Hey! Don’t Throw That Out! | Fireside Blog

Hey! Don’t Throw That Out! | Fireside Blog

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When I quit tattooing fulltime and went back to school, I was doing more traveling and independent tattooing in between semesters. So it goes without saying that my inks were sitting a little more than normal. After having to go back and retouch one or two splotchy tattoos, I realized I was going to have to rotate my inks out more often and get them in smaller bottles. So I started to accumulate inks on a regular basis that were not bad, but were not good for tattooing anymore. I am a pretty practical guy and I don’t like to waste things, so I began to experiment with them on paper and canvass. The following is my trial and error based guide to making use of your older inks and utilizing them as a crossover medium.

If you work in a high volume shop, then you probably experience this problem a little less. However, no matter who you are, there are always going to be those lesser used colors that tend to sit there for a while. Most experienced artists are already aware that this results in splotchy tattoos. This makes it important to be mindful of how old the ink is when you use those less frequent colors. Most of the higher quality inks have started including expiration dates over the last ten years or so.

Straight with no chaser:

Obviously, the most natural place to start is just using the inks straight up on paper. I’m sure most artists probably try this at some point or another, but quickly learn it is not what you think it will be, even if you are already a decent painter. For the most part, I find that doing tattoo ink on paper is closest to using gouache paints, but with some slightly trickier blending and a more watery consistency.

If you don’t come from a design background, it is pretty easy to find a tutorial on basics with gouache. You’ll just want to use an assortment of smaller cups or a watercolor mixing pallet that will allow you to mix them easier. I find a watercolor brush is most suitable as opposed to an acrylic brush. Lastly, you will obviously want to use a heavier stock paper or illustration type board.

The other option for using inks straight out of the bottle is to take advantage of the fact that they harden. This behavior happens once the glycerol evaporates and leaves behind the pigment. I have used inks only once on a headboard that I made from a loading dock pallet. In between the slats I stretched canvass and then dripped all manner of inks and let them harden. I then used a spray acrylic clear coat. I’ve not experimented with shellac, but I would assume it will work the same.

Watered Down:


Although inks are acrylic based, the fact that they are already in liquid form gives them a lot of qualities of watercolors. So you can totally add water and use them in washes. I have actually used tattoo inks in conjunction with washes of black sumi ink and gotten good results. Unfortunately, this is as far as I’ve gotten. I am not an experienced watercolor artist but am aware of techniques and effects that you can get. I’m pretty sure that the Saran Wrap trick will work, but I’m not sure about things like salt. If you want to learn more about what I’m referring to, then pick up a copy of the Artist’s Handbook by Ralph Mayer and check out the watercolor section. Feel free to write in our comment section and let me know what you find.

Making paint:

The last option is to take your inks and make a straight up homemade paint. You can mix your ink with a gel medium and get a homemade acrylic style paint out of it. If you are a traditional painter and like working on canvass or other gesso treated surfaces, then this is the way to go. Seriously, this will save you crazy amounts of money on paint.


Once again, I’ll close with a call for discussion. Let me know what you do with your ink. I’d love to hear how this stuff works for those of you into airbrushing. Mixing with other substances? Let go of your mind’s limits and go forth and conquer.

Till next time,


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