Black and grey tattoo designs are also known as greyscale or grey wash and use only black ink that is thinned with a solution to create grey shades. A variety of dark blacks and lighter black tones can be used as well, depending on the preference and experience of the tattoo artist. Black and grey tones are used for realistic tattoos that require shading and hints of light and shadow in order to create depth and dimension. Black and grey designs can capture any desired image but is most often used for portrait tattoos and large, realistic pieces. Pieces that are designed conceptually with realism are often incredibly significant to the individual because they must be large enough to include the necessary detail and time to complete it. These tattoos are meant to appear like sketches and closely resemble pencil drawings.
Large tattoo pieces, especially realistic designs, often utilize black and grey or greyscale instead of color because it allows the piece to remain clear. A colored palette can distract from the nature and skill of the work whereas a focus on shading and grey wash tones highlight the detail of the tattoo. Black tones allow all parts of the composition to work together but also stand alone as significant elements. The removal of color forces the eye to examine the entirety of the work and so it is important that a talented artist is selected to design and perform the large, realistic style of tattoo.
Tattoo designs that exude a serious tone are usually done in black and grey because of its somber and dignified appearance. Black and grey tattoos showcase and artist’s talent and often garner respect and admiration. Greyscale designs are not necessarily realistic images but even geometric designs require detail and precision that is more easily recognized because of the bold black and grey shades which stand out well, especially on lighter skin tones. Black and grey tattoos are generally more popular with lighter skin because of the contrast between black ink and a pale complexion.
Traditional, flash, or “Sailor Jerry” designs are often done in black and grey and can be small or large pieces. Larger pieces incorporate many smaller images that are arranged together cohesively so that each small design can be appreciated on its own but also as a part of the larger design. Nautical symbols and other flash icons like roses and sparrows are often included. The advantage of black and grey traditional tattoos rather than designs with a color palette is the lack of color eliminates the animated or cartoonish appearance. The focus then lies on the shape and design of the tattoo instead of the color and the artist’s work is really appreciated. The black and grey also appears more authentic as Western tattooing was done in only black tones until colored ink was experimented with in the tattoo industry. A black and grey traditional tattoo design is retrospective and rooted in the origins of tattooing in America.
Illustrations or cartoon tattoo designs that are rendered in black and grey appear more artistic than vividly colored images. Silly or cartoonish designs that are done in greyscale with added shading to create dimension can be satirical. Cartoon characters that are made to look serious and artistic play on their intended entertaining and funny nature. This is often done with characters from television shows like The Simpsons or The Bugs Bunny Show and places these characters in picturesque positions or adds classic imagery to enhance the satire. In other designs, the character can be rendered in a more ominous way to satirize an otherwise cheerful figure.
Faces are often included in black and grey tattoos with a myriad of other details and concepts. A face, often a woman’s face, is incorporated into inanimate objects like buildings or other symbolic images like clocks, skulls, jewelry, and countless more. Women are often chosen for designs, specifically realistic black and grey tattoos, because of the beauty of the female form, a concept that has been central to artists for centuries. Faces with skulls and clocks are a representation of mortality and a reminder of the fleetingness of life. Flowers, jewelry, and other aesthetic features create a more appealing and attractive tattoo.
Religious tattoos are often done in black and grey as well as they are done realistically to perfectly represent important figures like the Holy Mary, Buddha, or Hindu deities. Expansive Christian-themed tattoos done in black and grey rarely include images of God because of the reverence in which the Abrahamic god is held. Christian black and grey tattoos generally focus on heavenly imagery like full clouds, sun beams, angelic figures, and iconography like crucifixes and doves. Buddha is often the subject of black and grey tattoo designs because of the dignified appearance that the muted tones provide. Religious portraits are larger tattoos that are generally reserved for sleeves or back pieces. The length of the tattooing process for these large pieces is a tribute to the deity or principles that are being conveyed.
Watercolor tattoo designs are almost always done in color in order to imitate the painting style. However, the translucent layers of the water color style also work well with black and grey tones to create an attractive tattoo design. Flowers are usually chosen for this type of design because the overlapping petals complement the layering-style of watercolors. Using grey tones instead of color creates a more somber design that might reflect sadness or tragedy. It can be used appropriately with memorial or tribute tattoos that serve as a remembrance of a passed loved one. Any flora work well with this style and emphasize the sobriety of the piece with a design that replicates dripping paint.
Landscape and cityscape tattoo designs are often done in black and grey tones to take advantage of the contrast in light and shadow. This contrast creates a silhouette of the buildings and skyscrapers in a cityscape tattoo or natural scenery in a landscape tattoo. Mountain ranges are particularly popular and received by those who originate in a particularly mountainous area, who engage in mountain and winter sports, or those who identify with the delicate serenity mountains provide. The black and grey watercolor style is often added to these landscapes and cityscapes to introduce an extra element that creates more dimension to the piece.
Black and grey is often used as a representation of the nocturnal. Nighttime or night sky scenes utilize black and grey ink to convey both a sense of ominousness and a sense of peace. Depending on the subject matter, black and grey can be tranquil or frightening. Moonlit scenes often include trees and other natural elements that can be ominous when rendered as dead plant life. Barren branches bathed in moonlight are generally associated with horror and the macabre. Crows, skulls, and other traditional horror imagery is often included in these types of designs.
Alternatively, black and grey designs can convey a sense of calmness and tranquility when the right elements are included in the tattoo. Greywash flowers, particularly roses, are classically romantic and a facet in sleeve work. Statues from Classical Greek antiquity are almost always done in black and grey tones and portray a sense of solitude. Figures of Greek deities, particularly Zeus and Aphrodite, are often used as the subject but statues from more modern periods are used as well like Mary the Mother. The black and grey shades create a realistic replica of the masterpieces that serve as a tribute to the artistic masters and the talents for which they stood.
Regardless of the subject matter, black and grey tattoo designs are specifically created with a lack of color because it gives a dignified and somber appearance. Black and grey tattoos are often chosen by individuals with stoic personalities and strong characters who are less interested in bright and lively imagery. Black and grey is more muted than colored designs but holds a deep sense of regality and dignity.
Greywash or greyscale also imitates the artistic style of sketching and drawing, a difficult skill that takes hours, sometimes years, of practice to perfect. Creating a realistic rendition of any image can be a daunting task, especially when the results are completely permanent. Skilled artists will display their work for their clients to examine before discussing and then designing a tattoo as difficult and specific as a realistic black and grey design. Ensure that a reputable, experienced artist is chosen before a tattoo is received.
Here are some of the best black and grey tattoo artists and shops according to our research. If you think we should add anyone to the list or if you see anything that should be edited, contact us by clicking here
Angel Guzman – El Paso, Texas
Justin Olivier – New Orleans, Louisiana
Marlo Marquise – Traveling
Channelle – Fresno, California
Karla Yvette – Portland, Oregon
Mark Strong – Austin, Texas
Jermaine Taylor – Washington, DC
Molly McKing – Tucson, Arizona
Justin Carpenter – Charlotte, North Carolina
Rick Levenchuck – Knoxville, Tennessee
Jonathan Love – Denver, Colorado
Shawn Hebrank – Portland, Oregon
Just Will – Jacksonville, Florida
Steven Skorjanec – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Chad Rowe – Indianapolis, Indiana
Tyson Gonzales – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Austin Pickney – Springfield, Missouri
Tony Correa-Tapia – Ontario, CA
Landon Morgan – Traveling
Justin Warn – Anaheim, California
Porky – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Orlando – Australia
Andrew Black – Charlotte, North Carolina
James Robinson – Nashville, Tennessee
Hapsflow – Honolulu, Hawaii
Steven Campbell – Kansas City, Missouri
Dixon Hogan – Sacramento, California
Lloyd Nakao – Sydney, Australia
Roger Anthony – Atlanta, Georgia
Shaun Bushnell – Raleigh, North Carolina