours they produce.






Yellow, green, white


Red, orange, yellow




Yellow, white






Green, Violet




Blue, Green


Brown, Red, Black




Yellow, red, green, blue



In addition to those listed above, chemicals such as arsenic, calcium, lithium and sulphur are often used, as well as some organic chemical compounds. Lightening agents and materials are sometimes blended with the pigment bases (to reduce production costs). These can include titanium and lead.


The carrier is the ingredient tasked with transferring the pigment into the damaged skin. The carrier is usually a solvent, with which the pigment is mixed. It runs into the damaged skin in the area around where the puncture would be made by the needle. Carriers also serve the function of keeping the mixture of the pigment even and regular, and excluding potentially dangerous pathogens from the mixture. Water can be used as a carrier, however it is not usually as effective as alcohol-based carriers, which open up the pores, increasing the amount of ink which can be absorbed by the skin, and thus making the inking more effective. Commonly used alcohols include:

  • Methanol
  • Glycerine
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Propylene glycol

Pre-Mixed Ink vs. Homemade Ink

Most tattoo inks will be sold pre-mixed. Some tattooists, however, prefer to mix their own inks, using a pigment base and a carrying agent. There are several advantages and disadvantages to each. The ingredients required to create homemade ink are also widely available on eBay. The following table compares the virtues and vices of pre-mixed inks when compared with homemade inks.

Pre-Mixed Ink

Homemade Ink

Requires no extra effort or work to create.

Requires additional input of time and energy to make.

Guaranteed to be at least a certain standard.

Can go wrong, resulting in poor quality ink. Can also, if done correctly, provide higher quality ink.

Manufacturers are not required to disclose which ingredients are used, meaning potentially negative side-effects or allergic reactions.

Full disclosure and knowledge of what the ink contains, so no unpleasant surprises are possible.

Wide range of colours available.

Creating different colours requires access to rare or expensive materials, in unusual states.

No extra expertise required.

Requires knowledge of how to make.

All things considered, homemade inks are only a realistic option for experienced tattooists, with an in-depth knowledge of inks and how they work. The pre-mixed inks are by far the more practical, efficient and cost-effective option for a novice tattooist.

Other Kinds of Tattoo Ink

There are other, specialist tattoo inks available. These include:

  • Glow in the Dark – inks that absorbs and retains light, then phosphoresces, releasing the stored energy slowly.
  • Backlit – reacts to UV light, creating a fluorescent glow.
  • Removable – purportedly semi-permanent inks, which are easier than other inks to remove once applied.

The results of these inks vary wildly, and should be considered and researched very thoroughly before use. Another kind of ink known as “black henna” is sometimes available, but should be avoided, due to confirmed harmful effects on the human skin.

What to Look for in Tattoo Ink

This section is concerned with the considerations one should take into account when buying tattoo ink from eBay.

Bottle Size

Tattoo inks come in various sizes of bottle, with the sizes measured in oz (ounces). Sizes range from 1/2oz bottles to 4oz bottles. A 1/2oz bottle of tattoo ink is probably sufficient to cover an entire human arm, and inks last for about 2 years before going bad, so unless expecting to illustrate a very large quantity of tattoos in a relatively short amount of time, it is probably best to buy small and then re-stock when you run out.


Colour is obviously a very important consideration when buying tattoo inks. If the buyer is intending to draw a specific design, then they ought to be able to buy just the colours they will specifically need. However, for tattooists who do not have a specific image in mind, and just want a range of colours to cover all the bases, there are many large sets of different colours of tattoo ink available on eBay


Another important factor is the texture and make-up of the ink. The best inks will be light and free-flowing as opposed to thick and viscous. However, they should not be too watery either, as the colours will not show up as strong or as brightly. The viscosity of the ink is determined by its composition; a ratio too strongly in favour of the pigment will result in the ink being too thick, whereas a ratio that favours the carrier excessively results in a too-watery product.

How to Buy Tattoo Inks on eBay

The online consumer bidding platform eBay is a truly excellent place to shop for tattoo inks. Its sleek and simple design facilitates an easy buying process, and its diverse pool of sellers enables a wide array of different products to choose from.

It is a straightforward matter to navigate to the appropriate part of the website. Beginning from the homepage, select the Jewellery & Beauty category, found in the list of categories, located to the left of the page. Next, select the Health & Beauty category from the list of categories that subsequently appear. Follow the link to the Tattoos & Body Art section from there. Finally, find the Tattoo Inks option in the left margin. This should take the user directly to the appropriate listings. A possible alternative is provided by the search bar, which allows for instantaneous navigation of the site. Simply type “tattoo ink” into the bar, and press enter on the keyboard.

The item listings should now be displayed. The listings can be “filtered” to suit the particular buyer’s needs, using the options in the left hand margin of the screen. These options include seller’s location, condition and price. In addition, the “auction” option allows the user to bid against other users on the product, whereas the “buy it now” option displays only products which can be bought on the spot.

Clicking on a listed item will take the user to that item’s page, where extra information about that item is stored. Seller’s ratings and user feedback can also be found here, along with a function allowing users to pose questions directly to the seller, and displaying the seller’s previous answers to user questions.

All of these aspects merge into something greater than the sum of the parts. As such, eBay is a truly brilliant means of buying tattoo inks online.


Tattoos are a venerated popular tradition, stretching back hundreds and hundreds of years, and respected and admired by many people the world over. The tattooing process involves the application of inks. It was the intention of this guide to explore the various elements comprising tattoo ink, and examine what to look for when buying it. Tattoo ink consists of two main ingredients, which are:

  • The pigment base
  • The carrier

Remember to think about size, colour and constitution when considering different inks. Using eBay to shop for tattoo ink is advisable, owing to its easy-to-use nature and its large variety of available items.

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